A slow start is not unusual for the Cleveland Browns. The 2020 season was a demonstration of just how the team can pull itself together, harness every ounce of skill from every player and thrive on doubts after weak early performances. The unit transformed themselves and eventually made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. This year’s defense has not impressed anyone yet, but there is no doubt they can do what last year’s offense did.
A Slow Start Just Motivates the Cleveland Browns
Early last season, the offense floundered on a new scheme and several new starters. There was a “here we go again” mentality rippling through the Browns community, in fact, the entire NFL. But as the season went on, the Browns steadily improved. By season’s end, Cleveland boasted one of the best offenses in the league, finishing sixth in efficiency.
Defense Just Needs Time to Click
Much like the offense last season, the defense is off to a slow start. Cleveland struggled against a Houston Texans roster that had been tipped to be one of the weakest of 2021. They only found their footing when Houston’s third-string quarterback took over. Should anyone be alarmed by that? Not yet.
Cleveland’s defense underwent a major overhaul over the off-season, and with eight new starters, there had been high expectations from all corners of the league. They have all the tools there to develop into a top-level unit over time. Per the Beacon Journal, defensive end Myles Garrett was quick to explain the situation. “It’s tough to get that chemistry right away. It’s cleaning up (mistakes) each and every time we play… I’m really looking forward to when we really click and start to get after guys.”
Garrett and Cleveland’s valued off-season addition Jadeveon Clowney were a highly anticipated pass-rush duo. Thus far, they have only combined for three sacks, which ranks 20th in the league. However, the Browns have a pass-rush win rate of 55.6 percent, fifth in the NFL. Only two weeks into the season and they have had to deal with mobile quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Tyrod Taylor who can twirl their way out of a pass rush. But against less vigorous quarterbacks, the sacks should start stacking up. Pro Football Focus reiterates there is no reason to panic:
(Prior to MNF Game) The Browns defense hasn't been sharp yet this season. However they have talent and things to like. PFF has the Browns defense tied for 11th overall and they are 15th in total yards allowed. Lots to clean up but the sky is not falling. #Browns pic.twitter.com/JBHk6U8rjt
— Jacob Roach (@roachizm13) September 21, 2021
The Secondary Is Looking Good
Safety Grant Delpit is one of the primary reasons the Browns secondary is vastly improved. He missed his entire rookie 2020 season with an Achilles tear, then the first week of this season with a hamstring injury. In Week 2, he did not miss a beat, playing as if he had not had any time away at all. His run defense was superb – he finished with five tackles. He got on the Texans quarterback’s blindside and jarred the ball loose off a blitz, ending the Texans game for them. Delpit can be an impactful playmaker in every game if he keeps up this momentum.
With Delpit’s abilities, defensive coordinator Joe Woods will be able to play more three-safety big dime defense, something he has been longing to do. Delpit, Ronnie Harrison Jr. and John Johnson III will make up versatile coverage packages and that in turn will enable Garrett and the pass rush to be effective.
Yes, there will be obstacles down the road. But just like Cleveland’s flailing offense transformed themselves after a slow start, so too can their defense. They already have the talent. Once the unit has clicked, the only way is up.