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How The 2023 Browns Defense Stacks Up With Other Legendary Defenses

The Cleveland Browns defense is off to a historically dominant start to the season and after stunning the San Francisco 49ers, 19-17, the NFL world has taking notice

It's hard to put into words just how dominant the 2023 Cleveland Browns defense has been through five games this season. Their greatness was on full display in Sunday's 19-17 win over the 49ers as the defense held one of the best offenses in football to just 14 yards of total offense in the second half, prior to San Francisco's final drive of the game.

That's just one figure that sums up just how impressive the defense was in Week Six. However, to really understand just how incredible the Browns defense has been this season and the historic trajectory they're on, let's compare their numbers to some of the best defenses in NFL history.

After doing some digging on where the Browns stack up to the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1985 Chicago Bears, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2013 Seattle Seahawks and 2015 Denver Broncos defenses, through five weeks of their respective seasons, Cleveland has actually fared better than those legendary groups in a number of categories.

Total Yards Allowed

There was a stat making waves on social media Sunday about the Browns 1,002 yards allowed is the fewest any NFL team has yielded through five games in over 50 years. With that context, the Browns take the cake here. They're 200.4 yards per game blows all those other historic defenses out of the water with the 2000 Ravens (245.2) coming in next and the 2015 Broncos and 1985 Bears being the only other two to keep that figure under 300 yards per game, through the first five games.

Points Per Game & Touchdowns Allowed

The points allowed crown goes to the 2000 Ravens, who through five games were giving up a minuscule 11 points per game through their first five games (pitching three shutouts over that span will do that). But with some context, the Browns defense is actually better. Opponent's defensive touchdowns are technically part of the points per game figure but, those scores were not factored into each unit's total touchdowns allowed, which also went to Baltimore with five – or exactly one per game. 

However, the aforementioned context that is worth sharing, is that of the Browns 77 points allowed this season, 28 of them came directly off a turnover or on the very next play after a turnover that had set the opposing offense up with red zone field position.

If you're willing to consider that, the Browns defense is really only yielding 9.8 points per game.

Rushing and Passing Yards Allowed

For stopping the run, those 2000 Ravens return to the top of this group as they held opponents to 41.2 yards per game through their first five. Behind them – granted neearly 40 yards per game more – is the 2023 Browns. The 2015 Broncos were yielding 85.2 ypg at this point in their season and the 1985 Bears were right around 89 per.

This current Browns defense finds itself on top when it comes to locking down opposing passing attacks. Cleveland is allowing just 121.4 yards through the air so far this season, which is more than 70 yards better than the next closes defense from this group, the 2015 Broncos (192.8)


Speaking of the 2015 Broncos, they claim the top spot when it comes to sacks through five games with 17, although it was a pretty bunched up race. The 85 Bears had 16, the Browns have 15 currently and the 2013 Seahawks had 14. Only the 1976 Steelers had single digits with six.


This is the area where the 2023 Browns lag behind the rest of the group. It's well documented the takeaways haven't been there for Cleveland just yet. The Steel Curtain defense had a whopping 18 through five games in 1976. The 85 Bears were right behind with 17 and every unit except Cleveland had double-digit takeaways at this point in their season.

Third Down Defense

This wasn't quite as easy to track with the Steelers and Bears, without the play-by-play charting to lean on, but among the other three units in this study, Cleveland leads them all, with opponents only converting 23-percent of their third downs so far. That 2015 Broncos defense wasn't too far behind though, yielding conversions on 26-percent of third downs.

Red Zone Defense

The 2000 Ravens once again find themselves in the top spot, having allowed touchdowns on just 12-percent of their opponents red zone possessions. Again, when the defense posts three shutouts it's kind of expected. At 66-percent, Cleveland actually ranks the worst here, but with similar context from earlier, two red zone scores came directly off of turnovers by their offense.  

The Consensus

What's obvious through all this is that 2023 Browns defense deserves every ounce of the praise and respect being showered on them. They are on a legendary path that aligns with some of these other best defenses in NFL history. A little parting food for thought: four of the five vintage teams used to measure the Browns in this piece, went on to win the Super Bowl. Make of that what you will.