All throughout training camp, the Browns defense has played with an attitude under the supervision of Gregg Williams. Reinvigorated under the fiery veteran coordinator, the unit has been able to translate that dominance from practice to the preseason.
Through two games, Cleveland has recorded five takeaways, seven sacks and surrendered an average of 266 yards a game. This past Monday against the Giants, the Browns allowed just 212 yards, including less than 100 at halftime.
"Our guys on defense are battling," head coach Hue Jackson said after that showing. "Not that our guys on offense aren't – I think our guys on offense are battling, too – but I think our guys on defense are making plays, making stops and are doing things really well that helps our football team win."
Though these are indeed exhibition games — and facing the high-powered Buccaneers offense Saturday should pose another challenge — the Browns say they've been encouraged by what they've been able to accomplish over the past two weeks.
"We played well against the run and made some great plays on passing downs," rookie defensive end and No. 1 overall NFL Draft Myles Garrett said, "so we're definitely making some strides."
After finishing 31st in total defense last season, the Browns are poised to improve under Williams, who's posted five top-five defenses over the course of his career. Perhaps most of all, players say, the veteran coordinator has changed the culture on that side of the ball and tailors his schemes to the strength of the group's personnel. Cleveland added first-round picks in Garrett and do-it-all safety Jabrill Peppers and returns veterans such as Joe Haden, Jamie Collins Sr., Christian Kirksey, Jamar Taylor and Danny Shelton.
"As we go on, I feel like everyone is getting more and more comfortable," said second-year cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, whose goal-line interception helped lift the Browns to a 2-0 record this preseason. "You see a lot of guys on this defense making plays, not just me. This defense is allowing us to play fast and play confident."
Since Williams came to the Browns in January, players have praised his tough-love approach and belief that production earns playing time regardless of past laurels or draft status.
"To be quite honest, we've come a long way," Williams said earlier this month, "and I'm feeling more comfortable about what these guys can and can't do, so you will start to see us shrink the game plan a little bit and start focusing in."
It's all been so far so good for the Browns, who hope to bounce back from a trying 2016 campaign.
"It's a whole different energy with the whole team, especially on the defense, bringing coach Williams and his staff in," Boddy-Calhoun said. "It's just a different feeling after going 1-15, we don't want to get beat up no more."