Though the Cleveland Browns are preaching continuity in the way of structure, their front office, and head coach Hue Jackson, it took less than a week for the defensive side of the ball to see a shakeup. On Friday, the Browns were linked to a variety of potential defensive coordinators—Gus Bradley, Wade Phillips and Gregg Williams—and on Sunday, they officially inked a deal with Williams to spearhead a defensive unit that was among the historically poor.
“We are thrilled that Gregg Williams is joining our staff as defensive coordinator,” Jackson said through a press release. “Gregg has been an outstanding defensive coach in this league for a very long time. His defenses have frequently finished among the top ten in the league. He adapts his scheme to maximize the strengths of his personnel and has always been able to get the most out of his players. We look forward to him coming in, helping our players improve and helping us become the winning team we are all working towards.”
How outstanding has Williams been? Williams has coached in the NFL for 26 years, including three as a head coach and 15 as a defensive coordinator. His defenses have finished in the top five in total defense five times, including the top defense in the NFL in 2000. Williams also oversaw a Saints defensive unit that won Super Bowl XLVI and a Titans defense that advanced to Super Bowl XXXIV. Coming from Los Angeles with the Rams for the last three seasons, where his units ranked seventh and 15th, respectively, over the last two.1
Williams will be replacing a unit that was 30th in pass defense and 27th against the run, 30th against opposing No. 1 receivers, and dead last in the NFL against opposing tight ends.
“It’s very exciting for me to become part of the Cleveland Browns organization and join Hue Jackson’s coaching staff,” Williams said. “I have so much respect for Hue having competed against him in this league for so many years. We’re looking forward to getting to work.”
In a rare post-exit interview press conference, Jackson addressed local media to discuss this move, saying it was not only a difficult move, but one that is about his vision for how he sees the Browns looking as they attempt to rebound from a 1-15 season under former defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
“I needed to look at our staff and I needed to look at our team and figure out what is going to be the best way for us moving forward so that I can bring winning to the Cleveland Browns,” said Jackson on Sunday. “That’s what I was interested in doing. These are tough decisions. These are hard decisions, but they are decisions to me from a leadership position that have to be made if you are going to create the winning environment that I hope to create here.
“His system gives us a chance, and what he has done is adapt many different schemes that he has been a part of and that he knows to the talent that is there. We all know we are going to have an opportunity to improve our football team as we move forward through free agency and the draft, and I think that is very important. He is going to bring us the type of defense that I am looking for as we move forward here.”
The “system” referenced is a complex version of the 4-3 defense that will be a substantial overhaul, but one that Jackson believes is better suited for the players his defense has—or whom his front office covets. Though much will be made about the 4-3, very few defenses in the NFL run out of one formation through a game as the 3-4 Browns had many four-man fronts. The difference with Williams’ scheme of multiple fronts, coverages, pressures, and personnel packages will be the gaps each player is responsible for over the course of the subsequent play.
Given what Williams was able to do with players like the Rams’ Aaron Donald, and the Browns having the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, it is not far-fetched to envision a plan that puts last seasons’ second round pick in Emmanual Ogbah on the ground across from another lethal pass rusher in Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett. What this means for the linebackers and woeful defensive backfield, however, remains to be seen.
Williams will be the Browns’ third defensive coordinator in three seasons, but if you’re looking for a testimony, former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis has you covered.
- In DVOA. [↩]