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Browns’ defense thrives against Titans, and offense finds a rhythm in 27-3 victory

Cleveland put together a complete football game to dominate the Tennessee Titans.

Tennessee Titans v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

That’s more like it. Shaking off last week’s disappointing outcome against the Steelers, the Browns battled back in Week 3 and dominated the Tennessee Titans throughout, winning by a final score of 27-3. Let’s get to the full game recap.

1st Quarter

The Browns’ offense got the ball first, and unlike last week, they didn’t throw a pick six to open things up. The Titans’ defense was bringing consistent pressure, and head coach Kevin Stefanski tried to counter that with a mix of trickery: rotating the running backs in and out, a tight end screen pass, several reverses that led to a WR Elijah Moore screen pass, a reverse to WR Marquise Goodwin, and a quarterback keeper by QB Deshaun Watson.

The final play of that sequence was the Watson run, but it went for no gain on third down. K Dustin Hopkins came out to hit the 48-yard field goal and give Cleveland a 3-0 lead.

The Titans went three-and-out on their first drive, as QB Ryan Tannehill faced a bullrush from DE Myles Garrett on his 3rd-and-3 pass attempt that sailed too high for WR DeAndre Hopkins. After the punt, Watson and company would take over at the 19 yard line. Cleveland then went three-and-out themselves after Watson couldn’t accurately connect with RB Jerome Ford on 3rd-and-3. P Corey Bojorquez got off a low 48-yard punt that was returned 13 yards to the Titans’ 39 yard line.

The Browns’ defense did its job again, stuffing a run play on second down for a loss of two yards to set up a 3rd-and-12. Tannehill swung it out to the flat to pick up seven yards, leading to another Titans punt. This time, the punt went out of bounds at the 12 yard line, pushing the Browns further back from a few minutes earlier.

Cleveland tried to go up-tempo with back-to-back completions to Moore, but on the latter one, a second defender came to strip him of the football for a fumble that was recovered at the Browns’ 17 yard line.

When the Browns’ defense came on the field, it would be the first play run against them in the red zone this season. DE Myles Garrett blew up the first down run play to RB Derrick Henry for a loss of 3 yards, and then on second down, Garrett came around the edge to force a fumble on Tannehill. Henry recovered the loose ball in the flat for a loss of four yards on the final play of the quarter.

2nd Quarter

Facing a 3rd-and-17, Tannehill threw a screen pass, but CB Denzel Ward came up to stop it for a loss of 2 yards. K Nick Folk came on to tie the game with a 44-yard field goal, making it 3-3.

The Browns got a pass interference call from the defense against WR Amari Cooper on a third down play to get the ball to midfield on their next drive. Then, Watson was about to be sacked, and inexplicably lateraled the ball toward Moore, who was behind him. The ball went loose on the ground and Moore recovered it for a loss of 16 yards. On 2nd-and-26, Watson chucked it downfield to Cooper, and the defender jumped on his back for a pass interference penalty that moved the ball to the 30 yard line.

A quarterback sneak by TE Harrison Bryant on 3rd-and-1 was successful, and then after that, Watson found Ford wide open for a 19-yard touchdown up the left sideline to give the Browns a 10-3 lead.

Cleveland’s defense remained tenacious with their pass rush, but Tannehill got the Browns confused for one completion to Hopkins for a first down, and then on 3rd-and-2, drew a 26-yard pass interference penalty on CB Martin Emerson up the left sideline. The third time was the charm for the Browns’ defense, though — on 3rd-and-11, DE Ogbo Okoronkwo and DE Myles Garrett combined for a sack to force a punt.

Watson went back to work at the 20 yard line with 3:49 remaining in the first half. Ford started the drive with a 14 yard screen pass, and then two plays later, Watson hit Cooper up the left sideline. Cooper caught it and broke free from the trailing defender and was off to the races, but the officials blew it dead and ruled that he stepped out of bounds after a 25-yard gain. The Browns were livid because replays showed that he wasn’t even close to being out of bounds — so now they were at the 40 yard line heading into the two-minute warning instead of having a touchdown. They ended up settling for a 52-yard field goal by Hopkins to make it a 13-3 game with a minute remaining.

Tannehill utilized the outside receiving game to try to get points. On 3rd-and-10, he found Hopkins up the left sideline for 26 yards despite tight coverage. A few plays later, facing a 4th-and-5 from the Browns’ 44 yard line, Tannehill got a perfect ball to WR Chris Moore up the right sideline, just beyond the defender’s reach, to get to the 11 yard line.

The defense kept pressing. Tannehill’s first down pass was almost picked off by LB Anthony Walker. On second down, S Juan Thornhill made a sure tackle in the flat, forcing Tennessee to burn their final timeout with 0:13 to go. On 3rd-and-10, Garrett came around the blind side and sacked Tannehill! With no timeouts, the Titans came up empty-handed heading into the half.

3rd Quarter

The Titans picked up one first down to open the half, but the solid tackling by the defense continued, as they took Henry down for 1-yard gains on back-to-back plays. On 3rd-and-13 (backed up five yards for a penalty), Tannehill had a lot of time to throw, but couldn’t connect with his receiver downfield and Thornhill trailing. The Titans punted to the 15 yard line, where Cleveland would begin their first drive of the second half.

Ford got the carry to begin the drive and took it for 9 yards along the left edge. That was followed up by a 29-yard back shoulder throw to Peoples-Jones up the right sideline.

A couple plays later, Ford gained 8 yards on the ground to set up a 3rd-and-2 at the 39 yard line. The handed it to Ford on third down, but he was stuffed for no gain. They kept the offense out there on 4th-and-2, Cooper drew another penalty on the defense for a fresh set of bounds.

Watson’s efficiency continued, finding Cooper for 9 yards and then Peoples-Jones for 12 yards to move the ball into the red zone. A 4-yard scramble by Watson set up 2nd-and-6 from the 13 yard line. The next play saw Watson keep it again on a designed run, bowling forward for 10 yards to the 3 yard line. On 1st-and-goal from the 3, the handoff went to Ford, who sprinted to the left edge and dove for the pylon for the touchdown! That put the Browns up 20-3 with 5:49 left in the third quarter.

The defense kept things up with a three-and-out and immediate punt, to start their next drive at the 19 yard line. Watson took a sack on the first play to set the offense back to a 2nd-and-18. RB Kareem Hunt then entered the game and caught back-to-back passes to move the chains.

The Browns kept up a good pace to get the ball to midfield — but then a miscommunication on a third down led to an incompletion. The Browns punted away to the Titans just before the end of the third quarter.

4th Quarter

The fourth quarter began with DE Alex Wright shooting up the middle and sacking Tannehill for a loss of 10 yards to set up a 3rd-and-12 deep in their own territory. On third down, Tannehill dodged a safety, but then stepped up into a sack from Garrett — his 3.5 sack of the day. Fortunately for Tennessee, the punter boomed a 66 yard punt that Peoples-Jones mishandled —but still returned out to the 36 yard line.

Cleveland maximized the time of possession on their drive, running 10 plays with a mix of runs, quarterback sneaks, tight end sneaks, and short passes. That set up a playaction fake and a blown coverage by the Titans, as Cooper was left unguarded for a 43-yard touchdown pass. The Browns extended their lead to 27-3 with 6:51 to go.

Tennessee got close to midfield before having to punt again. Watson’s day was done and QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson came on. RB Pierre Strong just ran the clock out from there, and punted with 1:13 remaining.

Up next, the Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens.

Quick Hitters

  • QB Deshaun Watson: 27-of-33 for 289 yards, 2 TD. 4 rushes, 16 yards.
  • RB Jerome Ford: 10 carries, 18 yards, 1 TD. 2 catches, 33 yards, 1 TD.
  • RB Kareem Hunt: 5 carries, 13 yards. 2 catches, 22 yards.
  • WR Amari Cooper: 7 catches, 116 yards, 1 TD.
  • DE Myles Garrett: 5 tackles, 3.5 sacks.
  • The Browns out-gained the Titans 341 to 94 in yardage.
  • Cleveland won the time of possession 38:29 to 21:31.