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Analyzing the CBs: Browns held their own in face of numerous injuries

Cleveland’s star corner Denzel Ward was outstanding in his 3rd season with the team

The offseason is officially underway, and free agency is just around the corner. Until then, we'll be putting the Browns' current roster through a thorough, position by position review.

Next up: The cornerbacks

The Raw Numbers

Pass defense - 247.6 yards per game (22nd in NFL)

Passing TDs allowed - 31 (25th in NFL)

Coverage rating (PFF) - 56.4 (20th in NFL)

Denzel Ward: 46 tackles, 18 passes defensed, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble

Terrance Mitchell: 65 tackles, 13 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles

Kevin Johnson: 35 tackles, 3 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery

M.J. Stewart: 22 tackles, 3 passes defensed, 2 INTs

Robert Jackson: 6 tackles, 1 pass defensed

Tavierre Thomas: 30 tackles, 1 forced fumble

Analysis in 150 Words or Less

The injuries came before the Browns played a game, as Greedy Williams suffered a shoulder injury that would cost him his season and Johnson went down with a lacerated liver that limited his impact early in the year. Despite the adversity, the Browns held their own at one of the least forgiving positions on the field. That was largely thanks to another standout season from Ward — who missed five games during the second half of the season and playoffs — and reliable production from Mitchell, who led the defense in snaps played. Stewart made the most of his opportunities late in the season and came away with two of the biggest plays of the year. There were plenty of moments this group would love back but they can't be ignored as playing a key role in the opportunistic success Cleveland's defense found by regularly forcing turnovers at key moments. 

Number of Significance

1.5 — That's how many passes defensed Ward averaged per game in 2020, by far the best mark in the NFL. Despite missing four regular season games, Ward finished tied for second in the NFL with 18 passes defensed, trailing league leader Xavien Howard, who played all 16, by just two. This was a big improvement for Ward, who had 11 apiece in each of his first two seasons. Ward was targeted 69 times and allowed 38 receptions, according to Pro Football Focus.

Low Point

There were games in which the Browns surrendered far more yards through the air, but the toughest afternoon to watch came right at the beginning of the season against the Ravens. Baltimore's WRs had no problem finding plenty of space in the secondary and made life easy for Lamar Jackson, who completed 20-of-25 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Three different Ravens wide receivers caught at least one pass of 20 yards or more.

Check out the best 100 photos from this season by the Browns photo team

High Point

Ward, despite suffering a calf injury at some point during the game, made a clutch interception inside the red zone, and the Browns defense limited Carson Wentz to 235 yards on 21-of-35 passing in the Browns' 22-17 win over the Eagles in Week 11. Philadelphia wide receivers accounted for just eight catches for 69 yards. Team leader Travis Fulgham was held to one catch.

What They Said

"I feel like I have grown quite well as a player this year in various things technique wise, my playing ability on the field or whatever and just being there for my guys. I feel like I have grown quite well." — Ward

"Going back to the beginning of training camp, I talked to the guys, and I feel like this is a year where everybody has to play. I just felt like that going into it. Not the typical year where a guy goes, he plays 60 plays and you leave him alone. Throughout the season, I think it is a blessing in disguise that we have had to play multiple players." — DC Joe Woods

Nathan Zegura's Take

"For these cornerbacks, when you think of two of your three starters from a year ago are unrestricted free agents, you think about the fact you still don't know how Greedy Williams will look, I don't know what this room's going to look like (in 2021). You know about Denzel Ward for sure but beyond that, there are some question marks. A lot of guys in the mix, a lot of talent but also a lot of uncertainty, which has really been the theme when you look at these different rooms on the defensive side of the ball."

Who's Back for 2021?

Ward, Williams, Stewart, Jackson, A.J. Green and Brian Allen are all under contract through 2021.

Who's a Potential Free Agent?

Mitchell and Johnson are unrestricted free agents. Thomas is a restricted free agent.