I talked about offense yesterday. What about defense?
I’ve added little in the way of personnel to the original Browns defense. In my draft, I took RT, QB, TE with my first three picks. My first fourth rounder (from trading John Del Greco) was a running back, basically a much dumber but slightly more athletic version of Crowell. My second fourth rounder was my first defensive player — and one that I accidentally simmed the pick for. Segwick Olsen is a decent defensive lineman, but doesn’t excel at anything athletically. He’s also kinda dumb. If he develops perfectly, he’ll be a second string DT. Maybe. I wouldn’t have drafted him if I hadn’t hit the wrong button. Oh well.
My fifth rounder was middle linebacker Curtis Riley, who I like much better. He’s fast, good strength, great hit power, and reasonably sound at tackling. Of course (say it with me), he’s a moron. But, he has a much higher ceiling than Olsen, and could one day start if his awareness improves. He’s even pretty decent in coverage. My 6th rounder was the kicker. Rounding out my draft was the seventh rounder, who I also did not actually draft, Mr. Irrelevant Dominik Terrell. As a raw athlete, he’s about as good as Riley. However, he’s smaller, and at football, he is just the worst. Can’t tackle, if he does tackle it hurts as much as being hit with a feather, which is also covered in nerf stuff because a feather could poke you in the eye. He can’t cover. He has literally none of the traits you want in a football player except he’s pretty fast. For a linebacker.
I mention all of this to say that my team has some obvious strengths and even more obvious weaknesses that I haven’t really addressed on defense. I will give a shout out to punter Andy Lee, who is a coffin corner kicker’s dream. He is practically Robo Punter.
Cleveland’s defense, in brief, has lots of pretty good players but few truly outstanding ones. Joe Haden is a very good cover corner, but isn’t very tall, and loses jump ball battles all the time. Tashaun Gipson is a great cover safety but doesn’t hit very hard. Donte Whitner is the opposite. My best linebacker is Barkevious Mingo, but Karlos Dansby is an awesome tackler who isn’t quite as athletic as Mingo. Paul Kruger is Karlos Dansby if he played the outside instead of the middle. My defensive line can’t rush the passer (unless Phil Taylor, who I did not cut, unlike Cleveland, gets free), but that isn’t really their job. My DBs are mostly nondescript, good at man coverage and okay tacklers, but they aren’t that hard to beat.
How am I at defense, then? It all depends.
The Browns run a 3-4 scheme, meaning they have three down linemen and four linebackers in their base set. The defensive line is there, mostly, to occupy space, while the linebackers rush the passer in various configurations. The key to a successful 3-4 is to blitz and blitz creatively. Zone blitz, man blitz, bring up the safeties, drop the tackle into coverage, you can’t rely on raw meat to stop the run, and your line won’t rush the passer. Therefore, having a lot of players who are functionally identical isn’t the worst. The problem is that Cleveland doesn’t have much speed on defense. Only Mingo and MLB #2 Christian Kirksey have good speed (80+) in the front seven. Only one DB is over 90 speed (Justin Gilbert).
If I keep up the pressure, every DB is an INT threat. Most of my linebackers hit hard enough to generate a fumble or two every other game. However, if I can’t get to the QB, either because he has a great offensive line, a great running game, or he simply has the presence to avoid the blitz, I’m pretty much screwed. None of my linebackers, except Kirksey, can keep up with a good tight end. Mingo could, but he’s usually rushing the passer. I will give up huge plays because my corners are the worst combination of kinda slow and kinda small. Tramon Williams is the slowest corner and is just 6’0. Gilbert is the best athlete, but lacks the experience to put that athleticism into practice. I have a team, in other words, of route jumping defensive backs, and if they fail to jump a route, I’m doomed.
The 3-4 is kind of a curse, and kind of a blessing: you live by the blitz and die by the blitz. Rattle a QB — as I did Joe Flacco in Game 1 of Season 2 — and there’s nothing they can do. I picked him off three times, ran one back for a TD, and just constantly hit him right as he threw or even sacked him. My nightmare is facing, well, my own offense: a QB who avoids blitzes, a great running attack, and huge receivers that can outjump my tiny DBs. Or, you know, any really great offense.
For my team, the best defense is a good offense. My season 2 draft, apart from possibly replacing Bowe and/or Crowell (maybe just Bowe) will focus on defensive playmakers. I want to target a very fast end, maybe a prototype linebacker, and above all else a truly elite cornerback or three. Donte Whitner will need to be replaced eventually, as he’s getting up there. The key is to improve athletically, so that I won’t have blitz every down unless it’s third and long.