The Cleveland Browns defense has been the talk of the NFL through the first three weeks of the season.
In an era that is defined by maximizing the success of offenses, what the Browns have achieved is impressive as the defense has allowed just one touchdown - the offense allowed two in the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers - and opposing offenses are averaging just six points a game.
- The defense is allowing just 52 rushing yards per game, currently second in the league, and on pace to be the second-best in league history behind the 1942 Chicago Bears, who allowed 47.2 per game.
- The 491 total yards allowed is the third-best mark for a Cleveland defense through three games since 1970.
- The defense has allowed just 21 first downs, best in the league and almost half what the Buffalo Bills, the second-place team, have allowed.
- Cleveland is currently carrying a plus-41 point differential, which is the second-best mark after three weeks since the mid-1960s. The only unit that was better? The 1989 Browns. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?)
- The defense is allowing a third-down conversion rate of just 19.5 percent, best in the NFL.
- The defense is allowing 111.7 passing yards per game, best in the league.
- The defense has yet to allow any fourth-quarter points.
- The defense has only allowed two drives to reach the red zone.
An argument can be made that as impressive as those numbers are, the defense has accomplished that by playing two poor-to-bad quarterbacks in Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, and a hobbled Joe Burrow, who missed all of the preseason for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Browns defense has been on the field for 39 drives this season...— PFF (@PFF) September 26, 2023
They have only allowed a touchdown on ONE of those drives pic.twitter.com/HdfO4Feelt
There is no question the defense will be tested on Sunday, however, by Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson. In nine career games against the Browns, eight of which have been starts, Jackson has completed 66.3 percent of his passes, combined for 15 passing/rushing touchdowns, and has generally been a major pest for the Browns.
None of those games have come against a Cleveland defense this talented, playing this well, and, perhaps most importantly, led by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Jackson has only faced a Schwartz-led defense once in his career, for what it’s worth, which came in Week 6 of the 2020 season. That day Jackson combined for 294 yards of offense (186 passing and 108 rushing) and two touchdowns.
Schwartz was asked on Thursday what the plan is to keep Jackson in check and his answer should fill Browns fans with a warm feeling (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“We’re going to rely on our team speed. We’re going to rely on team defense. We’re going to rely on running through with leverage and try to take the fight to him as opposed to sitting back and trying to hem him in. We got to tackle him like he’s a running back. Tackle him like he’s a wide receiver.
“Just because the ball is in his hand doesn’t mean that he’s still not a threat to run. So I think that probably has a lot to do with it, and we’re going to try to be physical if he does run. We’re going to try to play our game and put some hits on him and those kinds of things. We got to tackle through his midsection, and we got to get him on the ground like he’s a running back.”
If Jackson puts up big numbers again on Sunday it will be a long day for the Browns.
But with the way the defense has been playing, there is a very good chance that it will be Jackson who is in for a long day at Cleveland Browns Stadium.