The Browns' cornerback room couldn't feel much better after a Week 9 performance that featured them shutting down one of the top passing games in the league.
Before last Sunday, no defense had managed to keep the Bengals' passing weapons out of the end zone — Cincinnati had scored at least two passing touchdowns in every game this season, but that streak came to an abrupt halt, made possible by nearly every active CB on Cleveland's roster.
Denzel Ward opened the game with a 99-yard pick six. Greg Newsome II recorded a few tricky pass breakups on the Bengals' top receivers. Troy Hill, who had just one sack in his six-year career, recorded two of them on Burrow. A.J. Green recovered a fumble and added a pass breakup, too.
The performance matched precisely what the Browns hoped from their CB room in 2021: depth and all-around dependability on everyone to make plays no matter their role.
"All of our corners – Denzel, A.J. Green and Greg Newsome – they all had their chances, and they made plays," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "That was impressive. I think it's a confidence-booster for all of those guys, just knowing that they have the ability to cover elite receivers in this league."
Check out exclusive photos from the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus of the Browns preparing for their Week 10 game against the New England Patriots
It's not a stretch to call WR Ja'Marr Chase "elite" even though he's only played nine career games. Chase entered Week 9 third among NFL receivers with 786 yards and seven touchdowns, created by the strong arm of Burrow, who ranked sixth in the league in passing yards. Just two weeks earlier, Chase torched a typically-stout Ravens secondary for 201 yards.
The Browns held him to 49 yards, his second lowest output of the season. Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, the Bengals' top receivers, were all held to just 128 yards, highlighting a day where the Browns defense registered pass breakup after pass breakup.
"I think overall, we played great," Hill said. "We still can clean some things up and get some plays that we want back, but as a group, I think we did our thing. That's just a building block that we have to keep building on."
The CB room has been stacking building blocks for the last three weeks.
Opposing quarterbacks have been held to three touchdowns and three interceptions in that span, and the defense as a whole hasn't allowed an opponent to score more than 16 points. That's been possible thanks to the shutdown work of Ward, Newsome and Williams, who replaced Ward when he was injured in Week 8 and kept Steelers receivers in check.
That trio each has six or more passes defensed, which ranks them all within the top 30 in the league. Each of them have built high BPU totals despite playing through injuries — Newsome and Ward have missed three combined games, while Williams has played through injuries at multiple points of the season.
The depth of the room, though, has held up no matter who is available. That's a credit to Hill and Green, who have each stepped into heavy roles whenever needed and flashed high playmaking abilities.
"It just speaks to the players and what they were able to do on game day and the coaches, just teaching the technique and fundamentals," Woods said. "I have confidence in those guys. It enables me to call from the same menu and not worry about that guy not having the ability to make plays."
The CBs all feel good about their chances of keeping it going for the next three weeks before the bye. The room is healthy, with only Williams (shoulder) appearing on the injury report this week — he was a limited participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday. Everyone in the room, though, is surging with confidence following a dominant performance against one of the best offenses in the league.
The Browns are counting on them to keep it up, and they have little reason to believe they won't.
"You can never have enough corners,'" coach Kevin Stefanski said. "That's something that I'm sure every team believes because when you get injuries, you need guys to step up. We have seen that over the course of the last few weeks, and then when you are fortunate enough to have your guys healthy, as we did for a bit of time yesterday, it goes to show that you got a lot of really productive work from that group."