As bad as the Browns have been offensively since 1999, I’ve been just as frustrated watching the defense. Regardless of scheme, coaches or players, it looks the same year after year. We see them give up lots of yards on the ground, always lose time of possession, hope to force enough field goals to keep the game within reach, and most of the time give up big plays at the end of the game. “Bend-but-don’t-break” is a losing philosophy in today’s league. It is far too easy for offenses to take what you give them and pick you apart until all that’s left is the carcass. You have to disrupt the quarterback and make big plays, so constructing a tenacious pass rush is the highest priority. In 2011, the Giants (with a suspect secondary) were able to beat Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady because they have some athletic freaks up front that were able to cause chaos and kill drives. I am thrilled that the Browns have identified this and prioritized the pass rush in free agency.
Paul Kruger is capable and experienced, and we should be getting his prime years (unlike the Fujita and McGinest signings from years past). The Browns may have overpaid him and I don’t believe he’s as good as most seem to think, but I have no doubt that he’ll help Ray Horton’s new defense.
The Browns also signed Desmond Bryant to some good money, probably more than he was expecting a few weeks ago when he took one of the most priceless mug shots of all-time when he was arrested on a “criminal mischief” charge. Bryant has great size and athleticism and statistically was one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in the league last year. This addition to the line gives Horton all kinds of flexibility and depth. The defensive line was the strongest unit on the team last year and looks even stronger going into this season.
Horton was able to convince the Browns to bring in one of his guys in Arizona last year, Quentin Groves. Groves had his best season as a pro under Horton and should also be a positive contributor to the Browns pass rush from the outside linebacker position.
Like most fans, I’m stunned Banner has not signed a corner yet, given how many were available, but I’m OK with that given what they have signed so far. I don’t like using early round draft picks on defensive players that you’re projecting to use differently than they were used in college, so filling the outside linebacker holes with experienced, solid players is an excellent strategy. The Browns will almost certainly draft a corner and still may sign Grimes or Munnerlyn.
I had a mentor who taught strategy at the War College who told me that most battles are won by the aggressors. This is true of football as well. In his introductory press conference, Coach Chud said he wanted an aggressive, attacking defense. The hiring of Horton and these three signings are big steps in achieving that goal and finally changing the passive defensive culture that has resided here since 1999. The front office has made aggressive moves to become a more aggressive team, but it seems like a more focused, targeted aggression than what we’ve seen from teams like Tampa last year and Miami this season, who desperately threw big money at big names and hoping things change. I’m very encouraged so far by this new regime’s approach.