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Burning Questions

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13 questions for John Johnson III, who wants the defense to keep rolling in his return to L.A.

The veteran safety has played a key role in Cleveland's back-to-back dominant defensive efforts

John Johnson III is one of the few players on Cleveland's roster with SoFi Stadium experience.

The veteran safety will return to a familiar spot Sunday when the Browns face the Los Angeles Chargers in the two-year-old stadium. Johnson, of course, called SoFi Stadium home in his final season with the Rams, who share the stadium with the Chargers, before coming to Cleveland as a prized free agent signing.

The best kind of homecoming in Johnson's eyes? A repeat of what Cleveland's defense has been able to accomplish in its past two games, when it limited its opponents to single-digit points in dominant fashion. caught up with Johnson as the team wrapped up its final preparations before heading to the West Coast. You're going back to Los Angeles this week and back in a stadium you played at last season. How are you feeling about this trip?

Johnson: Just the city in general, it will be fun to go back. Like Coach said earlier, it's a lot of glitz and glamour, palm trees and good weather. We're in Cleveland now and we're hard-working, nose to the grindstone. It's going to be fun to be back but it's definitely a business trip, a work trip, so I'm looking forward to it. You played every game there with no fans. What are you expecting Sunday with a different situation?

Johnson: It took a little bit to get used to. It was a brand-new stadium in the first year we were playing with no fans. It'll be great to have people in there, whether it be Cleveland fans or Chargers fans. It just makes a good atmosphere for us to play. It took a little bit to get used to but I don't really know too much about Chargers and how their fans do. I bet the Rams fans go crazy in there. I'm just looking forward to being back in the city. Hopefully I see some familiar faces and have some fun. You went West to East for a lot of trips during the first part of your career. This week, you're going East to West. What have you been told about making this kind of trip and being your best self?

Johnson: Going West, we're going to gain time. I don't know how that's going to affect us, probably a couple of more hours of sleep. We've just got to do a good job of sticking to our routine. At 8:30 p.m. their time before the game, it's really 11:30 p.m. our time, so you want to get to bed at a decent hour, understand you're in a different time zone and just try to be a professional about everything. Defensively, this team has been as good as it gets the past two weeks. What are some areas you're identifying that can be even better?

Johnson: I've been telling everybody we're limiting yards, we're limiting punts, but we can do better in the takeaway category. With those takeaways, we've got to get in the end zone. We can score on defense and be a weapon. I think we have a good starting point and a good foundation but the next step is actually taking the ball away and scoring with it. Are you seeing plays on film where takeaways could have happened? Or is it a luck thing?

Johnson: We definitely have a few missed opportunities, plays we could have been a little tighter on, plays where the ball was in our hands. We've just got to squeeze it and look it all the way in. The opportunities are definitely out there. I think the more and more we play together, the more opportunities will come. We've just got to cash them in. What changed from Week 2 to the past two weeks?

Johnson: I think it's just doing our job. It's not a group of individuals all trying to make a play. It's one unit. Each one out of 11 does their job, and that's when we play our best football when guys aren't stressing trying to make plays. We're just locking in on doing the simple things and those big plays come. I think the last two weeks we've really been locked in on that. There've been a few injuries in the secondary that have affected the team early in games. How has the depth on this team stepped up in those opportunities?

Johnson: We prepare like starters, even practice squad guys. They're ready to play, they're ready to get elevated and go in at any time. That's been a thing for me my whole career. I think I played with eight other different safeties in four years. It's just trusting the man next to you to do your job, really locking in at practice and putting yourself in a position to play. We heard a lot about the three-safety look during training camp and we're finally seeing it in games. What have you liked most about it?

Johnson: I just like more body types like myself. We're all in the same safety room and even corners. We've got more corners out there on the field in certain packages. It's more guys in our room we trust and are with every day. We're sitting next to each other and laughing and joking around with each other. All being out there together, it's so much fun. Grant Delpit was on the field for all but two snaps last week. How big was that game for him to play like that after all he's been through?

Johnson: It was a battle within himself. Injuries can take a toll on you mentally. I think he's fought through that. I wasn't here for the first part of it, but just seeing him work through it during this training camp and the early part of this season, I'm happy he's out there. He's healthy, he looks good, he's running fast, he's taking care of his body. Hopefully we can get that for the rest of the season. I'm happy for him. When the defensive line is getting home the way it has the last couple of weeks, what does that change for you in the secondary?

Johnson: It's like morale. It makes us want to cover, it makes us want to play tight, it makes us want to get up in people's faces because we know if we buy them enough time, they'll get home. Even if they're not rushing their tails off and it's going to take them a little while to get going, we know that once we lock our guys up, they'll eventually get home. It's just a marriage between rush and cover that's been coming together these last couple of weeks. We hope to build on it. What'd you see on film of Justin Herbert this week?

Johnson: He's a big guy. He's a true quarterback prototype. He can make every throw. He's elusive, he's not too much of a runner but he can get down and run if he needs to. I think he just really understands the scheme and what they ask of him. He does it really well and has a big-time arm. It's going to be a big challenge. He's been one of the best QBs in the league on third downs. How much has that been emphasized this week?

Johnson: They're one of the best on third downs. It's because of him. I think he understands what his coaches are asking of him. It's going to be a huge challenge. We've got to get that rush and understand what's going on around us with downs and distances and really lock in on that each and every play. It's going to take undivided attention each and every rep to beat this team. It's hard to win in this league, especially on the road. The team is in position to win its fourth straight before a three-game home stretch. What would a win Sunday mean?

Johnson: It would mean the world. It's hard to win any NFL game but then on top of that, a road game against a contender. They've been putting some good stuff on tape. They knocked a good Kansas City team off that beat us. Going on the road in a hostile environment two weeks in a row is tough. We've got to knock this one out, reset, restart and get ready to play at home where we're comfortable.

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