When Browns general manager Andrew Berry tackled the offseason, clearly his top goal was to rebuild a defense that was average at best in 2020. He knew it was necessary if the team is to advance further in the playoffs than last season’s loss to the Chiefs in the AFC semifinals.
Berry used every penny of a decent amount of salary-cap space to add at every level of the defense, led by the signings of safety John Johnson III and end Jadeveon Clowney. Berry also targeted defenders in the draft with the selections of cornerback Greg Newsome in the first round and linebacker Jeremiah Osuwu-Koramoah in the second round.
The payoff wasn’t all that noticeable in the first two weeks of the season, but that changed last Sunday with a dominant defensive showing in a 26-6 win over the Chicago Bears. The unit registered a team-record nine sacks, including 4 1/2 by end Myles Garrett. Clowney added two sacks in showing that he can be more than a strong run-stopper.
Newsome has quietly settled in at the most-demanding defensive position to play as a rookie. He had one pass defensed and was part of a secondary that limited Bears quarterback Justin Fields to just six completions for 68 yards. Owusu-Koramoah had four tackles, including one for a loss, and two passes defensed.
It may have been the most-dominant defensive showing since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. Garrett took advantage of the Bears strategy to not double-team him, flying off the edge almost untouched at times. Clowney provides a steadying effect and does exactly what Berry envisioned when he signed him, taking pressure off of Garrett.
It wasn’t all on the defense in a win that improved the Browns record to 2-1. The one-two punch of running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt eventually wore down one of the NFL’s better run-stopping defenses. On a day when Chubb was held in check, Hunt had 81 yards and a 29-yard touchdown on 10 carries and added 74 yards on six receptions.
It was the type of balance on both sides of the line of scrimmage that has to give coach Kevin Stefanski a better feeling as the Browns prepare for a demanding two-game road trip with stops in Minnesota and Los Angeles to take on the Chargers.
If the defense can play just close to the level it showed against the Bears, the Browns are in good shape. This Sunday, October 3 the Browns will play at Minnesota Vikings, they will need their “A” game.