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Four Downs: How the Jets, Browns built two of the NFL's best secondaries

Welcome to Four Downs, a bi-weekly article that takes a deeper look at the storylines, matchups and anything else involving the Browns on their two days away from the field: Tuesday and Saturday.

We're kicking it off with a deeper dive into why Sunday's season opener may just feature two of the league's best final lines of defense.

1. Jets, Browns took different approach toward building top secondaries

There's not a shred of film from 2014 that will prepare Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown for the challenge he'll face Sunday against the New York Jets secondary. That's not hyperbole to stress how tough the Jets' final line of defense could be; it's the truth because the Jets completely blew up what they had from last season.

Gone from the depth chart are the likes of Antonio Allen, Kyle Wilson and Phillip Adams, who were main cogs in a defense that ranked 30th in passing touchdowns allowed and intercepted just six passes. Some more advanced numbers: 21st in yards per pass attempt and 30th in opponent passer rating.

Enter four big-time free agent signings, including former Browns starter Buster Skrine. The contracts total north of $150 million with about half of that in guaranteed money. The largest amount went to Darrelle Revis, arguably the NFL's best cornerback whose departure from the Jets a couple of years ago can be directly linked to the team's recent struggles defending the pass. Four-time Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie will man the other side of the field. Skrine will play in the slot, a spot that appears to suit his skill set better than the outside. Marcus Gilchrist, who started the past two seasons in San Diego, replaces veteran Dawan Landry at free safety.

Calvin Pryor, a first-round pick last year, will remain the Jets' thumper at strong safety. One of the few other holdovers from last year, former first-round pick Dee Milliner, is starting the season on injured reserve-designated to return. Just about everyone else that will play a role in stopping Cleveland's variety of wide receivers wasn't anywhere near East Rutherford, N.J., at this time last year.

And they'll be playing in a new defensive scheme brought to town by coach Todd Bowles, the former defensive coordinator from Arizona. That last part is important because the Cardinals had one of the league's better secondaries in 2014. They're hoping the pieces fit and come together in a hurry because that's what they're being paid to do. And, frankly, they're hoping to mesh the way Cleveland's defensive backs did at this time last year in a new defensive system.

About that system …

The Browns' financials in the secondary aren't close to the Jets', but they're still significant. Joe Haden, Tramon Williams and Donte Whitner are all in their second and third contracts, respectively. Most importantly, the core five starters -- Haden, Williams, Whitner, Tashaun Gipson and nickel K'Waun Williams -- are in their second year within a system that allowed them to get better and better as the season progressed.

The results in Year 1: No. 1 in the NFL in QB passer rating, No. 1 in opponent completion percentage, No. 5 in yards per attempt and No. 8 in overall passing yards surrendered.

The term "graduate-level concepts" has been thrown around plenty during the offseason, and it's mostly come from these defensive backs. They survived a bunch of bumps and bruises throughout training camp and enter Sunday's game as healthy as they've been in months.

While the top four reasons to believe the Jets will thrive in the secondary were acquired as free agents, Cleveland compiled its group in a variety of ways. Haden was a top touted draft pick. Williams and Whitner were signed to their third contract. Gipson and Williams were undrafted free agents who defied the odds and forced the Browns to play them.

"With the skill, with the bodies that we have, there's no reason why we shouldn't be the best secondary," Haden said. "But you have to go out there and perform and you have to be on the same page."

Game on.

Take a look at the Cleveland Browns roster as of September 1, 2017.

2. Pac-12 edges ACC in Browns roster breakdown by conference

The Browns and the Pac-12 were connected in a big way during the 2015 NFL Draft, as the team selected seven players from the conference, including three of its first five. That West Coast injection had a major impact on the geography of the players' college rooting interests, as the Browns 53-man roster currently includes 10 Pac-12 alums.

Here's the full breakdown

Pac-12: 10

ACC: 7

Big Ten: 7

SEC: 6

Conference USA: 4

Mountain West: 4

Big 12: 3

FCS: 3

Division 2: 3

MAC: 2

American: 2

Ivy: 1

Sun Belt: 1

3. Homecoming weekend for many Browns assistants

This isn't just about Browns coach Mike Pettine, a former Jets defensive coordinator, or quarterbacks coach Kevin O'Connell, a former Jets quarterback. This is about the less obvious, but still abundant connections to the Jets and the area surrounding MetLife Stadium.

The list seems almost endless when you scan the Jets' media notes

-- Aaron Glenn, who is now the Browns' assistant secondary coach, was a former first-round pick for the Jets and played there from 1994-2001. He was on the Jets' sidelines in 2013 as a pro personnel scout when New York beat the Browns, 24-13.

-- Tight ends coach Brian Angelichio, offensive quality control assistant Michael McCarthy, secondary coach Jeff Hafley, defensive line coach Anthony Weaver and strength and conditioning coach Paul Ricci all grew up within driving distance to MetLife Stadium.

-- So did TE Jim Dray and DB K'Waun Williams.

4. One last number to consider

The Browns' 53-man roster features 19 new players from the end of last season. Eight of the 19 are rookies and nine were acquired as free agents.

If the current depth chart matches what the Browns use Sunday, they'll have 11 new starters compared to last year's season opener lineup. Five of the 11 returning starters from that game are on the offensive line.

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