The Cleveland Browns have aspired to be one of the NFL’s best defenses through the first half of the 2023 season.
There have been notable highlights, including holding the Cincinnati Bengals to 142 yards of offense and three points in Week 1, the Tennessee Titans to 94 yards of offense and three points in Week 3, and last week’s beatdown of the Arizona Cardinals, where the Cardinals were only able to muster 1.2 yards per play and 58 yards of offense.
There have also been some clunkers, such as giving up 38 points and 456 yards of offense to the Indianapolis Colts and allowing the Seattle Seahawks to effortlessly drive 57 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The biggest downer came in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens, who the Browns will face again on Sunday. On a day when the offense struggled mightily, Cleveland’s defense could not keep the team in the game, although it was not entirely their fault given that the offense turned the ball over three times.
Baltimore comes into Sunday’s game having won four in a row and having scored 30-plus points in three of those wins. They are also running the ball very well as they have an NFL-high 17 rushing touchdowns, are first in total rushing yards (1,443) and second in yards per carry (4.8).
This will be the first time that Cleveland’s defense gets a second opportunity at an opponent, and while some of the faces may changed from a few weeks ago, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said the defense knows what to expect (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“I mean, they have quality players. They put in with backup players and we’re going to have guys potentially missing, too. So their scheme has stayed the same. They’ve evolved a little bit over the course of the season. Every team does. We’ve evolved and do things just a little bit different here and there. So when it’s all said and done, they have a pretty good idea who we are. We have a pretty good idea who they are. Maybe there’ll be a couple of different faces in there but it will be a good AFC North battle.”
As disappointing as the first game against the Ravens was, the defense still held Baltimore to 296 yards of offense, allowed just four-of-12 third-down conversions, and sacked quarterback Lamar Jackson three times.
The defense may be stepping up in class this week against the Ravens as opposed to the Cardinals, but if the good version of the Browns defense shows up, that “good AFC North battle” may just turn out in Cleveland’s favor.
How much of a role does the defensive need to play on Sunday for the Browns to win?