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Documenting the Defense

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Browns D has 'come a long way' since Week 1, ready to show improvements vs. Ravens

The defense has shown improvements in several areas after allowing 38 points to Baltimore in the season opener

Joe Woods didn't like much of anything when he looked back at the Browns' last meeting with the Baltimore Ravens.

The setting was Week 1 in Baltimore, and the scene was the first of what would become a new normal for the Browns in 2020: no fans, pumped in crowd noise and a much different feeling for a season-opening football game.

"It felt like, 'Were we really playing?'" Woods said Friday. "I just remember walking onto the field with no one in the stands."

Those odd feelings turned to frustration throughout the afternoon. The Browns allowed 38 points to the Ravens, fell to 0-1 and a myriad of problems were exposed from the defense. An inability to stop the run or the pass yielded 381 total yards from Baltimore and presented Woods with ample work toward making the defense more complete. 

"I felt early on that we just did not perform well," Woods said. "I didn't feel like I had a great game calling it. Just looking back at it, you can see the areas that we did well and you can see the areas that we can clean up."

The Browns, though, believe they're in much better shape to stop the Ravens on a primetime stage Monday at FirstEnergy Stadium. The defense has shown considerable strides for improvement in the second half of the season, and the Ravens have run into some offensive struggles of their own.

Cleveland wants to capitalize on its recent success and extend its winning streak to five games. That will be a much tougher task if the defense can't bring the same form from the last month.

"We have come a long way just in terms of figuring out what we do well," Woods said. "I really love this defense and this team because I feel like we fight every week and I feel like we are getting different contributors every week."

Those "contributors" have mainly come via takeaways — eight different players have recorded at least one interception this season, while 11 have forced a fumble. The Browns are tied for third in the NFL with 20 turnovers this season and made three of them last week in their massive win over the Tennessee Titans. They recovered an early fumble on Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry, who had yet to fumble this season, and allowed the offense to get back on the field and score their second touchdown of the game.

Turnovers have been the most important part of the defense's success. Then, there's the sacks.

The Browns currently stand 12th in the NFL with 30 sacks and recorded two of them in Week 1, but Myles Garrett, their biggest sack monster, wasn't one of the tacklers. He's recorded a sack in all but one game since the season opener and is third in the league with 10.5 sacks. They've almost always come at a pivotal point in the game, too, and he became the first Browns player ever to record 10 sacks in three consecutive seasons last weekend when he notched one in Nashville.

Garrett still managed to make a big play despite missing two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He showed little rust last week, and Woods believes he'll be playing at an even stronger level this week.

"He played a lot of snaps," Woods said. "He was definitely tired after the game. I went right to him, 'How are you feeling?' (He said) 'I am tired, Coach.' We knew that was going to be part of him coming back off COVID. This week, he will be in better shape. He will have more practices under his belt, and he should be good to go."

Garrett's strength and the turnover-making abilities from the rest of the defense have powered the Browns to 9-3, their best start to a season since 1994. Both will be needed to stop quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, who own the 32nd-ranked passing attack in the league but have the top-ranked rushing game.

"It is a great challenge for our players. It is a great challenge for the coaches," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "They do run a unique scheme, not something that you see every week. You have to put together a really strong plan that the guys can understand and go execute." 

The Browns have proven that a strong plan can beat a strong offense, and they're confident they can do that after making tremendous improvements since their first meeting with the Ravens.

The problems from Week 1 have been identified and taken care of. Now, it's time to prove it against the same team.

"I feel like we have progressed just in terms of what we are doing so I feel like this game," Woods said. "We will be a little bit better prepared to play these guys."

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