Head coach Kevin Stefanski saw a collective look in his team's eyes on Tuesday following a tough Week 2 loss to the Steelers, as well as losing RB Nick Chubb to a season-ending injury. It was a look that Stefanski believed said they would bounce back as a group in Week 3 against the Titans.
And bounce back they did. The Browns dominated on both sides of the ball on Sunday, beating the Titans 27-3 at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns are now 2-1 on the 2023 season, and 2-0 at home.
Here are three main takeaways from Sunday's win.
RB Jerome Ford excels in first career start at running back
Following the season-ending knee injury to RB Nick Chubb, head coach Kevin Stefanski named RB Jerome Ford as their feature back. Throughout the short week ahead of Week 3 against the Titans, Ford prepared to take on a new role for the Browns.
In his first career start, Ford rushed for 18 yards on 10 carries and one touchdown, averaging 1.8 yards per carry. He also had 33 receiving yards and one touchdown. QB Deshaun Watson threw a deep pass to Ford for 19 yards for the touchdown in the second quarter. Then, in the third quarter, Ford rushed for three yards into the end zone.
"Really well-designed play by the coaches, by the offensive coaches," Stefanski said. "On Jerome's touchdown, they did a nice job seeing something there. I thought Jerome ran a really good route on that play, obviously. And then the touchdown, good call. I mean, just I'll make mention coach (Bill) Callahan does a great job game planning, giving great ideas in game. So, he really liked that call on the touchdown as well."
Ford felt that he was able to help the Browns win with his two touchdowns in his first start. However, the emotions surrounding the day were different than a normal game day. Ford said without Chubb in the locker room, seeing him prepare for a game and talking to him and RB coach "Stump" Mitchell, gave pregame a bit of a different vibe.
"Usually it's me, Coach Stump, him talking," Ford said. "You see him standing right next to you and know that Nick is ready to go. So not having him here is hard. Nick is the guy."
QB Deshaun Watson finds success in the passing game
During the week leading up to Sunday's game, Watson felt like the offense was still working to be on the same page. It was part of the offensive struggles they had seen in the first two games of the season, particularly in the success of their passing game.
Yet, Sunday provided a look at the progress they have made in the passing game. Watson completed 27 of his 33 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns. It was his second-best completion rate game of his career.
He targeted seven different guys in the passing game, spreading the ball around and finding both WR Amari Cooper and RB Jerome Ford for touchdown passes.
"He made big plays and he's a playmaker," Stefanski said. "He can make them with his feet, he can make them with his arm. I need to tell you; the protection was outstanding today. I mean, outstanding. I thought our offensive line did a great job. A great, great job. So, there was time back there to survey the field and find a bunch of completions."
Defense dominants Titans
DE Myles Garrett thinks they have the chance to be a special defense. Sunday's performance against the Titans was their latest example of how they can be just that – especially on the Titans' only scoring drive with the 44-yard field goal, they finished the drive with minus-nine yards on the entire drive.
"Yeah, I mean our defense is playing lights out," Stefanski said. "So, from the players to Coach (Jim) Schwartz, the defensive coaches. We're playing at a high level; now you have to continue to play at a high level. Every week is going be a different challenge. But the way we stopped the run, which we knew, we know that when you're playing Tennessee, you have to stop the run and you got to stop it getting off the bus. And I thought the guys did a really nice job knowing what the challenge was in front of us and I thought they stepped up to the challenge."
Heading into Sunday's game, the Browns knew one of their biggest points of emphasis would be in stopping the run and limiting RB Derrick Henry. In the first two weeks of the season, Henry rushed for 143 yards on 40 carries. And they were able to do just that. Henry finished with just 20 rushing yards on 11 carries, averaging 1.8 yards per carry.
"I mean, catch him before he gets going," Garrett said. "Make him stop his feet, change angles. He gets his feet going in one direction. He's a locomotive, so just trying to get him a little bit off balance and make sure that he turns his shoulders to the sideline and goes east and west."
But it wasn't just Henry. They had to apply pressure on QB Ryan Tannehill, and the Browns were also able to do just that. They sacked Tannehill five times on Sunday, with Garrett leading the way with 3.5 sacks.
The Browns defensive performances through the first three weeks of the season have been consistent and showcased their potential as a unit. They are taking pride in what they have been able to show but know that they also have to continue proving who they are as a defense.
Garrett said it comes down to how they prepare each week, how they work and take care of their bodies. That all leads to their success on the field. But Garrett likes what he's seeing from the defense so far.
"I think it's a pretty good glimpse and just got to keep on showing it," Garrett said. "Like you said, it's week three and every week is a new week. We got to be consistent. I got to keep everybody on the field healthy and got to adjust and adapt to each team. Got to know the game plan and attack and execute just like we did."