The Browns defensive starters played the entire first half against the Buffalo Bills and they only allowed a field goal.
The even better number for Cleveland: Buffalo rushed the football 29 times for just 81 yards – equaling out to 2.8 yards per carry.
Buffalo's first unit may have been able to push the ball in the end zone and completely rewrite the script of the game if it weren't for outside linebacker Paul Kruger. On Thursday, the shaggy-haired 29-year-old finished with five tackles and a critical sack of Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
The Bills opened the game clicking on offense and amassed a 16-play drive that killed nearly 10 minutes off the clock. Taylor delivered three straight third-down conversions and had Buffalo ready to dance in scoring territory. The drive was concerning at first, given Buffalo was missing its top four weapons (LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin and Robert Woods).
But eventually, the slow march down the field would be shattered with a hammer.
On third-and-six from the Cleveland 19, Kruger lined up next to fellow pass rushing linebacker Scott Solomon in an exotic blitz package, and the two lined up on the same side to attack left tackle Cordy Glenn. Kruger slipped underneath through the middle of Buffalo's line, charged right at Taylor and launched his body right at the quarterback. The Bills were forced into a 46-yard field goal attempt, and Dan Carpenter bounced the kick off the right upright.
"I was just able to kind of clean it up," Kruger said. "It's hard for a quarterback when there's so many guys around you – you don't know where to turn. You just hope to be the guy that ends up being the last one to hit him."
The score indicates a stingy performance from Cleveland's backbone defense. But there's an issue that jumped off the stats page where the Browns struggled. Taylor was able to rush for 41 yards on four carries, all on improvisational quarterback scrambles.
Kruger was teammates with Taylor in Baltimore and reminded the Browns before the game that the Virginia Tech alum was smart enough to pick spots like Russell Wilson to damage a defense with his legs. With scrambling quarterbacks such as Tennessee's Marcus Mariota, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and Seattle's Wilson on the schedule later in the year, the Browns will use this as valuable teaching tape in making sure defenders are in the right spots for quarterback contain.
"Dealing with his speed, every team is going to have to game plan for that," said Kruger. "Us making strides and seeing where we need to improve – it's going to be really valuable for us to see where teams are going to take advantage of us. We were able to make some plays to build on … but we have some things to clean up."
Kruger had 11 sacks last season for the Browns, but his performance against the Bills could be foreshadowing for later in the season. Cleveland believes a beefed up defensive line will aid in stopping the run, but just as important, also free up other pass rushers.
Browns fans are hoping they'll get to see that new sack celebration dance Kruger displayed in the first quarter more often.