The Browns defense wants to get back to what it's been doing best so far in 2020: creating turnovers.
Cleveland failed to record a turnover for the first time this season in its 38-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6, and even though the game ended far from the Browns' reach, the lack of turnovers was missed in potentially providing the Browns a spark they never quite found at Heinz Field.
"It was very frustrating," cornerback Denzel Ward said. "Our goal going into each game is to get takeaways, and we were unable to do that. We just have to find a way to get the ball next game and help put our offense in a better position."
Before Week 6, the Browns led the league in turnovers and seemed to find a way to cause a fumble or snag an interception at key points of the game. Their five turnovers against the Washington Football Team in Week 3, for instance, were all among the biggest plays they made in their 34-20 win, and their two turnovers — both interceptions — in Week 5 against the Indianapolis Colts were massive in helping the Browns preserve a lead for 40 minutes.
Takeaways have been the main source of production for the Browns defense, and even though they failed to record one last week, Cleveland still ranks first in the league with 12 turnovers and second with seven forced fumbles.
"Getting turnovers from us defensively changes the game," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "Not getting turnovers versus Pittsburgh was huge. It felt like the football gods weren't with us. There were some opportunities. We were just a step too slow."
If the Browns play the Bengals similarly to how they performed in their first meeting in Week 2, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a few more turnover opportunities. Cleveland was able to build an early lead and force the Bengals to turn to rookie quarterback Joe Burrow to carry the offense while conserving time on the clock. That game plan resulted in Burrow needing to undertake a heavy workload for a quarterback of any level.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Cincinatti Bengals
Burrow needed to throw a staggering 61 times, and he connected on 37 of them for three touchdowns and … no interceptions. The Browns defense, however, was digging into its depth after injuries to CBs Greedy Williams, Kevin Johnson and LB Mack Wilson. Johnson and Wilson will both be on the field Sunday in their usual roles.
Add in the return of S Ronnie Harrison Jr. — who played sparingly in his first four games in Cleveland as he acclimated to the defense following a trade from Jacksonville but made a pick-6 when he was given a bigger workload in Week 5 — and the Browns defense appears to be in much better shape than in Week 2.
Opportunities for turnovers will be available. The Browns just have to be quick to capitalize on them.
"If a quarterback throws the ball 60 times, that sounds like at least two or three interceptions to me," Wilson said. "We just have to do a great job of making sure everybody is locked in and playing within the game plan and attack the ball."
If the Browns successfully do that, then everyone benefits, including the offense. Cleveland ranks third in the league with 52 points scored off turnovers and always seems to capitalize when the defense comes through with a takeaway. Turnovers, of course, usually mean great field position for the offense and can often bring an opposing defense back on the field before they have a chance to fully catch their breath from the last drive.
In Weeks 2-5, the Browns created two or more turnovers in each game. Those plays certainly were a factor in the Browns being able to score at least 32 points each game and find efficiency in their offense.
"We either want to score with (the ball)," Woods said, "or we want to give it back to our offense and set them up."
No matter what happens after one is made, turnovers are always good. The Browns saw early how much they can go toward swinging momentum and sustaining leads against opponents, and the defense quickly proved how hungry it is to snatch the ball from an opponent.
Now, after a week of no takeaways, the appetite for the defense is even bigger.
"(Turnovers) have been something we've harped on ever since our first day back in the building," Wilson said. "We make that a priority on our defense."