The past two weeks, the Cleveland Browns have come up with a combined 11 sacks. This came after a 1 sack effort against the Lions and a halftime speech that seemed to call out a lot of players at halftime of the Chiefs game. That may have had an impact, but the results have been impressive. The number of sacks is important while the names attached to those sacks are not; it has been a function of the scheme.
In the past two games, the 11 sacks recorded by the Browns have included T.J. Ward (2), Craig Robertson, Chris Owens, D’Qwell Jackson, Armonty Bryant, Jabaal Sheard, Quentin Groves, Phil Taylor, Paul Kruger, and Barkevious Mingo. Only their strong safety has more than one while they also have gotten plays from a corner, 6 linebackers and two defensive linemen. The way the Browns are attacking on defense, it is a race to the quarterback and it does not matter who gets to it first; just as long as someone gets to it.
Especially when it comes to their blitzes, the Browns are specifically using players to try to soak up and draw off blockers to open up lanes to get to the quarterback. That has been the reason why Owens and Ward have been able to be effective on the blitz. That, combined with overwhelming numbers allowed Craig Roberton and D’Qwell Jackson to get to the quarterback.
A few of the sacks such as Mingo, Sheard and Taylor were able to get sacks by winning individual matchups. This more than anything has allowed these blitzes to be effective. Having players that are talented enough to demand attention and force offensive linemen to be worried about them first and not be able to play with one eye on blitzing players makes the defense work. When the Browns have struggled to get to the passer when they are sending six or even seven rushers, the offensive line is picking up their blocks and no one is able to break through. In these past two games, individuals are winning matchups, so that when they blitz, they are more effective because the blitzing players are viable but so are their base rushers.
Ray Horton suggested that the second half of the Chiefs game was a breakthrough moment for the Browns on defense. The early indications suggest he might be right. In the last 5 quarters, the Browns have given up just 21 points and had 11 sacks.
The one area that is still missing in all of this seems to be turnovers. The Browns were able to cause an interception against the Ravens, but that is the only cylinder the defense is not firing at this point. That is what has separated them from a team like the Chiefs who for instance, gave up 13 points to the Bills while their defense scored 14 points. Touchdowns are not an expected result but the turnovers put the Chiefs in position to make them count for points and the Browns need to cause that to potentially score. Ward’s interception return for a touchdown was the point when the Browns put the Bills away in their game.
There are people who are critical of Paul Kruger or Jabaal Sheard or whoever else because of their lack of numbers, but the impact of those players cannot be measured only in the box scores. The Browns defense is playing extremely good football right now and generating a lot of pressure and most everyone on the team is playing a part. The Browns went from having 20 sacks two weeks ago to now having a team total of 31. The Browns now have a bye week to prepare for the Cincinnati Bengals and continue this type of impact defensively; hopefully while causing more turnovers.