Defensive coordinator Joe Woods has a rich history of coaching defensive backs. In fact, he cut his teeth in the sport by serving as the position coach for star Tampa Bay corner duo Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly.
Woods coached several Hall of Famers during his early coaching years and served under some of the best defensive minds in the sport. He routinely made players better, no matter where he went. Barber made All-Pro in each of his two seasons with Woods, safety Charles Woodson led the team in tackles in his seventeenth season, and Denver had one of the best secondaries in recent memory.
Eventually, he made his way to Cleveland, where he received harsh criticism over his first year and a half in Berea. The defense began to round into form midway through the season, and those talks ceased.
The Cleveland secondary featured several standouts and many depth pieces that helped anchor the defense at points throughout the season. Some have argued that they were the best-coached group in all of football.
When we run down the list of corners that thrived in this system, it appears Woods once again worked his magic. Denzel Ward played at a Pro-Bowl level, Greg Newsome was one of the best rookie corners, Greedy Williams flashed at times, and their depth was strong all the way around.
Many deserve credit for the improved play of the secondary. General manager Andrew Berry spent the offseason overhauling the group, bringing in safety John Johnson III, drafting Newsome, and signing corner Troy Hill.
Staffers Jeff Howard and Brandon Lynch also deserve credit for the secondary performance. The players obviously deserve recognition, as several made notable improvements over the offseason, speaking to their work ethic and desire to make an impact.
However, the man lost in the shuffle is Woods. Most don't even talk about him anymore; they simply are no longer calling for his job. The reality is that Woods played a significant role in the shift, and another strong season could put him up for a head coaching job.
The stark difference in defensive back play proved the difference in several wins this season. In week nine, the best example came in the Browns blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals have terrorized opposing defenses all season long with their electric trio of quarterback Joe Burrow and his two wideouts, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. The only team to effectively shut them down was the Browns, who played man coverage for most of the afternoon and dominated one of the best receiving cores in the league.
A lot can be lost in transition. The undertone surrounding Woods at the start of the season was pessimistic, yet here we are several months later, commending him for scheme and adjustments. Players respond to him, and management had his back from the beginning, a reflection of his presence.
The defense should improve moving forward, and while some of that has to do with young personnel, Woods also has a massive hand. He did more with less in 2020, improved in 2021, and has a sky-high ceiling in 2022.