Joe Woods was asked Thursday to provide the stats he values most as a defensive coordinator — with the exception of "points allowed."
Woods just wasn't interested in making that exception. There's no avoiding how important the big number on the scoreboard is to a defense that is 100 percent focused on finishing games with a higher number on their side of it.
"That is the most important stat, because obviously if the team is not scoring, you are giving yourself a chance to win," Woods said. "We always talk about points allowed."
Woods broke down a couple of other stats he values, and we're analyzing how the team will look to improve those numbers in 2021.
1. Points allowed
The Browns were 21st in the NFL in this category last season, allowing 26.2 points per game. It was a slight regression from the 2019 season, when the Browns allowed 24.6 points per game, but Cleveland still came away with five more wins in 2020 thanks to a much-improved offense.
Among the 14 playoff teams in 2020, the Browns ranked 13th in points allowed. Only the Titans (27.4) surrendered more points per game than Cleveland.
The strangest aspect of last year? The Browns had a WINNING record in games that saw them surrender 30 or more points. They went 4-3 in those contests, and three of them — Cowboys, Titans and Bengals — were arguably three of the best moments of the season.
Still, Woods and the Browns know they're much better off trying to avoid those kinds of crooked numbers in 2021.
"We want to be a fast, aggressive team," Woods said. "We want to be able to take away the ball. We really want to dictate the way the game is played. I want to be aggressive with our game planning, aggressive in terms of getting after the quarterback with blitz packages and not really worry about what they are doing – make them worry about what we are doing. That is the hope."
The Browns were hot-cold in this department in 2021. But when they were hot, boy, were they hot.
Cleveland was among the NFL's leaders in turnovers through the first half of the 2020 season, hit a dry spell during the second half and went bananas in its Wild Card playoff win over the Steelers. Ultimately, the Browns finished tied for 18th in the NFL with 21 turnovers forced. They were +5 on the season when you factor in the 16 turnovers committed by the offense, putting them at No. 9 in the league. Of the teams ranked in the top 12 in turnover margin, only one (Miami) didn't make the playoffs.
Turnovers were arguably the most vital piece to the Browns' overall success in 2020. The Browns were undefeated anytime they won or tied the turnover battle in a game. They won just once (at Jacksonville) when they were on the wrong side of it.
Turnovers, at times, can be a byproduct of some good luck — a fortunate bounce here, an unexpected carom there — but Browns coach Kevin Stefanski made it clear it's a major area of emphasis for both the offense and the defense on the practice field.
"You achieve what you emphasize," Stefanski said. "We say we are all about the ball here.
"We want to make sure that on both sides of the ball we recognize how important winning that turnover margin is. It is definitely something we emphasize."
3. "Get off the field"
Woods took some liberties here and bundled up two important stats into one general theme: How effectively are the Browns getting off the field without suffering the worst possible result?
Two big ones fit the bill here: Third-down success rate and red zone efficiency.
Last year, the Browns were 23rd in the NFL when they allowed teams to convert third downs 43.9 percent of the time. It was worse on fourth downs, where the Browns allowed opponents to convert 81 percent of their opportunities — a mark that ranked 31st in the league.
The Browns were better in the red zone, where they ranked 14th in the NFL by allowing TDs a little more than 60 percent of the time the opponent crossed the 20-yard line. Cleveland was tied for ninth in the league in preventing touchdowns when the opponent faced a goal-to-go situation.
There's room for improvement everywhere, and that's the mentality Woods and the defense have embraced. The goal, Woods said, is to be a top-five unit by the end of the year.
"We feel like if we are top five, we are going to give ourselves a chance," Woods said. "Obviously, we want to be the best, but we will be able to measure that every week based on the stats of each game."