Browns' defense a step behind the offense

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

BEREA, Ohio – The pants fit perfectly but what about the defense?

On Tuesday afternoon following practice, many Cleveland Browns players had to record video messages to be played on the scoreboard and on local television during the regular season. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards didn't have a pair of pants, just athletic shorts and sweats. He needed appropriate attire and grabbed a pair of jeans from quarterback Derek Anderson and slipped them on for about 20 minutes.

Perfect fit.

The point: The Browns appear to have put together some parts on offense that go together quite nicely. Where the fit is questionable and could ultimately hold back the Browns after their promising 10-6 performance in 2007 is how the defense works with the offense.

No matter how many moves the Browns made to upgrade their defense this offseason, you have to wonder if the defense will be good enough to put them in the upper echelon of the AFC with the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers.

"Our young guys like (cornerback) Eric Wright, (safety) Brodney Pool and (linebacker) D'Qwell Jackson are going to have to take a step up," Browns general manager Phil Savage said.

Likewise, the Browns are hoping that linebacker Antwan Peek, defensive end/linebacker Willie McGinest and defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams can combine for a formidable pass rush.

"If the defensive tackles collapse the pocket the way we expect, that's going to give our edge guys a lot better chance to get there," head coach Romeo Crennel said.

It sounds nice, but it's a lot of ifs.

That's why some people in the Browns offices can't get names like free agent cornerback Ty Law and defensive end Jason Taylor, whose status with the Miami Dolphins is uncertain, out of their heads right now. As Crennel surveyed his quarterbacks and names like Taylor and Law were thrown at him, he did nothing to dismiss a need for one of them. But Crennel is a coach and coaches are greedy when it comes to getting more players.

For his part, Savage isn't ready to go there yet. Savage said the plan for now is to sign a younger cornerback who could step in as a third or fourth guy and then develop into more of an impact performer. As for someone like Taylor, the Browns have reached their budget.

"The actual cash money going out the door, we're pretty much already at our budget," Savage said. "We've kind of already indicated we're not going to go that route … we're not going to worry about something we can't get."

Then again, the Browns might want to reconsider their stance on upgrading the end position because there is real potential for this team to do damage with what has been assembled offensively.

Coming off a season in which they ranked No. 8 in the league in both total yards (351.3 yards per game) and scoring offense (25.1 ppg), the Browns added free agent wide receiver Donté Stallworth to a mix that already included Edwards, Anderson, tight end Kellen Winslow, running back Jamal Lewis and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius. Throw in the development of Josh Cribbs as a wide receiver and the failsafe of Brady Quinn at quarterback in case Anderson falls to Earth and you have a team that should score.

"No question," Edwards said. "You look at the explosiveness we have and it should be a show. You add Donté with me and Kellen already out there and Jamal back there and we could do some serious damage."

Even with Jurevicius sidelined for a three-day minicamp because of a knee surgery and subsequent infection (he is the sixth Browns player to suffer a staph infection in the past four years) and with Stallworth out because of a death in his family, the Browns look plenty good on offense.

"Things have picked up pretty well from where we were at by the end of last season," Anderson said. "For me, I'm really focused on learning to make the reads quicker, find out where the best one-on-one matchups are and get the ball to our best players in the best situations."

Anderson was so excited about the addition of Stallworth that he called Stallworth in March to start working together. That was five weeks before the Browns started offseason workouts.

"It was just about, 'Hey, do you want to get some work in and get to know each other,' " Anderson said. "You get an explosive guy like Donté in here and you just want to make it work."

The plan for the Browns is pretty obvious: Build a high-powered offense that can score quickly and then allow the defense to play against the pass most of the game. The idea is to allow the defense to pin its ears back and take off after the quarterback.

"That's the idea," Savage said. "Throw to score and then turn the game over to Jamal."

New England used that plan successfully last season until the Super Bowl. However, a key difference between those Patriots and the Browns is New England established it had players that could get to the quarterback.

While the Browns have linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and his potential, they could use more. Last season, Cleveland had only 28 sacks, a long way from the league-leading 53 the New York Giants had on the way to winning the title last season.

The kind of pass rush that can make the likes of Brady in New England and Peyton Manning in Indianapolis feel very uncomfortable.

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