The Cleveland Browns hardly resemble the same team on the defensive side of the ball through the first two games of this season compared to 2022.
Turn back the clock a year and the defense was reeling after an improbable loss to the New York Jets in Week 2 that saw the Jets score two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the game.
That defeat, and the near loss in Week 1 to the Carolina Panthers, was fueled by communication breakdowns in the secondary that led to the Jets scoring on a 66-yard touchdown pass to Corey Davis and the Panthers connecting on a 75-yard touchdown pass to Robbie Anderson.
Fast forward a year, and while the Browns are still coming off a demoralizing loss in Week 2, the situation is completely different.
The Browns enter Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans with a defense that has only allowed one touchdown, albeit on blown coverage that resulted in a 71-yard touchdown by Pittsburgh’s George Pickens. (Sometimes the more things change … ) They have yet to allow an offensive snap in the red zone and are the league’s best on third down as they have allowed opponents to convert just 21 percent of their opportunities.
It has been a full team effort, but the play of the secondary has stood out, especially compared to where things were for most of last season.
Every team is going to give up a big play at times, but the key is not letting a big play turn into several big plays, as cornerbacks coach Brandon Lynch said on Friday (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“It’s a point of emphasis for us. We talk a lot about executing. We talk a lot about communicating so that all of our roles so that we can – we talk about one plus one equals three. So the sum of our parts has to be greater. So all of our guys buying into that concept and working on those habits daily is going to keep helping us.
“You have to be resilient. It’s the NFL, those types of plays are going to happen. But also with the smart guys that we have in the room, our mental and physical toughness, how we’re accountable to not just defense, but how we’re accountable to our offense and our special teams. Guys are going to resiliently bounce back because we keep the team first.”
The talent was there in the secondary last season, but it has now evolved into a formidable unit that is being deployed correctly and the early results have been promising, especially on the communications front.
If the defense can keep playing the way it has so far, then the Browns may be able to weather a tough stretch that includes upcoming games against the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers after this week’s game against the Titans, even if the offense continues to struggle to find its way.