The Divisional Round of the 2014 NFL Playoffs is done. The Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have all advanced to the Conference Championship games next week, for a right to go to the Super Bowl. Over the next couple days FoS will look at these 4 teams on what the Cleveland Browns can learn from the best teams in the game. We started this week with the quarterback position that you can check out here. Then today we looked at the running back position. Now we are finishing up this quick series with defenses.
The Cleveland Browns obviously put a good amount of resources into the team’s defense this past off-season. They added 2 pass rushers, Paul Kruger in free agency and Barkevious Mingo as the #6 overall pick in the draft, as well as the defensive line with a big contract for Desmond Bryant. The team also signed lower level free agents at the cornerback position and drafted Leon McFadden in the 3rd round at that position. Yet late in the season the defense seemed to hit a wall. Was it injuries? Depth? Teams catching on to Ray Horton’s schemes? Lets look at some data from the 4 winning teams in the Divisional Rounds:
Denver Broncos - 259 total yards and 17 points given up. 4 sacks and 0 turnovers. Yearly Rankings – 27th Pass D, 8th Run D
Seattle Seahawks - 409 total yards and 15 points given up. 1 sack and 1 turnover. Yearly Rankings - 1st Pass D, 7th Run D
New England Patriots - 386 total yards and 22 points given up. 3 sacks and 4 turnovers. Yearly Rankings - 18th Pass D, 30th Run D
San Francisco 49ers - 325 total yards and 10 points given up. 1 sack and 0 turnovers. Yearly Rankings - 7th Pass D, 4th Run D
While each team did so in different ways, all 4 teams held their teams to 22 points or under. That includes a vaunted Saints offense led by Drew Brees, a dynamic duo of QBs in Cam Newton and Andrew Luck and a talented Philip Rivers. Only the Patriots didn’t have a unit in the top 10 in the league in either Pass or Run defense. Both the Seahawks and 49ers were top 10 for both. Not surprisingly the Patriots also gave up the most points but made up for it with the most turnovers and 3 sacks of Luck. For comparison the Browns’ Yearly Rankings - 8th Pass D, 18th Run D.
For the Browns
Obviously having a solid defense is a huge piece of a championship puzzle, yet do the Browns continue to invest resources into the unit after last years’ splurge? Some of that depends on who the defensive coordinator is and what scheme they run. A 4-3 defense means the team needs at least 2 linebackers and another defensive tackle. A solid corner across from Joe Haden, and possibly a replacement for TJ Ward at safety, are also important factors to address. Having a defensive identity, one the team can trust to be the bedrock of a successful future is key. A transition to the 4-3 could delay that, losing Horton to the Titans (as rumored) could also create some problems in the defensive continuity.
Obviously the Browns have a long way to go until they reach the Conference Championship Games, but what do you think of their defense compared to these 4? Where should the Browns allocate and prioritize their resources this off-season? Is it QB, RB, Defense or somewhere else?