Get used to seeing 4-2-5 as the Browns base defense

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Jeff Risdon
·2 min read
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One of the decisions Andrew Berry, Kevin Stefanski and the Browns staff made in the past offseason was to deliberately spend less resources at the linebacker position. That’s part of why Joe Schobert is now in Jacksonville. Based on how Stefanski and defensive coordinator Joe Woods deployed the players in 2020, don’t expect a significant investment in the off-ball LB position in 2021 either.

Like most of the rest of the NFL, the Browns used a base defense that had just two LBs on the field. The 4-2-5 or even the 4-1-6 as a base formation was the dominant deployment. Those two made up over half of the total defensive snaps in the NFL in 2020.

Graphic courtesy of r/NFL

For the Browns, it was even more pronounced. Per John Kosko of Pro Football Focus, which tracks personnel on every snap, the Browns defense under Woods broke down like this in 2020:

4-3-4: 267 snaps (24.8%)

4-2-5: 721 snaps (66.9%)

The rest was primarily 4-1-6 though some heavy packages on short-yardage and red zone situations also factored in.

The linebacker snap count breakdown:

B.J. Goodson – 848 (78.7%)

Malcolm Smith – 559 (51.9%)

Sione Takitaki – 434 (40.3%)

Mack Wilson – 372 (34.5%)

Jacob Phillips – 169 (15.7%)

Tae Davis – 25 (2.3%)

Interestingly, Woods actually used three LBs significantly more than predecessor Steve Wilks in 2019. The Browns had a span of seven games in 2019 where there were more than two LBs on the field exactly once.

The relative lack of depth at safety compared to linebacker in 2020 likely contributed to the increased usage. With Grant Delpit, the team’s second-round pick and projected top safety before an injury wiped out his rookie season, coming back, the Browns could lean more on using one LB more than three in 2021.