The adage in the NFL has long been that “Defense Wins Championships.” For all of the Peyton Manning record-breaking seasons, the Seattle Seahawks proved this saying to true once again with their Super Bowl win last season. The Seahawks won with a dominating defense that stopped the high-powered, Manning-led Denver Broncos. It’s a copycat league and this model of defense appears to be under constrution here in Cleveland under new head coach Mike Pettine. Adding to the defense that was built a season ago, the Browns appear to be believes in that very adage.
Replacing head coach Rob Chudzinski with Pettine was a sign that the team was going more towards defense. Pettine was the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills and has coached on the defensive side of the ball for most of his career in the NFL. He has instituted a tough and passionate style of football with which he wants the team to play, dubbing it “Playing like a Brown.” Pettine will make the team a defensive-orientated team that will match well in the tough AFC North. The team will be running a hybrid 3-4 defense that plays press coverage in the secondary. Pettine makes his corners play on the line, asking them to play one-on-one (“on an island”), which allows the other defenders to blitz and help stop run. He has modeled his defensive philosophy after the Rex Ryan Jets’ defense.
Pettine was instrumental in the acquisitions on the defensive side of the ball. The Browns started off the offseason with the big free agent signings of Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner. With these additions, the team upgraded their physicality, but both players also add more versatility then their predecessors, D’Qwell Jackson and T.J. Ward. Dansby and Whitner are players who are solid in coverage along with their run stopping. They both add size and athleticism that helps in playing all over the field and in different roles. The NFL is still a passing league so the defense needed more players who can cover. As a bonus: They also add leadership to a young defense and the overall team.
But wait, there’s more. The Browns continued their upgrade on defense through the draft, picking up two big corners who can play in his press coverage in Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir. Both players are adept in man-to-man coverage and give the team a great complement to Joe Haden. They also added inside linebacker Christian Kirksey to improve their overall linebacking corps. Kirksey is a very athletic player that once again adds versatility because of his coverage skills and toughness. They also added a defensive back and defensive lineman following the draft.
[Related: Mike Pettine: Defensive Chameleon]
So over the course of the offseason, Pettine has added players that fit his vision of a defensive scheme. The team has completely revamped the passing defense with the additions of these players to a unit that was already talented. The Browns are loaded up front with a lot of depth and the outside linebackers have lot of guys who can get to the quarterback. The front seven was a strength of the team last year and the weakest part of it, the middle linebackers, got better this offseason. Karlos Dansby is a player who can stabilize the middle of the field. He along with Kirksey have given the middle linebacker position players who can give the team versatility.
The secondary was the biggest question mark, one that needed to be improved over the offseason and that was exactly what they did. The Browns added two big corners in Gilbert and Desir. These two will allow Buster Skrine to be moved inside and play the slot, which, despite his improvement in 2013, allows him to play to his strengths. The corners now have depth and versatility because of the different types of corners they have. Gilbert is a bigger corner who will complement the smaller Joe Haden as the No. 2 cornerback. The safety position has improved in coverage because of the addition of Donte Whitner who is a better cover safety than his predecessor in T.J. Ward. The improvements needed in the secondary were addressed, making it one of the most improved part of the defense, one that should allow the team to not only get off of the field on third downs, but put additional pressure on teams during the two-minute drill—two of their biggest weaknesses in 2013.
Though Ray Farmer has gone to work, adding several players to the defensive side of the ball, Mike Pettine, his head coach might be the biggest addition to that side of the ball. The defense is the backbone of a Mike Pettine team. It will be the side of the ball that will set the tone for the season. The Browns added toughness, leadership, and experience to a defense that will hopefully propel it to one of the best in the league. This is a team that hasn’t had an identity since the return in ’99, but will now have one as they strive to overpower their opponents.