BEREA, Ohio — What can the Browns’ new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz do with a player like Myles Garrett? And what does Calvin Johnson have to do with it?
Before we get to that, it might be helpful to look at another edge rusher who was drafted first overall and played for Schwartz.
Mario Williams had perhaps his best season for Schwartz in 2014, when Schwartz managed Buffalo’s defense. His promising career began with 53 sacks in Houston and two Pro Bowl appearances before signing with Buffalo in 2012 after playing just five games in 2011.
Williams had 10.5 sacks and 13 sacks in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and then when Schwartz arrived in 2014, he set a new career high with 14.5 sacks on Buffalo’s strong defensive line and earned the last of his four Pro Bowl nominations and his only Associated Press First Team All-Pro award. In 2014 he was even named the only defensive player of the month.
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“We had three double-digit hitters up front,” Schwartz recalled during his introductory press conference on Wednesday. “We rarely had the blitz to put pressure on.”
Defensive end Jerry Hughes had 10 sacks this season. So does Marcell Dareus on the defensive. Both made it to the Pro Bowl and Dareus joined Williams as a first-team All-Pro.
The Bills led the NFL with 54 sacks.
“We ran a very D-line friendly program that eliminated a lot of the conflict for these guys,” Schwartz said. “And we were able to get the guys out of it and we kind of let those guys go and be disruptive. And I know that, I’ve spoken to a lot of offensive coaches over my career, I’ve spoken to a lot of quarterbacks over the years, and the way you affect the game the most in this league is by rushing around.”
He pointed out the rules of the game that make pass defense difficult and called the wide receivers “freak shows” in tonight’s game.
Garrett finished his career in 2022 with 16 sacks, matching his total from a season ago. He didn’t get much help. The Browns as a team had just 34 sacks, ranking fifth-worst in the league. Garrett’s 73 pressings, as tracked by Pro Football Focus, were ninth in the NFL. No one else on the Browns defense finished in the top 100.
If Schwartz’s defense is to start pressuring, there’s a lot of work to be done.
“You can still win one-on-one with pass rush, and a devastating pass rush goes a long way,” Schwartz said. “You can generate turnovers through pass rush, and if you can rush with four, your blitz play becomes so much more effective because you start blitzing on your terms as opposed to offensive terms. You don’t have to blitz just to get pressure. You can blitz based on the situation and staff, rather than being forced to blitz to apply pressure.
Now that Jadeveon Clowney has talked his way out of the picture, there’s a hole on the line opposite Garrett — and even deeper than just the #2 edge-rusher point — as well as the need to make additions mid-line.
Rookie Alex Wright, who played the second-most snaps of any edge rusher on the team, had just 12 pressings and zero sacks in his freshman season. Rookie Isaiah Thomas had just one sack, as did Chase Winovich, who was acquired in a trade from New England last season.
The good news for Schwartz is that he has Garrett, and the comparison he made for his star edge rusher was one you might not have expected: Johnson, the Hall of Fame wide receiver who played for Schwartz, when he was Detroit’s head coach from 2009 to 2013.
“We always knew that every defense plan began with the question, ‘How can we prevent Calvin Johnson from taking over this game?’ That was job one,” Schwartz said. “And then it allowed you to play it in different ways and you knew they were going to do stuff to take him away.”
How does it apply to Garrett?
“Any offense that we’re going to play will probably start with that. How do we neutralize Myles Garrett and stop him from ruining this game?” Schwartz said. “And it’s my job to give him some answers and to be able to put some pieces around him, in terms of scheme and staff, so he can be more free and productive.”
It’s all about Garrett being the best pass rusher he can be, which isn’t a bad place to start when putting together a pass rush.
“The bar is set really high,” Schwartz said, “for good reason.”
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