They have been not just good, not just great, but historically great in this hot streak. Through five games, they are putting up numbers comparable to the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles who were judged to be the top defense since 1987 by Pro Football Outsiders. But before diving into the numbers, let's throw some cold water on future expectations.
There are 12 more games to be played, and although the Browns certainly proved themselves against San Francisco, it's a long season, and who knows if everyone will stay healthy? So we are not saying that five games proves anything yet, but it's time to suspect that something may be up in Cleveland.
The 1991 Eagles had stars like Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown, Seth Joyner, and Eric Allen, all of whom made the NFC Pro Bowl. Famed broadcaster and Cleveland St. Joe's alum Mike Golic was also on that team.
Like the Browns, the Eagles had problems at quarterback. Randall Cunningham went down with an ACL injury in Week 1, and second-string Jim McMahon couldn't stay healthy, either. Brad Goebel (0-2) and Jeff Kemp (1-1) each had their shot. The net result was 10-6, which wasn't enough to get into the playoffs despite a stellar defense.
The Eagles allowed 3.92 yards per play. The Browns have allowed even fewer, only 3.82 yards per play (next best: SF at 4.50). So, is it a "quarterback's league" now? The 1991 Eagles gave up 151 passing yards per game, the Browns thus far only 121.4. The Eagles had 55 sacks (10.5% sack percentage), while the Browns have 15 sacks (10.1% sack percentage).
They gave up 71.0 yards per game (2.97 yards/carry) on the ground, and the Browns 79.0 (3.47 yards/carry). The Browns are only fifth best in the NFL versus the run. So run defense is the main stat in which the 1991 Eagles are ranked higher than the Browns.
So there you have it. The Browns defense hasn't been just good, they have played at the level of historically great defense, at least through five games.
There are no assurances that this will continue throughout the season, and even if it does they may not be able to overcome a punchless offense, but let's appreciate what is going on while it lasts. A defense like this will keep the team in some games, even if the offense is far below average.