The addition of Olivier Vernon is a big boost to the Cleveland Browns defense and the player who should benefit most is Myles Garrett.
Myles Garrett is coming off an outstanding second season, earning his first of what should be many nods as an All-Pro. There are areas where Garrett can improve his game to become that much more dominant, particularly with his hands, but the trade to acquire Olivier Vernon should allow the Cleveland Browns and new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to maximize in their scheme.
Garrett played this past season almost exclusively at right end. Occasionally, he would flip over to the left side, but that was largely the extent of their creativity with him. This seemed particularly strange as Gregg Williams was willing to put Garrett at the 3-technique as a rookie.
The first sack of Garrett’s career, after all, was from the three.
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At 280 pounds, Garrett has the size of a smaller defensive tackle with elite edge athleticism and bend. This is a massive opportunity for Wilks now running the defense, matching Garrett up to find the opponent’s weakness and allowing him to wreak havoc. Adding Vernon makes this an even more attractive option as in obvious passing situations. Take the clip of Garrett’s first sack and replace Nate Orchard with Olivier Vernon and put Genard Avery in place of Emmanuel Ogbah, giving them three excellent pass rushers all coming from different angles. Effectively blocking all three is no small undertaking.
And that’s not including Larry Ogunjobi, who was dominant at times rushing the passer early in 2018 or the signing of Sheldon Richardson that gives them another big body who can generate a ton of pressure on the inside. Those two, individually or as a pairing, can collapse the pocket and shrink or simply eliminate paths of escape for the quarterback.
Vernon, for his part, has been a good player, going up against players like Trent Williams, Tyron Smith and Jason Peters for the last few seasons as a member of the New York Giants. Now, he has the opportunity to rush the passer across from Garrett against lesser opponents and there should absolutely be situations where they do it side by side, isolating two blockers and racing to the quarterback either just straight rushing or through use of stunts that gets them on the move and force blockers to try to stop them on the move.
The Browns have put themselves in a unique situation where they can have their defensive line set up to play with strength, power or switch it up and go to a much sleeker, faster group be it to frustrate the run or attack the pass.
Specifically as it relates to Garrett, it gives the Browns the freedom for them to put him over an opposing team’s weakness. One team that has done a great job with this has been the Houston Texans. The Texans, with their defense run by former Browns head coach, Romeo Crennel, have been willing to move J.J Watt and Jadeveon Clowney around to create favorable matchups and just confuse opponents in terms of their tendencies.
This is something the Browns should employ with Garrett. Either because an opponent is just weak at a certain spot, one of their players is underperforming due to injury or a backup is in the game, Garrett should line up across from them and exploit it. There simply are not enough quality offensive linemen to meet the needs of every team, so Garrett should find his way to every one of the ones who has no business being able to block him.
It’s bad enough for opponents to have to gameplan for an answer for Garrett when he’s lined up exclusively at right end, but having to come up with a plan for Garrett when he’s a moving target in the defensive scheme is virtually impossible. And it forces offensive linemen to spend extra time to study Garrett just for the possibility he lines up across from them.
On the interior, they can’t throw tight ends and running backs at him in hopes of a chip. It’s double teams and a double team on Garrett means someone else is benefiting has an easier path to get to the ball.
The Browns defense, with the investments they’ve made so far and hopefully continue to make, should be a far less blitz heavy scheme. Blitzing can still be an attractive option and a change up to confuse opponents, but this group should be able to generate pressure while allowing the defense to drop seven players into coverage. This should increase the possibility of mistakes and turnover worthy plays committed by opposing quarterbacks.
Garrett is coming off a season in which he had 13.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Between his own improvement, getting better at avoiding being blocked as well as the talent they’ve added up front, those numbers should continue to rise. If the Browns are also willing to move him around to maximize his impact he can provide for this defense, Garrett can potentially reach 20 sacks this season, while also creating plays for teammates.