The Chicago Bears were completely overmatched, but how the Cleveland Browns were able to dominate on defense was how this defense was designed to be able to combat teams with athletic quarterbacks as well as speed anywhere on the field. The Browns defense completely obliterated a Bears offense that never stood a chance as they debuted their rookie quarterback, Justin Fields, holding them to a franchise best 47 total yards of offense.
After an underwhelming performance against the Houston Texans, Myles Garrett appeared both surprised and offended when asked whether defensive coordinator Joe Woods should be taking heat for the defense's performance the first two games.
In responding to the notion that the defense wasn't playing up to its potential, Garrett responded firmly.
"It's on both of us. We gotta play to the best of our ability whatever calls that he gives us. If we don't make the play, that's not only on him. That's on all of us. So, no, you can put the blame on everyone on the field, all 11 of us and him as well. It's on all of us. We're a team and we're in this together."
Against the Bears, the Browns defense led by Garrett, dismantled the Chicago offense and battering rookie quarterback Justin Fields, illustrating what this defense is capable of doing.
The number one theme that was present throughout this game was the sheer amount of speed the Browns have at their disposal at all levels of the field. Combining that with the immense size and physicality the Browns have on their defensive line, the Bears played almost the entire game behind the line of scrimmage.
The Browns sacked Fields a total of nine times, including four and a half from Garrett, which surpasses the previous team record of four held by Andra Davis since 2003. On the passes Fields was able to get off, the Browns broke up more of them (7) than Bears receivers caught (6).
When factoring in the 67 yards the Bears lost on sacks, they netted just one passing yard for the game. There have only been seven teams in NFL history to have fewer passing yards in a game and only one of those has occurred since 1974.
In 2009, the New England Patriots held the the Tennessee Titans to -7 passing yards, which stands as the best performance in NFL history.
The Browns yielded 46 rushing yards at 3.5 yards per carry. In all, the Browns gave up 47 total yards on 42 Bears offensive plays, which works out to an average of just 1.1 yards per play. They converted just one of their 11 third downs.
A rookie quarterback making his first start combined with a putrid offensive line undoubtedly contributed to why the Browns were so successful, but their method of how they defended the Bears is something the Browns want to keep utilizing in future games.
Up front, the defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. The Browns offer a significant amount of size and athleticism, which can make it really difficult for teams to run the ball. Anchored by Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, who combined for 6.5 sacks in the game, they set the tone for what was a group effort up front.
Not only are they dangerous, potentially able to make plays themselves, but they make it difficult for offensive linemen to get to the second level, which allows those defenders to fly around uncontested. It incentivizes the Browns to put as much speed on the field as possible.
As a result, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah looked every bit the player the Browns hoped he would be in selecting him in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He was largely unencumbered and took advantage of opportunities and make plays, both against the run as well as the passing game.
His range is dangerous especially when he's able to run in relatively small corridors untouched where ball carriers have nowhere to escape. On the sack he split with Garrett, he was waiting at the second level before flying down hill with no one in his way to hit Fields like a missile. It wasn't a called blitz, but he saw an opportunity and his explosion allowed him to cover ground so quickly, JOK was still able to get to the quarterback before he was able to react.
That speed and range also enabled JOK to break up a couple passes. When taking on blocks is only a mild concern for the Browns, they can deploy an incredible amount of speed on the field. It was a major focus in the offseason and it showed both throughout this game against the Bears and at the end of last week's game against the Texans when the Browns consistently operated in nickel and increasingly dime defensive looks.
Although he did not have the impact JOK did, Grant Delpit can offer a similar dynamic. The Browns also sent Ronnie Harrison and Troy Hill on some blitzes to disrupt the offense. Harrison was able to notch a sack. The defense had an environment where it can send pressure from numerous angles and get there quickly to cause immediate stress on the defense.
The additional benefit is that speed can be used to help negate the mobility of a quarterback like Fields. Fields attempted to use his legs to extend plays and escape pressure but the Browns were consistently able to chase him down and tackle him. The level of dominance showed by the Browns was evident when Fields was able to avoid the first pass rusher, only to find a second or third there to take him down.
The major difference between the Browns performance against the Bears as opposed to the Kansas City Chiefs was the number of players defeating blocks and creating pressure. Against the Chiefs, the Browns created pressure but were not able to corral Patrick Mahomes, who found lanes to position himself to throw the ball in extending plays. Fields was not afforded those opportunities.
Going forward as the Browns face quarterbacks like Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert as well as Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow twice, that will be something to keep an eye on in these matchups.
Boiling it down, the Browns struggled to get off the field on third down against the Chiefs, only stopping them down 30 percent of the time. That number increased to 42 percent against the Texans and then 90 percent against the Bears. Not all third downs are created equal, but that one change coincided with the improved performance by the Browns defense.
It's also the down the Browns defense was put together to be able to defend the most effectively. An almost endless rotation of defensive linemen that could impact the quarterback while also having the size and speed necessary to consistently cover opposing receiving threats.
That alone would be great, but the goal for this defense is to simply operate this way on every down. Yes, the Browns can bring in more size in the form of linebackers to match teams playing with more tight ends, bigger backs with a stout offensive line, but this group is at its best when they can play almost exclusively with corners and safeties, which is a good matchup with a significant number of NFL offenses who have emphasized adding as much speed as possible.
Even if a team is able to run the ball against the Browns consistently, it's hardly the end of the world. The Browns are looking to eventually make a play behind the line of scrimmage and force the opponent to make a throw to extend a drive or score.
Sacks are certainly a goal for this group, but tackles for loss in general are important. Through three games, the Browns have 21 of them, which has helped set up predictable third down situations, giving the Browns their best chance to end drives.
In addition to continuing to work to be dominant on third down, the next step for the Browns is to start causing more turnovers. A credit to Fields, for all the hits he took, he never gave up the ball. The Browns were able to cause a fumble sacking rookie Davis Mills, but were unable to recover. Through three games, the Browns have just one interception.
Consistently creating stops is the most reliable form of defense the Browns can play, but one of the goals with all of this pressure and speed to is force mistakes from the opponent. The more disruption they cause, the more opportunities they will have to create turnovers.
The performance against the Bears was a showcase of what happens when everything goes right for the Browns defense and the opponent is unable to adjust or compensate. Going forward, particularly against teams that have athletic quarterbacks with speed on the outside, the Browns defense, led by Joe Woods, will strive to look more like they did against the Bears and less like they did against the Chiefs. They will not have to wait long as the Browns play the Chargers and Cardinals in back to back games starting in week five.