There are many questions the Browns have yet to answer as they try to build themselves into a contender – Is Hue Jackson the right head coach? Is Baker Mayfield good enough to be the QB of the future? Will one of their kickers ever make a field goal again? One thing that should no longer be a question is that defense, which looks like it is here to stay.
Not only do the Browns have the talent (accumulated through the draft and trades), but they have the smarts to play complex schemes and execute complicated game plans that are demanded by a Gregg Williams defense. When you have the talent, smarts, and scheme all working together, you have the makings of a championship defense.
On Sunday, the Browns consistently made life difficult for the Saints offense. They confused future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees multiple times, which isn’t easy to do.
It all starts up front. Everyone knows that Myles Garrett is a tremendous talent. In Week 2, though, one of the best defensive players on the field was Larry Ogunjobi. Who? The guy who consistently was a wall and stuffed the Saints run game. The guy who consistently drove elite center Max Unger into the backfield. Ogunjobi also beat Unger with his quickness multiple times, including this sack below on 3rd down in the red zone (keep your eye on the center of the D-line).
Trevon Coley is another little-known name who made some noise up front for the Browns. We should mention here that the Saints have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and they were consistently challenged in Week 2 against Cleveland.
Schematically, the Browns showed how advanced they are as a young unit. As previously mentioned, the Browns confused Brees on multiple third downs by disguising where the blitz was coming from. They broke down New Orleans’ blocking schemes.
Take this play below, a key 3rd down in the 4th quarter. Below you can see the actual design of the blitz. That big red arrow represents one of the blitzing defenders, coming from off screen.
The idea here was to split the protection and create a rushing lane, similar to an offensive play. You can see below how Ogunjobi (#65) and Garrett (#95) took the center and left guard one way, while Jabrill Peppers (#22) took the left tackle the other way.
The Saints kept a running back in for protection to pick up the blitz. The design of the pressure scheme left him in a 2-on-1 situation.
The back ended up taking the inside man, leaving cornerback Travis Carrie (#38) with a free lane to Brees.
With only 5 pass rushers against a 6-man protection, the Browns were still able to get a free rusher to Drew Brees. That’s Gregg Williams for you.
In the secondary, the Browns have superstars in the making in safety Jabrill Peppers and rookie cornerback Denzel Ward. Peppers can play close to the line of scrimmage (as you saw on the blitz above) and is a monster against the run. Ward’s ability to lock down opposing receivers gives Gregg Williams the option to blitz and be his normal creative self.
There will be growing pains and the occasional blown coverage or bad game from these Browns youngsters. And the offense isn’t anywhere near where it needs to be. Still, you can make a very compelling case that Cleveland outplayed both the Steelers and Saints and should have won both games. Can you imagine a 2-0 Browns team heading into a Thursday Night Football home game? There would be a lot more excitement around this club. There still should be. This defense, which will keep Cleveland in games all season, has the talent to develop into a championship-caliber unit sooner rather than later.