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Documenting the Defense

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Browns D will 'find out exactly where we are' with big opening test in Baltimore

Joe Woods can't do too much to prepare the Browns defense for one of the biggest challenges it faces against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. 

The "challenge" seems simple and is a core principle of any defense: tackling.

Woods believes tackling will be one of the biggest keys to stopping one of the most intricate offenses in the NFL. With reigning MVP Lamar Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens dizzied defenses last year with option plays, designed QB runs and a damaging amount of deep balls and chunk-yardage passing plays.

Game planning for the Ravens is a tall task of its own.

But the prep work means nothing if the defense can't bring bodies to the turf.

It's something the Browns haven't been able to do for a full 60 minutes since December. Bringing the ball carrier to the ground will be paramount in stopping Jackson and the Ravens, who had the most efficient offense in football last season.

"It's a very different offense," Woods said Thursday in a video call with local reporters. "They can go downfield at you, and they can obviously get on the edge. They can knock you off the ball so they can run the ball downhill at you."

Then, Woods smiled.

"And if you do everything right," he said, "you still have to tackle them."

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Ravens Sunday

The Browns — and just about every team in the league — kept tackling to extreme minimums in training camp. Tackling isn't normally a big part of team practices as coaches hope to avoid early injuries to key players, and that point was stressed even more in 2020. Players were believed to be more susceptible to injuries after spending all offseason from their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ramp-up to team drills was met with caution as players eased into practicing against other teammates.

Now, players will be encouraged to wrap, grab and hit as much as possible Sunday. The Browns always want to have hard-hitting players in the defense, and the Ravens will be a great barometer as to how physical the unit currently stands. 

"Sunday, we'll find out exactly where we are," DT Sheldon Richardson said. "I feel like we're in a good standing. I don't know if we're in a 'midseason form' type of deal, but that's for everybody. They didn't have too many live periods this year. They're trying to keep guys healthy, and I think that's across the league."

The toughest player to tackle, perhaps, will be Jackson, who couldn't be contained by any defense last season and led the Ravens to an NFL-best 14-2 record. His shiftiness from the pocket was unlike anything the league has ever seen, and his arm was just as lethal — he led the NFL with 37 passing touchdowns.

Jackson's dual-threat abilities and the overall speed of the Ravens packed a knockout punch against defenses last season. A run-heavy, aggressive offense tends to fatigue the opponent, and the Ravens were kings of that in 2019. They led the league with an average drive time of 3:22 and averaged 8.5 points in the fourth quarter, which ranked third in the NFL.

The key to stopping that? Tackling.

And, more specifically, tackling Jackson.

"He makes everything go," Woods said. "They can really limit what you try to do defensively."

The Browns, however, will try to push those limits by bringing a physical game. The Ravens can't do much if the ball carrier can't go far before being brought down to the grass.

That component hasn't been a big part of the Browns' on-field work since they finally began team practices in August.

But for Week 1, tackling will be more important than ever.

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