Jamar Taylor doesn't need stats to validate his opinion about the Browns' improved defense. The veteran cornerback simply sees it around him every day, everywhere as he goes about his days in the Browns practice facility.
"We just have good people," Taylor said Tuesday after the team's only practice of the bye week. "We have good dudes who care about football. GW (defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) always tells us, once we start caring about it way more than they care about it, then we will have a good defense. I think you see that on the field. Dudes are flying around. Dudes are making plays."
A number of those players have been banged up and sidelined over the past week, but most are expected back Week 10, giving the unit the chance to have its group at full strength for just the second time this season.
It starts with No. 1 pick and sack leader Myles Garrett, who missed last week's game against Minnesota because of a concussion and has appeared in just three games all season because of a high ankle sprain suffered in early September. He's out of the league's concussion protocol and practiced Tuesday. Perhaps more importantly, Garrett said he expects to feel 100 percent recovered from the high ankle sprain by the time he lines up across from the Detroit defensive line Nov. 12.
"I never want to miss a game. I don't ever want to be out. Whether it is practice or a game, I don't want to miss anything, but if it helps me recover, I appreciate it," Garrett said. "Just having that time to work on my ankle and strengthen it to get it back to 100 percent, I will take it, but after the bye week, I should be back to my normal self."
Browns coach Hue Jackson was encouraged Monday by the progress made by cornerback Jason McCourty and safety Jabrill Peppers, both of whom have missed the past two games because of their respective injuries. In the team's first six games, McCourty intercepted three passes, took one back for a touchdown and forced two fumbles. Peppers barely missed a snap and also held down the roles of punt returner and kick returner.
With some mixing and matching, the Browns secondary largely held its own without the pair but suffered from a couple of costly breakdowns. Minnesota's Adam Thielen was wide open in the corner of the end zone during Sunday's first half because of a communication breakdown, Taylor said, and Browns defensive backs were responsible for multiple, pivotal penalties in the second half.
Cleveland's defense, playing without four starters and key contributor DL Larry Ogunjobi, was on the field for a season-high 85 plays against the Vikings. Even at full strength, that's not sustainable.
"As a defense, we just try to put it on our back," Taylor said. "We want to win games for our team. We pride ourselves on winning games in the defensive room so we don't want to have penalties. I think we had five the other day, and that is just uncommon for us. We don't want to have stuff like that because now our offense doesn't have a chance if we are keeping their offense on the field."
The Browns, who finished last season as the second-worst rush defense, sit sixth in the NFL (84.2 yards per game) entering the bye week. On top of that, no team is allowing fewer yards per carry than Cleveland. The unit has already exceeded its number of games in which it holds the opposition to fewer than 20 points. Both of those games included an active Garrett.
Still, it hasn't been good enough to produce a victory. It goes back to Jackson's comments Sunday about the team's thin margin of error, something Taylor agreed exists, but doesn't hinder the improved defense.
"I don't think it is pressure, but it is true," Taylor said. "You have to think that the other day we got like three crazy calls or four penalties and then they just throw a touchdown, which kind of just took the momentum away. We definitely have to play at a crazy high level. We can't afford penalties and turnovers and things like that right now."