You want hope? Look at the defense

Posted Sep 16, 2013

Browns Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the team’s defense offers a legitimate reason for hope in the face of a 0-2 start and poor offense.

If you’re looking for a reason to feel good while dealing with all of the bad that goes with the Browns’ 0-2 start and woeful offensive showing, I’ve got one for you.

And, no, it isn’t that Josh Gordon is returning this week from his two-game suspension.

The talented receiver might very well inject some desperately needed life into the Browns’ offense, but that is not something I am ready to embrace as a true cause for optimism.

There’s no telling exactly what Gordon might be able to contribute, especially given that he has neither played nor practiced for the past two weeks and that the Browns’ quarterback situation is highly uncertain for Sunday’s game at Minnesota. Brandon Weeden is dealing with a sprained thumb, and the Browns could be forced to turn to Jason Campbell or Brian Hoyer as their starter to face the Vikings.

The hope for the Browns comes from the same place it has been since the offseason: the defense. More specifically, the front seven in which the team’s new leadership made its biggest investment in talent to go along with the hiring of defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

Based on what they’ve shown in the last two weeks, they have the makings of a dominant group. They do a superb job of stuffing the run, making opposing offenses one-dimensional, and turning up the heat on the quarterback.

All of the Browns’ primary newcomers are defensive players, and all have made significant contributions in both games.

Defensive lineman Desmond Bryant has been virtually unblockable. He has done plenty to help the Browns’ defense to control the line of scrimmage and has consistently generated pressure. He has team-leading 2.5 sacks.

Outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard have been highly effective on the edges, both in terms of rushing the passer and stopping the run. Kruger has a sack and Sheard has a half-sack and multiple near sacks in two games.

And rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo made his grand debut in Sunday’s loss at Baltimore when, on his first NFL snap, he sped around Bryant McKinnie as if the Ravens’ offensive tackle were standing still, and sacked Joe Flacco for a nine-yard loss.

Before suffering a sprained ankle against the Ravens, another newcomer, veteran outside linebacker Quentin Groves, made his presence felt as a pass-rusher and run-stopper.

Chief executive officer Joe Banner and the rest of the Browns’ brain trust have said for months that the cornerstone in building a championship team was a dominant defense, led by a ferocious pass-rush.

There’s every reason to believe that that has been, or at least is being, accomplished. Is there much more work to be done on the back end of the defense? Absolutely. Until that’s fixed, the Browns are going to struggle on third down, as they did against the Ravens.

But they have the foundation for a strong defense. And a strong defense gives a team sustainable competitiveness. If it doesn’t win games outright, it keeps them close, allowing even a mediocre offense to have the chance to provide the rest.

Of course, at this point, the Browns don’t have a mediocre offense. They have a poor one. They have one touchdown in two games. They generate almost no big plays in their passing game. They have no running game to speak of.

What they have is a front seven that is performing as advertised. What they have is a way to legitimately compete until their offense – and especially their passing game – improves, which probably won’t begin happening in earnest until next year when they likely address quarterback and other areas on that side of the ball.

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