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3 Big Takeaways: Starting defense uses big plays to post another shutout

1. Three cheers for the starting defense

On the first play of the Browns' preseason, Giants running back Saquon Barkley burst down the sideline for a 39-yard run. If there's such a thing as a wake-up call in the preseason, it sure worked for a Cleveland starting unit that was downright dominant from that point forward.

Thursday's performance was a culmination of sorts for what's been a very good preseason for Cleveland's defense. The unit blanked its opponent for a second straight game, following up last week's complete shutdown of the Bills with a barrage of turnovers against the Super Bowl champion Eagles. The Browns surrendered some first downs and yards in chunks -- something they didn't do against the Bills -- but had an answer every single time.

"We could not get these like this a year ago," said Browns coach Hue Jackson, whose Browns forced just 13 turnovers last season.

"The biggest thing is that we are not turning it over either – a lot. That is good football in that way, we are winning the turnover battle and that is what I am harping on with our football team that you have to do. Our defense is finally getting them. Now, hopefully, we can become ballhawks in that way – we have to go take the ball away. We have to get the other quarterback of that team down as often as we can. That is playing good defensive football."

When it wasn't turnovers, it was a first-quarter safety that was made official after a video review. And on the game's opening drive, Cleveland got the big hit it needed from Jabrill Peppers on fourth down to keep the Eagles from crossing the first-down marker.

"They can be dominant. They really can be," Jackson said. "They can turn it up and play, and play at a high level as long as we need them to. That is what you have got to have. That is what the expectation is of that group."

2. Injury bug finally bites the Browns

The Browns have been relatively healthy throughout the preseason, but Thursday's game brought a rash of injury scares.

On the Browns' first defensive possession, rookie cornerback Denzel Ward went down with an injured back. The No. 4 pick in the 2018 draft walked off on his own but never returned to the game. Jackson said they'll know more Friday about Ward's status moving forward.

On the following drive, quarterback Tyrod Taylor went down with an injured hand following a failed fourth-and-goal pass attempt. Taylor spent time in the locker room but returned to the field after missing two series. He finished 11-of-16 for 65 yards.

"Our medical people said he was fine and he could be out there," Jackson said. "We would not have put him back out there if he was not. We will check everything tonight and see where he is, but hopefully, everything will be OK."

Right tackle Chris Hubbard missed a few plays with a leg injury but ultimately returned. Jackson called Hubbard a "tough son of a gun."

Rookie linebacker Genard Avery, who has impressed enough to earn snaps with the first-team defense and caused a fumble in the first half, left in the second half with a hamstring injury.

"The guy is really coming on and doing some really good things," Jackson said. "Hopefully, we will get him back soon."

3. It wasn't the prettiest night for the offense

Outside of a spurt of three plays, nothing came easy for the Browns offense.

First, the good: On the team's second series, the Browns rattled off back-to-back long runs, as Carlos Hyde burst for 33 yards and Nick Chubb followed with 21 on the very next play. Taylor connected with Njoku for a 10-yard pass, and the Browns were in business at the 1-yard line.

Then, the bad: Taylor threw four straight incomplete passes, including a final one that sent him tumbling awkwardly out of bounds. He injured his hand in the process, and the Browns first-team offense never really found a groove the rest of the way.

"We have to execute better," Jackson said. "We played against a good defensive football team. That is OK. We are going to play some good defensive football teams, and we have to play better than that. There is no question about that. To a man, the offense knows that. We will get to work, watch this tape and get these guys better."

For the first time this preseason, Mayfield and the second-team offense came away with no points. The rookie quarterback made some impressive throws -- including a 20-yard dart to Rashard Higgins during his time with the first-team offense and an in-stride, first-down pass to C.J. Board -- on his way to completing 8-of-12 passes for 76 yards. The throw he wanted back, though, was his last of the night, when he was intercepted inside the red zone by Philadelphia's Avonte Maddox.

"Not my best game by any means," Mayfield said. "Whenever you turn the ball over, it is not your best. We just have a ways to go. Disappointed in myself. I got in there with the first team and have to get the ball out quicker."

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