The Browns lost their season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs in the final minutes, but the defense played a solid game against one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods deserves a lot of the credit. The Chiefs will score points in bunches regardless of the opponent, but Woods ensured that Kansas City had to work to get those points.
The Cleveland defense played an impressive game against the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round last season. The Browns did not have much talent on the defense side of the ball in 2020, yet they managed to hold the defending world champions to 22 points. Granted, quarterback Patrick Mahomes missed the majority of the second half, but it was still noteworthy that Woods continually had the defense in positions to succeed.
Today, the Chiefs scored 34 points, with 24 of those coming in the second half. Mahomes could still create plays on the move, but the defense kept everything in front of them and looked competitive.
The secondary held up well for the entirety of the contest, and outside of a long touchdown from wide receiver Tyreek Hill, Kansas City struggled to create explosive plays. Mahomes routinely broke out of the pocket and picked up chunk gains, but the Browns made sure that he couldn't dial up long plays down the field.
This showing from the Cleveland defense shows how Woods plans to use this defense moving forward. They were rarely caught out of position and had an answer for every personnel grouping that the Chiefs threw at them.
A lack of talent shackled Woods during the 2020 season. He simply didn't have the personnel for what he envisioned, and as a result, the front office added a lot of defensive help over the offseason.
Both the secondary and defensive line looked much better against Kansas City, and they will only continue to improve moving forward. Edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, safety John Johnson III, corner Greg Newsome II, and more all impressed in their first game with this defense.
Woods wants this to defense to be able to run with anyone in the league. General manager Andrew Berry ensured that the Browns added half a dozen quality defensive starters over the offseason, and many of them have elite speed.
Clowney and Garrett make up one of the most fearsome edge pairings in football. Both are athletic specimens that can get upfield after the passer as soon as the ball is snapped, meaning the Browns can speed up on offense solely from edge pressure.
They also added linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah through the draft. Owusu-Koromoah has ridiculous speed that will allow him to chase after quarterbacks if he is allowed to bring pressure up the middle.
Woods also wanted to implement more dime defensive packages. He didn't have the secondary talent to play as many defensive backs as he would have liked last year, but Berry added even more secondary help over the offseason.
The new members of the secondary include: Johnson, Newsome, corner Troy Hill, and safety Grant Delpit. Delpit is returning from an injury that kept him sideline for the entire 2020 season, so this will be his first year in action with the team.
This defense is extremely malleable. They can run with any team in the league, but can also play with the physicality necessary to contend with the AFC powers. Woods now has a defensive line that can play stout run defense, specifically between the tackles, and get pressure off the edge.
Most of the linebackers have sideline to sideline range, though they won't be playing many at a time, and this secondary can play both a mix of zone and off-man coverage.
This defense is comparable to the Denver Broncos of the mid-2010s. Woods was part of the defensive staff under coordinator Wade Phillips during Denver's elite defensive years, and the formula was the same: a formidable defensive line that has quick, physical defensive backs.
Woods now has players that allow him to match personnel with any team in the league, and the past two games against Kansas City have proven that the Browns will have a solid defense moving forward.