Following another change at Head Coach, the Cleveland Browns replaced Defensive Coordinator Dick Jauron with Ray Horton. Browns fans may be familiar with Horton from his time coach with the rival (don’t we need to win some before we are rivals again) Pittsburgh Steelers. Horton was in the same role with the Arizona Cardinals the last few years as he was hired with the Browns. Prior to being hired Horton was interviewed for at least 2 head coaching positions, the Cardinals’ and the Browns’. Once Bruce Arians was hired to take over in Arizona, Horton was hired by Rob Chudzinski and the Browns. This week we will look at stats from last year’s Cardinals defense and compare those to expectations for Browns players. Looking at history gives us perspective on what could be in store for the Browns defense. We will follow this up next week with looking at Norv Turner’s San Diego Offense. Today we look at the Linebackers.
In 2012 the Cardinals depth chart had Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon on the inside with Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield on the outside. Quentin Groves, recently signed with the Browns, was a rotational player for the team.
Washington played in all 16 games last season with 108 total tackles from the middle linebacker spot. He also had 9 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and an interception. Washington is a young veteran who provided leadership for the team from one of the middle linebacker positions. Washington stands 6’2″ and weighs 230 lbs.
Browns Comparable: D’Qwell Jackson
Jackson is shorter but heavier then Washington, at 6′ and 240 lbs. One concern with Jackson is his durability to hold up in the 34 defense, with one less lineman in front of him to take on blockers. His girth should assist him there. Last year Jackson played in all games racking up 63 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 INTs. Expect Jackson’s tackles and sack numbers to increase this year under Horton.
The other inside backer was Paris Lenon. Lenon also played all 16 games under Horton last year, but statistically was far off Washington’s pace. Lenon had 74 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 INT. Though Horton is known to be aggressive, he also seeks to maximize his players talents. Lenon as solid in coverage and made the clean plays consistently. He also played at 6’2 and about 240 lbs.
Browns Comparable: Craig Robertson
As a rookie last year Robertson was a situational sub player in the 43 defense under Jauron and will be pushed into a much bigger role this season. Last year Robertson had 62 tackles, 1 sack and 2 INTs. His numbers as a sub match up well with Lenon’s starters numbers. He should see some bump in those figures as he finds more time on the field. Robertson also is a little smaller then Lenon, 6’1″ and 229 lbs.
Acho was one of the starting Outside Linebackers in Horton’s aggressive scheme. Acho played at 6’3″ and 257 lbs last year. His stats are somewhat surprising given Horton’s legacy. Acho had 35 tackles, only 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 INTs while playing the entire season. While Acho was banged up some during the season it is expected that the OLB would have more impact plays in Horton’s 34.
Browns Comparable: Paul Kruger
Kruger was one of 2 big ticket free agent signings for the Browns this off-season. Kruger is coming off dominate playoffs and a quality season as a rotational player in the Baltimore Ravens 34 defense. Kruger plays bigger then Acho at 6’4″ and 270 lbs and fits Horton’s description of big guys who can run. Last year Kruger played in 15 games accounting for 30 tackles, 9 sacks, 1 FF and 1 INT. Comparing him to Acho the Browns and their fans have to be hoping for at least a replication of those Ravens stats, if not a improvement.
Schofield only played in 9 games last year, leading to time for Quentin Groves to spend more time on the field. During his short time on the field Schofield, 6’3″ 242 lbs, accounted for 26 tackles and 4 sacks. Increased playing time and ability to stay on the field may of increased these statistics. Schofield is the more inexperienced of the two and expected to make less of an impact, which leads to our Browns comparison:
Browns Comparable: Jabaal Sheard
Sheard will be transitioning to the OLB position this year after playing all of his career as a 43 Defensive End. Sheard should have some growing pains, especially in coverage. Sheard also may be mixed into the 34 DE rotation some as well, especially as rookie Barkevious Mingo learns the ropes. Sheard is 6’2 and 255 lbs and last year had 38 tackles, 7 sacks and 1 FF. Similar stats, with a bump in total tackles would be optimistic this year depending on snap count for the 3rd year man making the big transition.
Last year Groves played all over the field for Horton’s Cardinals. Groves stands at 6’3″ and 265 lbs. Groves played in all 16 games racking up 37 tackles, 4 sacks and 1 FF. Groves came over to the Browns this off-season and it would be easy to make him his own comparison but…
Browns Comparable: Barkevious Mingo
Fans and Front Office alike are excited about seeing Mingo on the field. Mingo will need to learn to transition to the 34 as well but his body type 6’5″ and starting last year just about 230 lbs should make the transition easier. Mingo will get into a handful of plays early in the season and if he develops as expected should be unleashed midway through the season. Expect low total tackles and limited time playing in coverage. As a rookie he will probably be limited to passing downs only or special occasion blitz packages. The Browns, and their fans will hope for more then 4 sacks this year, nearer to 8 to 10, with high hopes for his progression down the line.
It is surprising to see that in this defense there was not a greater sack number from the OLB position. Was it a lack of talent or is it something about the defense with its blitzing corners and safeties? The Browns seem to have greater talent with a somewhat weak secondary so the hope is this unit can provide much of the pressure. We will review the Defensive Line and Secondary later this week.