Coming into this year's NFL Draft, the biggest need on the roster for the Cleveland Browns was corner. Andrew Berry, the team's general manager, was able to address it in the first round by taking Greg Newsome out of Northwestern. Now that they have him, it opens up a number of doors into how the Browns can play defense this year.
Newsome adds both speed as well as length this secondary, which were missing during the 2020 season. He also gives them the ability to utilize more coverage options than last year, which not only help the Browns in general, but could help maximize both Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams.
The Browns have two starting corner spots decided already with Ward on one boundary and then newly signed Troy Hill manning the slot. Newsome and Williams will be competing for the other boundary spot and whoever loses becomes valuable depth.
In 2020, the Browns played a ton of Cover-3 and then as the season rolled along and injuries limited them, they ended up playing a ton of quarters coverage. With Newsome, the Browns aren't going to play quarters until the opponent has to get at least 15 yards for a first down or as their prevent.
Much depends on how quickly Newsome can acclimate and if Williams is going to be effective, but the Browns can play man coverage and dare opponents to beat them. In doing so, the Browns are putting the opposing quarterback on a clock.
When the Browns were forced to play a conservative zone due to their personnel, it enabled quick passes underneath with the defense keeping everything in front of them, trying to stop the bleeding and letting the offense make its own mistakes or trying to hold them to a field goal.
Against man, the opposing quarterback may be forced to hold onto the ball longer, which should increase the amount of opportunities for the Browns pass rush to get home. Even when they don't get sacks, they will get pressure, disrupt the quarterback and potentially cause poor decisions that could lead to turnovers.
Considering what the Browns are building with their defensive line, which could still get more talent before this draft is over, it could be setting Myles Garrett up for a record breaking year.
Two things have stood in the way of Garrett eclipsing the franchise record for sacks in a season of 14.5: Staying on the field and opposing quarterbacks being able to get the ball out quickly.
If Garrett can play a full season and the Browns have a secondary that doesn't allow quarterbacks easy throws, he won't just take the franchise mark, but could threaten the overall record for sacks in a season.
Particularly in third and medium, the Browns are going to want to be able to play man coverage, avoiding getting beat on the quick passes that extend drives.
That should be a welcome change for both Ward and Williams, who are both suited to play more man. As much as Cover-3 ultimately becomes man coverage, this would give both of them freedom to line up tighter and compete immediately with the receiver.
The Browns have largely been content to play sides with their corners, often with Ward playing on the defense's left. This at least opens the door for them to consider playing matchup specific defense if they want Ward to shadow someone specifically.
The pick of Newsome was made with a nod toward the division as the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens both added receivers in the first round in Ja'Marr Chase and Rashod Bateman. The one thing the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has is receiving threats.
The best thing the Browns can do to defend the Ravens, the most threatening team in the AFC North, is being able to use a single defender to cover each of their receivers and having as many other defenders able to at least have an eye on the line of scrimmage in case Lamar Jackson decides to run.
When he does, it becomes a matter of playing assignment sound defense where each defender fills their appropriate gap. It takes a team effort. No one player can do that job. This is how the Buffalo Bills shut down the Ravens offense in the playoffs.
Looking at the landscape of the AFC, both the Kansas City Chiefs and Bills, the teams who faced off in the AFC Championship, boast a ton of firepower and the Browns had to get better at corner if they were going to compete.
The Chiefs have Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman. The Bills added Emmanuel Sanders to a group that already has Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis.
Last year, the Browns simply did not have enough in the secondary to match up against these offenses. Having added John Johnson, Troy Hill and now Greg Newsome, the Browns are far better equipped to at least slow down those units as they look to make their own push for the Super Bowl.
The Browns should continue to look to add corner help to ensure they are never in a position where their personnel limit their ability to play the coverages they want, they practice throughout training camp and the preseason.
The addition of Greg Newsome affords Joe Woods the freedom to mix up his coverages and try to confuse the opponent. Everyone knew what they were getting last year because the Browns were so limited in what they could. Now, Woods has a chance to show what he can do to improve the Browns chances on defense with situational play calling.