So a lot of people have been talking about Tom Heckert saying tonight that Phil Taylor will "100%" be back this season, most likely by the end of October. The issue isn't 'can/will Phil Taylor make an impact after coming back,' because if he continues to develop like he did last year, that should have an obvious answer. The real question also isn't 'who's going to replace Phil Taylor.' With the drafting of two defensive tackles and already having Brian Schaefering and Scott Paxon on the squad, it should be clear that a committee of DTs will rotate in and out, just like the plan was before Taylor got hurt.
The real question in my mind is, 'how does the Browns run defense hold up through the first half of the season without Taylor?' Let's say Taylor misses the entire month of October. Here's the Browns' schedule up to that point and their opponents respective ranks rushing next to them.
WEEK 1: Philly #3
WEEK 2: Bengals #26
WEEK 3: Buffalo #8
WEEK 4: Ravens #9
WEEK 5: Giants #20
WEEK 6: Bengals #26
WEEK 7: Colts #23
WEEK 8: Chargers #12
Looking at that lineup, the only concerning games that jump off at me are Week 1 against Philly, who have one of the most electric backs in the NFL, and Week 4 against Baltimore, where Ray Rice seems to always carve up our defense. Obviously don't sleep on Buffalo, but I'm just not the biggest Ryan Fitzpatrick believer and if he beats us then so be it, but we should 100% focus on shutting down Fred Jackson there. Sure, the Bengals got the Law Firm in BGE, but I think he was more of a product of the wide-open New England system than a full time back.
In all, I don't think it will be easy and our rushing defense is undoubtedly going to go through rough spells, especially if the rookies get significant playing time, but it's not a dire situation. If Phil comes back strong in Week 9 or even after the bye for Week 11 (at the latest), the Browns should be able to make some noise defensively. Remember, our run D was atrocious last year but we also had two rookies, a young pro playing his first season in the 4-3 and the fucking invisible man playing right-end.
All's not lost Browns fans. Either way, it's Cleveland, we might as well be optimistic now cause God knows once the season starts it'll all go out the window.
Follow us on Twitter if you don't already.