The Browns hope a dominant defensive showing against the Eagles this past week is a harbinger of things to come.
Cleveland's starting unit was lights out in Thursday's 5-0 win over the defending Super Bowl champions, a swarming effort in which the Browns forced four turnovers in the first half.
It was the kind of performance that was reflective of a group that, at least on paper, could be one of the NFL's better defenses, armed with a burgeoning pass rush, one of the league's deepest linebacker corps and a secondary filled with new faces.
That all came to fruition against Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and Co. as the Browns came after the former Super Bowl MVP all night long. They picked off Foles twice, strip-sacked him once and forced a fumble in the red zone.
While Philadelphia was without star quarterback Carson Wentz, who hasn't played since suffering a torn ACL in December, running back Jay Ajayi and a few other offensive contributors, linebacker Christian Kirksey believes Thursday's performance is what fans can come to expect this fall.
"We're in a second year under a system," he said. "I think the key ingredient is knowing the defense in and out, so that's to be expected."
Indeed, second-year defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' group — filled with new and familiar faces — shined on a night when the Browns' offense struggled to get going. The performance comes after Cleveland's first-team unit smothered Buffalo the week before, holding the Bills to 22 yards on four series.
Browns coach Hue Jackson said Thursday the unit is starting to show "that they can be dominant — that they really can be, that they can turn it up and play, and play at a high level as long as we need them to."
"That's what you have to have," he continued. "That's what the expectation is of that group."
After finishing second-to-last in takeaways a year ago, members of Cleveland's defense believe an influx of playmakers — including free safety Damarious Randall, rookie cornerback Denzel Ward and cornerback Terrance Mitchell — on the back end will be a game-change.
"It's the mindset. It's the way that we practice. It's the way that we watch film. I would just say that we have a whole different mindset as far as how we are going to attack the ball and how to get the ball," said defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who intercepted Foles in the first quarter. "Last year was unacceptable. We all know that. We're just doing everything that we can to make it better."
Taking the ball away, Kirksey said, is "something that we really harp on."
"It wasn't that great last year but it's a different mentality," he said. "I'm confident and I'm excited for our guys."
While the Browns will have to carry over Thursday's intensity into the regular season, Kirksey said that approach, coupled with talent and experience in Williams' system, should pay dividends once the games count.
"You've got so many people to worry about that it makes your job easier, you're not just the guy just getting singled out. You can't single every dominant player that's on the field because that's almost impossible, so the more players you have that can be dominant," he said.
"I'm happy we have guys playing at a high level because it lets plays come to you and it makes it easier."