Earlier this year, the Cleveland Browns traded three first round picks for an all pro quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson spent most of this offseason dealing with legal issues.
Before the season, the NFL handed Watson with an 11 game suspension. Keep in mind, the late great Vincent Jackson was suspended three games for driving with a suspended license. Josh Gordon has been essentially ostracized from the league because of marijuana. So 11 games for Watson was large, but not unwarranted.
This Sunday will mark the last of the 11 game suspension for Watson. This is huge new for the Browns and the NFL. Going into the season, everyone agreed that the Browns would play good defense and rely on an elite ground game. With the Watson suspension that hasn’t happened. Yes, their run game has been good, but their defense has been a mess.
What’s Gone Wrong
On paper, this Browns defense is stacked. Up front, you have one of the best players in all of football, Myles Garrett, next to Jadeveon Clowney. In the middle, they have one of the best rookies from last year in Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. On the back end they have Denzel Ward, John Johnson and a wealth of young talent like Greedy Williams, Grant Delpit and Greg Newsome.
The defensive struggles are a domino effect. The most casual of NFL fans can look at this defense and see how weak they are at defensive tackle. This causes their line play to be weak, and it often generates no push.
This means that to stop the run, they have to sell out for it or they’re just sitting ducks. When they inevitably drop a safety and condense the front, they get torched in the pass game. Their defensive tackle weakness is the main problem, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better.
Sure, Browns fans will say, “the Bucs have struggled to run the ball all year”. Yes, this is true, but so has the Chargers and Dolphins, who had a combined 436 rushing yards against the Browns. The Falcons’ young duo of Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley averaged seven yards a carry against the Browns. This team has struggled to shut down the league worst running teams all season.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods knows if he tries to stop the run, he will get give up quick and easy scores through the air. He’s getting all the hate for orchestrating the worst rush defense in the NFL, but what else is he supposed to do. At this point, it’s likely that Woods will get fired and the front seven as a whole will get restructured after the season.
This conversation gets even more interesting when looking at the NFL’s new obsession with getting an elite nose tackle. Having a dominant nose tackle that can single-handedly stop the run between the tackles, like the Bucs have with Vita Vea, is becoming a huge want for teams across the league.
What This Means For The Bucs
The basic answer is to expect a lot of running from the Bucs. Even though Fournette might not be fully healthy, White has proven he can hit an open hole and make a defender in the secondary miss. What I really want to see from Byron Leftwich and the Bucs offense is their use of play action.
If the Browns really aim to shut down the run, play action passes might bite them. The Bucs haven’t used play action at the rate the NFL is this season. But against the Seahawks there was a lot more of it, and it led to one of the best games of the season.
Besides all this, expect a dogfight in trenches and a run first approach against a defense who has allowed anyone to run on them. If the Bucs can continue their dominance on the ground against the Browns, that can carry throughout the rest of the season and in the playoffs and could lead to them making a run for another Super Bowl.
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