The Browns’ first-team defense was downright dominant at times in their preseason home opener.
Cleveland’s starters held the Bills to just 22 yards in four series in Friday’s 19-17 loss to Buffalo at FirstEnergy Stadium, a performance that was no surprise to Browns starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
“Those guys pose a challenge for us on the offensive side every day at practice,” he said. “To see those guys go out and create problems for the other team is definitely encouraging.”
Indeed, it was the kind of display that could be a harbinger of things to come for a group that, at least on paper, could be one of the league’s top defenses.
Second-year defensive end and former first-overall pick Myles Garrett was almost unblockable; defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi sacked Bills quarterback AJ McCarron on a big third down; free agent linebacker and former Eagles standout Mychal Kendricks split Buffalo’s offensive line for a tackle for loss; and new free safety Damarious Randall helped anchor a new-look defensive secondary that surrendered 12 air yards to McCarron and company.
“It seemed like our guys felt a little more comfortable, and it’s just another week of getting to play with each other and starting to gel together,” said Randall, the former first-round pick acquired in March via a trade with the Packers. “Our guys are starting to create their own swagger out there.”
That was clear Friday night as Cleveland’s defense played off the crowd’s energy. And as the Browns look to rebound from their first winless season, this group will play a critical role in that quest.
A handful of second-year players — including Garrett, Ogunjobi and safety Jabrill Peppers — are expected to make significant developmental jumps while Cleveland’s linebackers — Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins, Joe Schobert and Kendricks — might form the team’s deepest position group. In the secondary, Randall is part of an overhauled back end that includes newcomers in rookie Denzel Ward (the fourth-overall pick), Terrance Mitchell, T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines.
In 2017, the Browns were one of the NFL’s top run defenses but struggled to defend the pass or take away the ball, finishing second-to-last in interceptions. That dynamic stands to improve this fall thanks to Garrett, third-year end Emmanuel Ogbah and the new defensive backs.
“We have to rush the passer. That’s something that we didn’t do such a good job of last year and that was the emphasis this year,” said Ogbah, who was on the cusp of a breakout campaign before a season-ending foot injury in November. “I just felt like we did a good job stopping them.”
Against that backdrop, Cleveland’s defenders believe they embody a change that’s coming sooner than later. Friday, perhaps, offered a brief look into the future.
“This isn’t the same team that was here in the past,” Randall said. “Everybody knows that, and we’re just looking forward to get to September 9th healthy so we can show the world what the Cleveland Browns are really made of.”