Fresh off their second consecutive game where they limited the opposition to a lone touchdown, the Cleveland Browns are starting to build something on defense and the league is beginning to take notice.
In less than two years on the job general manager Tom Heckert has jumpstarted the process of rebuilding the defense. Out are the aging veterans and ex-Jets, like Abe Elam, Kenyon Coleman, Jason Trusnik, David Bowens, Eric Barton, C.J. Mosley and Hank Poteat, and in their place are draftees Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, T.J. Ward and Joe Haden.
And it’s starting to pay off.
The Browns are ninth overall in the league on defense, third against the pass and tied for 8th in third-down efficiency.
“You have to get off the field on third down and then there are a lot of ways looking at it,” coach Pat Shurmur said in his weekly presser. “Better percentage on first down makes a longer third, all of that. Most teams on offense find a way to move the ball. Now, when you get in the red zone and teams find a way to get in the red zone anywhere from two to three and sometimes five times a game. That’s when you have to make them kick field goals.
“Turnovers, efficiency on third down, that’s getting off the field and then execution in the red zone. That’s pretty much offensively and defensively the areas that if you are going to be consistently good you have to be good in those areas.”
Through three games corner back Joe Haden is playing like an All-Pro. He shut down A.J. Green in Week 1 (one reception), kept Reggie Wayne in check Week 2 (four receptions) and did the same on Sunday against Brandon Marshall (four receptions).
Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin earned Defensive Player of the Week honors in Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column.
King writes: Taken out of Iowa State in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, in what would be one of Phil Savage’s last acts as Cleveland GM, Rubin is turning into one of the best defensive tackles in the league. He was one of the keys to a resilient if ugly 17-16 win over Miami Sunday. He had 1.5 sacks, nine tackles and another tackle for loss as the Browns stifled much of what Miami tried to do on offense.
The young and mostly inexperienced defensive line has been a nice surprise so far this season, and should only get better as the season moves along.
“We are another game better of knowing what those guys can do,” Shurmur said. “I thought (defensive line coach) Dwaine (Board) had a good rotation getting guys in there. Every play is a critical play but you need your guys all the way to the end. So we had a good rotation in there and they played a lot of snaps.
“I think getting sacks is a team thing just as well as giving up sacks is a team thing. There is coverage involved. There is pressure sometimes and then there is just flat out guys beating guys. I think there was a little bit of all three elements yesterday, but I think that unit is really improving.”
King also made note of Shurmur’s decision to bring the players in to work on Monday, a sign that the coaching staff knows there is still a lot of work to be done.
There was something I liked about the Browns post-game Sunday, after escaping with a 17-16 win over the Dolphins. With the players screaming for a “Victory Monday,” a day off that normally follows a win, which then is followed by the normal day off on Tuesday, coach Pat Shurmur told the players he’d get them in and out as quick as he could on Monday, but it wasn’t going to be a full day off because next week is the bye, and a game with Tennessee awaited this week, and he wanted to do everything he could to make sure they prepared fully for this game against a non-division foe. And not a peep was heard from the players.
“Multiple reasons why that’s an important game,” said receiver Muhammad Massaquoi. “You don’t want to go into a bye with a loss, and you want to be sure you keep a good thing going. We still have work to do here.” Of the three Rust Belters not accustomed to feeling so good on a Sunday, Shurmur’s idea was not only the right one, but one his players embraced. And that’s the kind of team that can grow into something.
We’ll give defensive tackle Phil Taylor the last word.
“If we keep playing like we’re playing, people are gonna know about us,” Taylor said in published reports. “People already know about us from watching film, but if we keep playing like we’re playing, we’re gonna be one of those dominant forces.”
(Photo by The Associated Press)