The biggest criticism of the Cleveland Browns in 2022 was the play of the defense. Well, in 2023, that narrative has turned a complete 180 and is now considered one of the NFL's best.
Cleveland has yet to have a defensive snap inside their own 10-yard line, which is a wild accomplishment in its own right.
Throughout the first three weeks of the young NFL season, this defense has been playing lights out, and head coach Kevin Stefanski has noticed and applauded the play.
In Week 3 at home against the Titans, the Browns held the visitors to just 26 rushing yards and 94 total yards — to the surprise of offensive lineman Wyatt Teller — 4.6 yards per pass attempt, and five first downs.
Derrick Henry is one of the best running backs in the NFL, but the Browns limited him to just 20 yards on 11 carries. Of those 11 attempts, Cleveland met him behind the line of scrimmage six times, bottling him up, not allowing him to escape.
That brings us to the stat that does not seem real. Through three games, the Browns have allowed a staggering -36 rushing yards before contact. The league average is +94.22.
Think about how crazy that stat is.
Jim Schwartz was hired to replace Joe Woods as the defensive coordinator and it has been by far the best offseason acquisition for this team and arguably the entire league. He brings a Super Bowl-winning toughness and swagger to which his players have responded well.
The player who is benefitting the most is Myles Garrett, who had himself a statement game against the Titans. He had his imprint all over this game, accumulating five tackles, 3.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. He was constantly in the vicinity of Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Schwartz is able to utilize Garrett all over the field, especially when the latter has a better cast of teammates anchoring the rest of the line. The additions of Za'Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson, Shelby Harris, Ogbo Ogbonnia, and Mo Hurst allow Garrett to be anywhere he wants on the field.
Against Tennessee, Garrett went in motion twice and had not one, but two Titans' tight ends following him, which caused a delay of game penalty. The pairing of Garrett and the defensive scheme of Schwartz is a perfect marriage that could propel No. 95 to that elusive Defensive Player of the Year award.
This defensive unit will have an interesting matchup against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in Week 4, but if the first three weeks are any indication, the former NFL MVP could be in for a long afternoon inside Cleveland Browns Stadium.