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Browns Mailbag: How has DT Maurice Hurst II impacted the defense?

Staff Writer Kelsey Russo answers your questions

Mailbag Week 6

The Browns are coming off a gritty win on Sunday against the 49ers in Week 6, handing San Francisco its first loss of the season. Cleveland improved to 3-2 on the season with the win, and head into Week 7 set to face the Colts in Indianapolis on Sunday.

As we head into Week 7, we're opening up the mailbag and answering your questions.

Last drive by the goal line, why did we pass and almost got an interception? Dennis Gehle, Clayton, NC

This is something that both QB P.J. Walker and HC Kevin Stefanski addressed following Sunday's 19-17 win over the 49ers. So, let's talk about it.

Stefanski said that Walker knew he wasn't supposed to throw that ball. But even so, he didn't let it taint Walker's overall performance on Sunday. Stefanski said that Walker played well on Sunday, running the show on the offense.

"He knew it right away, but that kid, he's a fighter," Stefanski said.

Stefanski also said that Kevin Rogers, who is in his third season as the Browns senior offensive assistant, recruited Walker coming out of high school at Elizabeth High School in Elizabeth, NJ. Rogers was part of Temple's staff that landed Walker at Temple for college.

"K. Rogers sat in that kid's living room," Stefanski said. "He's been with his family, he knows what that kid's about, and he's told me about him. So, I knew what P.J. was about coming into this when he came onto our team. And then I just figured that kid's been fighting for everything his whole life, his whole career and that's kind of what we needed this week."

As Walker stood at the podium on Sunday following the win, Walker acknowledged that he made a mistake on that play, throwing the pass intended for WR Amari Cooper that was almost intercepted.

"That right there was something that I knew I shouldn't have done," Walker said on Sunday. "Came back to the sideline, told Kev (Kevin Stefanski), I shouldn't have made a stupid decision like that. And we made the field goal at the end of it and God was with us on that play right there, for sure."

It wasn't a perfect game, but Walker held his own in managing the offense on Sunday. He threw for 18-of-32 and 192 passing yards and two interceptions.

Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the 49ers by the Browns photo team

What do you think of Maurice Hurst's play? Seems like he's always a factor on the pass rush clogging up the middle, helping other guys make plays. – Tim Cruise, Canton, MA

DT Maurice Hurst II has played an important role for the Browns defense in his first four games that he's played in this season, especially in the pass rush. That hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates or coaches. Stefanski praised how Hurst has excelled in applying technique. He's been a nice addition to the Browns defensive tackles.

Hurst signed with the Browns back in March as a free agent. He was with the 49ers for the previous two seasons but dealt with injuries that ended both his 2021 and 2022 seasons. Through four games with the Browns this season, Hurst has four solo tackles and 10 total tackles, as well as a split sack, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups.

"Mo has done a great job since he got here, just understanding the technique," Stefanski said recently. "And he's played in similar systems, so he understands how his get off and attacking blocks and those type of things."

Jim Schwartz said we were going to have the "swaggiest" defense in the league during the preseason. Was swag really the missing key for this now league-leading unit? – Christopher Cavoli, Cuyahoga Falls, OH

I think first, the pure level of on-field talent that the defense has speaks for itself. You think of the success DE Myles Garrett has had in his career. You look at all three levels of their defense and they are strong from their defensive line all the way to their secondary. That talent has allowed the Browns to allow the third-fewest yards by a team through the first give games since 1970 with 1,002 yards. It's also the fewest allowed in Browns history through the first six weeks.

However, I do think the swagger plays a factor in their success because it's developed a culture for the defense. You think of the guys they have on their defense like Garrett, DE Za' Darius Smith, DT Maurice Hurst II, DE Ogbo Okoronkwo, S Juan Thornhill and CB Greg Newsome II who have big personalities and a level of swagger to them. Schwartz wants to celebrate that.

"Someone who is going to nurture that and bring that out of them, you couldn't ask for a better match," Garrett said of Schwartz. "And he's really helped bring the most out of these guys."

Their celebrations after big defensive plays and stops are also part of the culture that Schwartz has built, as he has preached to his guys on the defense about the importance of celebrating one another. They bring a level of energy to practices each day and its noticeable among the players and coaches.

"(Schwartz) demands excellence and he gets the most out of his players," S Rodney McLeod said on Monday. "He challenges us, and he allows us to be exactly who we are. And so, I think you've seen from day one, everybody on this defensive side just fully embraced it and now it's our identity."

CB Denzel Ward also said their goal is to be the No. 1 defense, and they hold a true belief in themselves that they are the best defense. The confidence they exude as a unit with that swagger as well as celebrating the successes of their teammates translates to their success on the field.

This quote from Ward is really telling of just how much Schwartz has transformed the defense with this mentality.

"I think Coach Schwartz, he's definitely came in and put the culture of this defense and this entire team on an up-and-up track, for sure," Ward said this week. 'He's instilled a lot of things into me, I think into this team that guys have been feeding off of, whether that's the energy, the communication out there, just guys playing together, just his system that he's brought in and just who he is as a person and just having guys wanting to play for him and play for this team. So, he's definitely done a lot since his time being here, and he's a great coach."