On the first play from scrimmage Thursday night, Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley took a handoff to the right side. He saw a seam, and it looked like he was shot out of a cannon. Damarious Randall chased Barkley out of bounds 39 yards later.
But after that run, the Giants had less than 100 yards rushing for the rest of the game. The Browns held the Giants to just 10 points; seven if you take away the opening drive that was extended due to penalty and the Barkley run. Cleveland's defense was stout.
"We didn't want the first run to get out there like it did," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "Then I thought they settled down and did some good things. I expect our defense to be dominant, and I think they know that. We have to go back and do some things better."
Yes, three points were scored on the first-team defense. Those seven others? They came largely against second and third-teamers, and it was off a special-teams turnover deep inside Browns territory. All the Giants had to do was go 14 yards. Short fields are tough.
The Browns hope to be dominant defensively. Last season, it was second-best in the league in defensive yards per rushing attempt. In the offseason, Cleveland overhauled the roster and got better with free agents such as Mychal Kendricks, E.J. Gaines and T.J Carrie and the trade that landed Randall. First-round cornerback Denzel Ward is already starting and fellow rookies Chad Thomas and Genard Avery will provide key depth. With all the additions, the expectations are elevated.
The Cleveland Browns play the New York Giants in Week 1 of the 2018 preseason.
"I think the defensive staff, watching a young Denzel Ward out there playing, there was some good, there was some bad," Jackson said. "Kendricks and the host of the other guys who have been here, watching the guys fly around and play is exciting. They know tonight we are just laying the foundation for something we need to continue to improve at, which is every aspect of our football team over the next several weeks."
Kendricks might be the most interesting addition to the defense. The Browns linebacking room already featured a Super Bowl champion in Jamie Collins, two Pro Bowlers (Collins and Joe Schobert) and Christian Kirksey, one of the team's anchors. After winning the Super Bowl with the Eagles, Kendricks signed with the Browns and bolstered Cleveland's already daunting linebacking corps.
He made his presence in orange and brown known early, too. On the last possession for the first-team defense, Kendricks burst through the line and sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning. The loss of 10 yards forced the Giants to punt.
"He's been in the league for a while, so that's to be expected," Kirksey said of Kendricks. "He's a playmaker. We're just happy to see a linebacker make a play."
That won't be the only play made by the linebackers this season. Schobert led the league in tackles last season. Kirksey wasn't far behind. With the strong front seven and a rejuvenated secondary, the Browns might have something going on defense.