The Cleveland Browns managed to piece together enough over the previous several years to field a top-10 offense in the NFL in 2020, complete with perhaps the best offensive line in football and the best one-two tandem in the backfield with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Oh, and they also have Baker Mayfield at quarterback, throwing to Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. (when healthy).
What they didn’t have last year was the corresponding defense to go along with it, and now, while a lot of that had to do with injuries, particularly in the secondary, they’re not looking to make excuses in 2021 for what happened in 2020. They just want to fix it.
Before the season even started, the Browns lost starting cornerback Greedy Williams, and projected starting safety Grant Delpit, to injury. The recently-signed Kevin Johnson also missed time due to injury. It all resulted in their constantly being pressed for bodies in the secondary, and they wound up logging just 16 snaps in the dime defense all year—or about one per game. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods plans to change that this year.
“Dime package is a big part of what I was involved in in Wade Phillips’ system in Denver“, he said of the system in which he learned. “You’re always trying to put yourself in a position where you have favorable matchups. When we go dime, we’re putting more cover guys on the field, and we’re putting more speed on the field”.
With Williams and Delpit expected back this season, the Browns also went out and added safety John Johnson III and versatile cornerback Troy Hill in free agency. They then used their first-round draft pick on cornerback Greg Newsome II.
They now have depth throughout the secondary, and they intend to make use of it, including another safety, Ronnie Harrison, who is the only one of the three journeymen safeties remaining that they worked with last year, the others being Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo.
“It probably will not be as much as I ran in Denver”, Woods said of what to expect from his defense with the Browns this season relative to the defensive backs on the field, “but it will definitely be a lot more, especially on third down and maybe two-minute situations”.
While you don’t want it as your base—depending upon whom you’re playing at least—the lack of a valid option of playing extensive dime packages necessarily weakens your defense. Any time you leave linebackers on the field to cover athletic skill-position players is going to be a mismatch.
That was one of the Browns’ biggest problems last year, and one that they have expended significant attention and resources to addressing in 2021.