Browns offseason analysis: Putting the D-line under the microscope


Finally, it's time for some defense.

After a week of offensive reviews -- quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and offensive line -- we're switching sides and focusing on the defensive line.

The Raw Data

Desmond Bryant - 15 games, 49 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 pass deflection, 1 fumble recovery

Ishmaa'ily Kitchen - 12 games, 43 tackles

Billy Winn - 13 games, 31 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble

Ahtyba Rubin - 13 games, 28 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass deflection

John Hughes - 5 games, 17 tackles, 1 pass deflection

Sione Fua - 11 games, 12 tackles

Armonty Bryant - 5 games, 11 tackles, 1 sack

Phil Taylor - 5 games, 10 tackles, 1 pass deflection

Jamie Meder - 1 game, 1 tackle

Jacobbi McDaniel - 1 game

The Rankings

Total defense - 366.1 yards per game - 10th

Yards per rush attempt - 4.5 - 32nd

Rushing touchdowns - 13 - T-20th

Sacks - 31 - 27th

The High Point

With Taylor starting in what would be his final game of 2014, the Browns defensive line led the charge in a dominant performance Nov. 6 at Cincinnati. Desmond Bryant had two sacks and the Bengals couldn't get anything going through the air or on the ground. After the Bengals gained just 86 rushing yards against the Browns, they averaged 150 over their final eight games. Cleveland allowed a season-low 165 yards in the big win -- just about 200 yards below its average for the year.

The Low Point

Same opponent, completely different story. In a stretch of games in which the Browns couldn't stop the opposing rushing attack, Dec. 14 against the Bengals was easily the worst. Jeremy Hill had his way from start to finish, piling up 148 of Cincinnati's 244 rushing yards to go with two touchdowns. The Bengals picked up 16 of their 22 first downs on the ground and they ended the game with an exhaustive 14-play, 86-yard touchdown drive capped by a 10-yard run from third-stringer Rex Burkhead.

Best Play

Much like our best play from a Browns offensive lineman, this was a special moment on special teams. With the score tied 0-0 early against Tampa Bay, Winn did his best Kam Chancellor impersonation and hurdled two Buccaneers to block Patrick Murray's 31-yard field goal attempt. It proved to be pivotal, as Cleveland needed every last point in a 22-17 victory.

Surprise, Surprise

Cleveland's playoff hopes were dashed and the regular season finale was viewed externally as nothing more than a spoiler opportunity, but Hughes wanted to generate some positive momentum going into the offseason. Though the Browns lost, he did just that in one of the most productive games of his career. In 42 snaps, Hughes, who missed eight games with a knee injury, piled up seven tackles and a quarterback hurry. It was a performance that earned plenty of respect from his teammates and coaches, who would have understood if he sat out the last game and shifted his focus to 2015. He'll be back for his fourth season and is among the team's top options for regular work.

Quote to Note

"It's not one guy. I've never said it was just one guy. It's technique. It's scheme. It's players. It is a combination of everything. When you're not where you want to be, you've got to take a hard look at yourself. We will do that, but I'm very confident in our run scheme." defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil

Outlook for 2015

This unit looks a lot different when you picture it in perfect health. That's not practical, of course, because every NFL team deals with injuries in the trenches, but the Browns were among the hardest hit in the league with aches and pains on the defensive line. Imagining the Browns with a healthy Armonty Bryant and Taylor makes the picture a lot prettier than it stands today. Rubin, who has played 100 games for the Browns, is an unrestricted free agent and would like to return to Cleveland. Kitchen is a restricted free agent. Those are among the decisions General Manager Ray Farmer will have to make before he tackles the NFL Draft with the team's 10 picks. This is a pretty good year for finding a defensive lineman in the draft, but a trade likely would be required to land a player like Leonard Hamilton (USC), Randy Gregory (Nebraska) and Shane Ray (Missouri). Danny Shelton (Washington) and Eddie Goldman (Florida State) are realistic first-round options at defensive tackle while defensive end Alvin Dupree (Kentucky) is projected to land in the mid-first round. Ndamukong Suh is the big fish in free agency. Some other big names: Jason Pierre-Paul, B.J. Raji, Jerry Hughes and Nick Fairley.

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