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Browns' best plan to combat AFC North QBs: Pick them off

3/27/2015

What's the old saying, if you don't have a quarterback, stop the teams that do?

That's not it, but it might as well apply to the Cleveland Browns, whose signing of Tramon Williams reminds that the team is stockpiling defensive backs to combat three opposing divisional teams with a combined 22 years of quarterback stability, a stark contrast to the Browns' 22 starting quarterbacks since 1999.

Earlier Friday, NFL Nation highlighted how much of a premium the Browns place on the defensive backfield -- 26.6 percent of the team's 2015 salary owed, a number that could mushroom if safety Tashaun Gipson gets a long-term extension. Joe Haden, Williams and Donte Whitner will get a combined $27.5 million in average yearly earnings over the course of their deals. The team invested a first-round pick in corner Justin Gilbert, a fourth-rounder on Pierre Desir and undrafted rookie K'Waun Williams started games in the slot.

It's fairly easy to figure out why the Browns would enact this strategy -- facing Ben Roethlisberger or Joe Flacco four times a year and, yes, Andy Dalton twice (Dalton is not in the class of his AFC North peers but is an established four-year starter).

The Browns gave up a league-worst 141.6 rushing yards last year, but they offset that issue with a top-10 passing defense that helped the Browns rank first in the league in takeaways.

Whether Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel or [insert draft pick here] start for the Browns at quarterback, the team will keep loading up on defensive backs to soften the offensive blow.

Consider the Browns' performance last year against AFC North quarterbacks:

Roethlisberger: 44-of-76, 593 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions

Flacco: 41-of-67, 529 yards, three touchdowns, one interception

Dalton: 24-of-57, 203 yards, zero touchdowns, four interceptions

Total: 109-of-200 (54.5 percent), 1,325 yards (220.8 per game), five touchdowns, seven interceptions

Conclusion: The Browns won two division games last year and will need another solid performance from the defensive backfield to get two or more in 2015. With quarterback still an uneasy position, secondary is arguably the biggest part of the Browns' identity.