Browns’ best sales pitch to J.J. Watt: No more double teams

BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns star defensive end Myles Garrett was one of four edge rushers last season to rank in the top 10 in both double teams faced and overall pass rush win rate.

The Browns now appear to have the opportunity to add one of the others to flank Garrett as they look to bolster their defense coming off last year’s breakout playoff season.

This week, J.J. Watt‘s free agency continued on, with the former Houston Texans star commenting on the process for the first time over social media.

That should come as no surprise, as teams jockey to land the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, who was recently let go by the Texans.

Watt, who will be 32 on March 22, is no longer quite the pass-rusher he was the last time he won the award in 2015. But he’s still disruptive, and could continue to flourish with a better supporting cast than he had in Houston.

Watt has several intriguing options. The Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans are among those who reportedly are vying for his services. All three teams will have Super Bowl aspirations in 2021. Other contenders will be making their pitches, as well. But the budding Browns also have plenty to offer — including, most notably, an end to all those constant double teams.

In 2020, Watt faced a double-team a league-high 30.1% of the time. Despite that, he still proved to be a difference maker. Watt only finished with five sacks, a career-low in a 16-game season. But he also ranked seventh in the NFL with 13 disrupted dropbacks (a sack, interception or tipped or defended pass), according to ESPN Stats & Info, including a 19-yard pick-six on Thanksgiving Day in Houston’s victory over the Detroit Lions. On top of that, he was one of only seven defensive linemen to finish with a run stop and pass rush win rate topping 20% last year.

Last season, Cleveland’s offense ranked sixth in efficiency behind a powerful running game and resurgent campaign from quarterback Baker Mayfield. But the Browns’ defense struggled at times, even with Garrett wrecking offenses up front. The charge won’t get any easier moving forward with QBs Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson standing in the way in the AFC.

Watt would give the Browns the veteran presence up front they’re going to need to take another step forward defensively as they continue to build a potential Super Bowl contender. And with one of the premier pass-rushers in the game lining up on the opposite side, Cleveland would give Watt the opportunity to feast against one-on-one blocking schemes.

Before coming down with COVID-19 the week after facing Watt’s Texans in mid-November, Garrett was playing as well as any defender in the league. He was leading the NFL with 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Despite also facing regular double teams, Garrett boasted a pass rush win rate of 27.6%, bested only by Watt’s brother, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt.

After being cleared to return in Week 13, Garrett battled the aftereffects of COVID-19 for the rest of the season, which he admitted continued to hamper his breathing. But despite facing double teams 25.8% of the time — third-most in the league — Garrett still delivered a pass rush win rate of 26.5%, trailing only T.J. Watt and Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes.

“The guy’s a hell of a player,” J.J. Watt told reporters when asked about Garrett going into their game in Week 10. “He’s got speed. He’s got quickness and power. He’s got all the tools you need, and he’s obviously playing at an extremely high level.”

Watt would figure to thrive playing alongside such a player who would command so much attention from opposing defenses. Garrett would have much to gain, as well.

And the Browns would be on their way to fielding a championship-caliber pass rush.

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