Skip to main content

OTAs & Minicamp

Jim Schwartz implementing "changeups" into the Browns' "fastball" defense

After leading the league in multiple categories in 2023, Browns look to fine-tune their defense

Jim Schwartz and defense 5.31

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz views the Browns' defense as unit with a successful "fastball."

But in the second year of their defensive system, he knows it's time to implement some changeup pitches.

"We do what we do, and we try to do it really well," Schwartz said. "But there were some things that we sort of held back last year, just from a standpoint that we sort of triaged it and said, 'Okay, what can we reasonably expect to get good at to master in one offseason?' So, we had to sort of pick and choose. But that now gives us a little bit of time because we don't have to work on the fastball; now, we can add different pitches. We don't want to get away from the fastball, but it does give us a chance to work on some changeups and some secondary pitches and add to our scheme."

Schwartz has relied on baseball analogies in the past to describe his defense. In 2023, he compared his rotations of the defensive line to relief pitchers. He's used the analogy of "putting the ball in play" instead of swinging for the fences for defenders making players.

His latest comparison indicates how the Browns can take the next step in their defensive scheme. In 2023, the Browns led the league in total defense allowed with 270.2 yards per game. They had the best passing defense in the league, only allowing 164.7 yards per game. They also led the NFL in third down percentage, allowing teams to only convert 29.1 percent of the third-down attempts.

Yet, Schwartz knows there are areas of the defense they can improve upon.

When he and head coach Kevin Stefanski reviewed film from the 2023 season, Schwartz noted their red zone defense as a specific area of focus. In 2023, according to Fox Sports, the Browns had the worst defense red zone touchdown rate at 71.4 percent. As the Browns wrapped up the second week of organized team activities, they've spent time in practice drilling 7-on-7 red zone work.

They also reflected on the 45-14 loss to the Texans in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, and what led to the uncharacteristic defensive struggles. Schwartz believes they are a "high-risk defense" who put an emphasis on making plays and being aggressive. However, when Schwartz reviewed the game, he believed they chased plays during the game – not only from the players' perspective, but also in how he called plays.

"It's a quarterback scramble and you drop your coverage to try to get to the quarterback, or you jump the first move of a receiver trying to make an interception, or you run under a block because you're trying to make a tackle for a loss," Schwartz explained. "I think you saw all those things pop up. You're playing a deep zone, and you get a little bit antsy because you're trying to play tight and make a play that maybe isn't yours to make. We have an expression on defense, we call it 'don't farm land that's not yours.' And, like I said, we made that mistake. We paid a very dear price for that. And we can't do anything about it now but hopefully we can learn from it and the next time we're in that situation we can play better as a result."

Check out the action from practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus as the Browns go through organized team activities

However, 2024 is a new season. Schwartz said each year there is about a 20 percent rotation of the scheme, with some elements falling out of favor or losing their effectiveness, while adding other aspects that are trending around the league. It's what they will focus on throughout the offseason and into training camp to tweak their defense.

While Schwartz is implementing a new "pitch," there is still a sense of familiarity in the defensive scheme in the second year with the return of key defensive players.

The Browns re-signed DE Za'Darius Smith, DT Shelby Harris, DT Maurice Hurst II and S Rodney McLeod during free agency who each found their own level of success in the defensive system during the 2023 season. They also signed LB Jordan Hicks, and while new to the team, understands Schwartz as a coach from his time with the Eagles.

Other pivotal defensive players like DE Myles Garrett, CB Denzel Ward, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and S Grant Delpit found a level of success in Schwartz's scheme that can serve as a foundation heading into the second year.

As a unit, they are in a different spot heading into 2024 with a year in the system. And yet, they are willing to take the necessary steps to improve and achieve their goals as a defense.

"We can't get complacent," Schwartz said. "We can't think that last year is going to mean anything. Right now, last year means nothing. Everybody's right down to the bottom of the hill again, and you got to climb it again. We're in a little different spot just because we have some experience in the defense, but we can't act as if anything's going to carry over from last year. We have to stay hungry that way."

Related Content