Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods wants to run a lot of nickel packages.
Joe Woods doesn’t want to change much on defense for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns defense in 2019 was a nickel package. Four linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. That defense was absolute garbage for the Browns, as it allowed the 3rd worse rushing yards in the NFL with 2,315 yards. The Browns were 11th in the league in total yards given up and was absolutely abysmal. Woods intends on running the same system in 2020.
While the rest of the league is more worried about the passing game than ever before, leading to most teams running a nickel/dime package about 60% of the time, the Browns are in a division where the team to beat is a rushing machine. The Ravens, the team to beat, rushed for 416 yards alone against the Browns in just two games. Had Lamar Jackson not thrown two picks in the first meeting of the year, the Ravens could’ve easily swept the season series with the Browns.
Of the Browns 10 losses last year, eight were when the opposing team eclipsed the century mark on the ground. Yet, four of their six wins were when the opposing team had a hard time establishing the run. Clearly the rushing game is still an important factor no matter how much people scream otherwise.
Part of the issue was the team’s overreliance on just two linebackers and five defensive backs. Defensive backs, traditionally, aren’t as sure of tacklers as linebackers, they’re also far lighter than most running backs. Asking players who are 40 pounds lighter than most NFL running backs to step up and try to tackle someone running full-speed downhill is a fool’s errand.
Even worse, Woods isn’t just interested in using the same defense but going into more dime packages. Woods scheme would have three corners and three safeties, with just a lone linebacker.
"Eventually, I would like to have a nickel package, where we have two linebackers on the field, but also, just to create better matchups and be a little bit more diverse in our scheme, I would like to get to a dime package, where we are putting an extra safety on the field."
That’s the same mindset that lead the Browns to get gorged last year. This shouldn’t be surprising, as the NFL is a league built on trends and what’s in vogue. Right now three of the top six teams in total defense last year ran a 4-2-5 and the other three ran a 3-4. Both are essentially designed to stop the passing game, though from different points on the field.
The Browns are following trends by walking away from the standard 4-3 defense and in doing so will open themselves up to possibly be abused again by the Ravens. While it makes sense for the 49ers to run a 4-2-5, and even the Chargers, the Browns don’t have to worry about Seattle, the Rams or the Chiefs twice a year.
They have to worry about the Ravens. Lamar Jackson won an MVP by eating 4-2-5 defenses alive. Will he be able to duplicate his success in 2020? Who knows, that’s why they play the games. Yet, there should be some hesitation for all Browns fans that the team will be walking into Baltimore with a bunch of defensive backs to try and stop the best rushing attack the NFL may have seen in twenty-odd years.
If starting three safeties and two linebackers can hold Jackson in check, then we as fans should be all for it. If history is any indication, however, then the team might be in trouble. Let’s hope that all this team needed was Woods coming in, becoming the primary play-caller on defense, and bringing in new players in the secondary.
It’s entirely possible that’s all the team needed to do to become a great defense in 2020.