The 49ers’ decision to hire Jim O’Neil yesterday raised eyebrows, simply from a past production standpoint. After the Browns finished ninth in points allowed, 23rd in yards surrendered, and 11th in defensive DVOA in O’Neil’s first year as defensive coordinator, the 2015 Browns were 29th and 27th, and 29th in those respective categories.
Point to injuries or talent all you want, but that kind of production generally doesn’t lead to an immediate lateral move after losing one’s job. Nor do reports like this one from Sports Illustrated, which was referenced earlier today on Niners Nation.
Rather than being assigned specific gaps, Cleveland’s defensive linemen play different techniques based on how their offensive counterparts are blocking them. The linebackers, then, are expected to guess what technique their teammates are using, scrape through the resulting mess and make the play. Opposing offenses have identified this flaw on film and are repeatedly, week-after-week, gashing the edge of Cleveland’s defense. It’s a completely chaotic approach to stopping the run, and players have said—off the record—they’re spending way too much time thinking, and not nearly enough time reacting.
However, O’Neil’s former team may have given him a leg up on the competition.
Since Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark ran the second iteration of the Browns when they reentered the league, there was no tangible connection between the 49ers and Cleveland for over a decade. But over the past few years, the two teams seem to get mentioned at the same time an awful lot.
- The Browns traded Colt McCoy to the 49ers in 2013.
- The 49ers hired former Browns head coach Eric Mangini as an assistant in 2013.
- According to PFT, “the Cleveland Browns nearly pulled off a trade with the 49ers for the rights to coach Jim Harbaugh” in either late 2013 or early 2014.
- 49ers tried and failed to hire former Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski as their offensive coordinator in 2015.
- The 49ers traded Andy Lee to the Browns in 2015.
- The 49ers interviewed former Browns OC John DeFilippo for their then-vacant head coaching position in 2016.
- 49ers replace secondary coach Tim Lewis with Jeff Hafley, who held the same position in Cleveland.
- 49ers hire O’Neil.
One reason for the recent flurry of former Browns acquisitions could be Kelly, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.
Kelly has made a habit of hiring former Browns coaches as coordinators.
Pat Shurmur, head coach of the Browns from 2011-12, was the offensive coordinator and Bill Davis, a former linebackers coach in Cleveland, was the defensive coordinator during Kelly’s tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kelly was close to a deal to become the Browns head coach in 2013, before eventually taking the same job with the Eagles. He was also on the Browns’ radar this year (allegedly), before they hired Hue Jackson … whom the 49ers also interviewed. Who knows, if things don’t work out for either team over the next year or two, perhaps the 49ers and Browns could make the first coach-for-coach trade in NFL history.
By the way, the Browns have won 37 games over the last eight seasons. Strange role models indeed for the 49ers, although the Yorks (Youngstown natives) seem to have fondness for all things Ohio.