As overwhelming defensive dominant performances go, the Cleveland Browns may have outdone themselves in their 26-6 pancaking of the Chicago Bears on Sunday. Cleveland’s defensive statistics look more like typos than actual stats.
The Browns held the Bears’ offense to 1.1 yards per play.
In third and fourth down efficiency, Chicago was a combined 1-for-12.
Cleveland held the Bears to 47 total yards gained.
But the most impressive statistic of all by the Cleveland defense was this:
Chicago’s net yards passing: 1.
That’s one yard. Total. Or, if you like, three feet. Or, 36 inches. Take your pick.
There were also the Browns’ franchise record nine sacks, and defensive end Myles Garrett’s Browns’ record of 4.5 sacks.
“Anytime you get that type of production from the defensive line from a sack standpoint, that’s pretty rare,” said Browns coach Kevin Stefanski. “The pressure was there, and sacks seem to come in bunches.”
Garrett seemed to come in bunches after Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who was making his first NFL start, and spent most of it being chased, harassed, and sacked by the Browns’ leading pass rusher.
“He’s our best player. He knows that. We know that. And the other team knows that,” Stefanski said of Garrett. “He’s going to get a lot of attention, so we’re going to move him around and do different things with him. We need him to play great. That’s no secret to anybody.”
The Browns’ defense, which was spotty in their first two games, was an unstoppable force in their third game, against the Bears. It may have taken a couple games for all the Browns’ new players on that side of the ball to coalesce. There are as many as nine new starters on the defense this year. Most of them were held out of the preseason games, so the start of the regular season was the first time they’d all played together in games that counted. Sunday against the Bears, all the defensive upgrades seemed to flourish.
“It’s awesome seeing everybody getting off and making big plays,” Garrett said. “It’s just like when you’re in high school, everybody is balling and you feel like you can make a play at any time. We are picking for each other, working games with each other, and helping each other. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
In addition to Garrett’s 4.5 sacks, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had two sacks, safety Ronnie Harrison had one, and tackle Malik Jackson, linebacker Takkarist McKinley, and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah each had half a sack.
Through their first three games last year the Browns’ defense had eight sacks. Through three games this year: 12 sacks. Last year the Browns finished tied for 15th with 38 sacks. Garrett’s 5.5 sacks through three games are more than 10 NFL teams.
For Clowney, like Garrett, a former first overall draft pick, the Bears game was his coming out party as member of the Browns.
“He works really hard. He fits in with what we want to do. He’s a great teammate, and he has the ability to really effect the game,” Stefanski said.
Most of the time Garrett and Clowney are bookend defensive ends. However, sometimes they move inside, to give opposing offenses a different look and a different headache.
“When you move guys around the offense doesn’t know where they will be which makes life harder on the offense,” Stefanski said.
The Browns needed their defense to show up big early in the game against the Bears, whose defense stymied the Browns offense early in the first quarter.
“They were dominating from the jump,” Stefanski said of his defense. “They kept us in the game early. Can they repeat that every week? We hope so.”
Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods was taking some heat after the Browns’ first two games, when they gave up a total of 54 points. But Sunday’s near shutout has quieted the natives, and increased expectations for what the team’s rebuilt defense might be capable of this season.
The next test will come Sunday in Minnesota, which will be a homecoming of sorts for Stefanski, who was a member of the Vikings’ staff for 14 years, and served as the team’s offensive coordinator prior to being hired by the Browns.
“I have a lot of great friends there, and it’s going to be a great challenge playing this team,” he said. “It’s a really big game for us against a really good team. They’ve got really good players, and they’re well coached. We’re going to have to play our best.”