The Jim Schwartz era in Cleveland is off to a historic start. Through three games with Schwartz as the defensive coordinator, the Cleveland Browns lead the league in points allowed and have only given up one touchdown. The Browns defense leads the league in a litany of other stats such as — total yards allowed, first downs allowed, rush yards allowed per carry, quarterback hits, and pressure rate.
The scariest part for future opponents is the fact that Schwartz is still feeling out his personnel and experimenting with different sub-packages. The only negative that could possibly be said about the Browns defense through three games is that they have yet to face a tip of the spear NFL offense.
While that would be a fair criticism, Cleveland doesn't control their schedule and the defense has done what they should have done to lesser opposition. However, their Week 4 opponent does bring an element that they have yet to face, a legit running threat at the quarterback position in Lamar Jackson.
Will Schwartz approach Jackson differently than he has the three previous quarterbacks that the Browns have thoroughly frustrated? Jackson possesses a unique skill set but he himself is still finding his way in the Baltimore Ravens new offense under Todd Monken. There are a ton of unknown factors heading into this AFC North matchup.
Schwartz has faced Jackson one other time as a defensive coordinator in 2020 with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Ravens held on to beat the Eagles and Jackson was the main reason behind Baltimore’s victory. Jackson only threw for 186 yards and one touchdown, but he also led the Ravens in rushing with 108 yards and another touchdown in Baltimore’s 30-28 victory.
Jackson has a history of being one step ahead of the Browns in their head-to-head matchups. He's 6-3 as a starter in his career against Cleveland. Can Schwartz dial up some schemes that will take what makes Jackson an issue away?
Schwartz coaches aggressively and that will not take a back seat regardless of who he's facing. Having pass rushers like Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith to go along with a secondary like the Browns boast does afford Schwartz certain luxuries. But utilizing certain players and packages could make the difference in limiting Jackson’s ability to hurt the Browns with his legs.
Two players in particular could help Schwartz tilt the balance in Cleveland’s favor. Both Grant Delpit and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah have been playing lights-out football this season and should play a huge role in limiting Jackson’s ability to be a duel threat this week.
Spying Jackson is one thing, but to be able to get him down in the open field is another. Both Delpit and JOK have the prerequisite athleticism and explosivity to deal with Jackson in open space.
However, they're also the prime candidates that are best suited to cover Lamar’s favorite target; whoever is playing tight end for the Ravens, namely Mark Andrews. Jackson is at his best when he's able to consistently throw intermediate routes between the hashes. Oddly enough, the Ravens are attempting to alter that by encouraging Jackson to attack more outside the numbers.
Schwartz will have to juggle tight end coverage assignments with deterring Jackson from taking off and gashing the Browns with his legs. That's a tough ask for any defense, but the Browns are probably the most well-equipped from a personnel perspective to handle those duties.
The assignment is easier said than done, funnel everything to the outside and take away Jackson’s escape routes when the play breaks down. But if Schwartz can ace the assignment, they might start building his statue before he leaves the locker room on Sunday afternoon.