From the start of offseason workouts and training camp in the summer heat, on paper, the Cleveland Browns looked to possess a defensive unit capable of dominating any offensive unit week in and week out. With a pair of headlining edge rushers, a sparkling new sideline-to-sideline linebacker, and a secondary rivaled by few as the best in football, through four weeks, all has come to fruition for a franchise that often found itself scraping the floor of the league’s talent pool just a handful of seasons ago.
3-1 through its first four matchups, the Browns’ season initially kicked off with a rocky start, as a special teams gaffe led to a season-opening loss at the hands of the reigning conference champion Kansas City Chiefs. Things didn’t improve moving into Week 2, where despite a win over Houston, the Browns allowed 21 points to a depleted Texans roster. Following the win, skeptics arose from the ashes in waves, as the Browns’ defense looked to mirror an underperforming unit with no clear sign of improvement.
After four games, it’s been a complete change of identity for Kevin Stefanski’s group.
Heading into their Week 5 showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers, the Browns rank second in the NFL in total defense, third in rush defense, and fifth in pass defense. Their 266 rushing yards are the fewest the team has ever allowed in the first four weeks of a season, and no Browns defense has held its opponent to single-digit scores in consecutive games since 1995.
While it could have been a simple case of jumping the gun toward the Browns’ season-long projection, they’ve seemed to round into form at the most opportune time with the meat of their schedule staring them in the face. With upcoming matchups against Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray, who’s spearheaded the Arizona Cardinals to the lone undefeated record in football, the Browns will have their plates full as they attempt to halt two of the league’s most dynamic quarterback talents.
However, pressure is a privilege, and as talented as the aforementioned signal-callers and their high-flying offenses can be, the Browns, at all three levels, have the ability to stifle any opposing offensive arsenal.
A look back to Week 3 against the Chicago Bears showcased Cleveland’s front to a T. Nine sacks, four of which came from Myles Garrett alone, had Justin Fields amass just 1 net passing yard in 60 minutes of play. And in Week 4, despite allowing an 80-yard, 14-play opening drive to Kirk Cousins, Cleveland limited Dalvin Cook to just 34 yards on nine carries, and Cousins’ early touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson proved to be the only points allowed by Cleveland on the afternoon. The Browns dismantled Minnesota’s front five, as Cousins was on his heels throughout the game with Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney breathing down his neck—Cleveland’s defense as a whole registered QB pressures with seven different defenders.
At the linebacker spot, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has been a flat-out stud. A slider in last spring’s draft, his range and tackling ability in the open field has been the best of any first-year linebacker, and his current grade of 89.8 is the highest of any rookie defender and second to only Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano.
On the backend, Denzel Ward has underperformed early, allowing nearly 13 yards per completion and a 101.7 QBR when targeted, but his superiority as a top-tier corner presents itself against top-tier competition, and I have no early-season worries about Ward remaining CB1 in Cleveland. He had multiple pass breakups against the Vikings while also recording the first half-sack of his career, and Joe Woods will continue to deploy him in a variety of fashions to highlight his limitless skill set.
With unlimited pop from Woods’ starting group, and a seemingly unending pool of depth talent, Cleveland has allowed just 20 points in their last 10 quarters played. After a shaky start and skepticism aplenty, the Browns have found their footing.
- Aug 22, 2022
- Aug 22, 2022