On the stat sheet, the Browns first-team defense seemed to have dominated the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo gained 22 yards on 12 offensive snaps against Cleveland's starters. AJ McCarron didn't have much time to throw, Kelvin Benjamin and the receivers were blanketed, and LeSean McCoy couldn't get the run game going.
The Browns had to have left FirstEnergy Stadium feeling good about their defensive effort, right?
They're taking the good with the bad.
"Too many penalties, too many yards given up, guys were not in their gaps, too many mental errors," second-year safety Jabrill Peppers said. "I think the first team had a pretty dominant night. There are still things we can get cleaned upon, but we forced them three-and-out on their first four possessions. That is what you want, so at the end of the day we definitely did our job with getting off the field with those three-and-outs."
As the game wore on, Cleveland's defense showed signs of weakness. Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen led Buffalo on three scoring drives, scoring the majority of Buffalo's points on the Browns second and third-team defenses. Busted coverages and missed assignments translated to points for the Bills.
One area where depth concerns don't seem to be an issue is linebacker. Pro-Bowler Joe Schobert helps anchor a crew that is one of the most talented on the team. There are multiple Pro Bowlers, Super Bowl winners and talented rookies. The diverse set of athletes can do it all; some can rush the passer, some can work in coverages, others fill the run gaps.
"We have a lot of guys who can make plays," Schobert said. "Guys who can do their job and make plays that they are not supposed to make because they are exceptional athletes."
But areas of concern still reside. They aren't nearly ready for week one, but nobody is. That's why there are two more preseason games before the games count. The Browns are without two pivotal defensive tackles in Trevon Coley and Caleb Brantley. They are both currently out with injuries. The secondary features new players, and they're getting acclimated with each other. The linebackers are still working to improve. Unexpected injuries may pop up. It's football. Those things happen.
The starters can't play every down of the season on defense, and the expectations for the unit are high. Collectively, Peppers wants the bar to be raised. He wants the defense, from top to bottom, to be considered dominant. And if that's the goal, the work isn't complete.
That's why Peppers has cautious optimism after the defensive outing against Buffalo.
"We still didn't meet them, even though you guys think we had a dominant night, which we did," Peppers said. "We still didn't meet our expectations. We definitely still have work to do on that front."
Giving up 22 yards on 12 plays — only five of which went for positive yards — is a solid start and a sign of progress.