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John Johnson III says Browns D needs to 'beat the best' to be 'one of the best'

Johnson believes the Browns are facing the perfect Week 1 test

John Johnson III believes the rejuvenated Browns defense is going against the perfect Week 1 opponent.

With Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Denzel Ward and Johnson, among others, the Browns are seeking to establish themselves as one of the best defenses in the AFC.

With Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs — back-to-back winners of the AFC and the first opponent the Browns will face in 2021 — have already established themselves as one of the best offenses in the NFL.

Johnson has been eager to see just how strong the new defense truly is since he signed as a free agent with the Browns in March. He didn't need five weeks of training camp to know the group holds talent, but only the regular season can reveal the true strength of the group.

They'll receive a big answer Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

"We want to be one of the best," Johnson said Thursday at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. "In order to do that, we have to beat the best."

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Kansas City Chiefs

Johnson was with the best last season.

The Rams, who selected him in the third round of the 2017 draft, achieved the top-ranked defense in the league last season, and Johnson was their top commander. He was one of four safeties to not miss a single snap as he wore the green helmet sticker and relayed play calls from his defensive coordinator to the rest of the group. He registered 105 tackles, eight passes defensed and one interception in the process — a quality comeback season after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 6 of 2019.

The Browns wanted Johnson to bring that leadership and consistency to Cleveland, so they signed him on the first day of free agency and set the tone that they were serious about improving their defense, one that ranked 17th in the league last season.

Even though the Browns haven't seen the full product in a real game, Johnson believes the group has meshed well and is ready to face anyone.

"This defense is made up of guys with experience," he said. "It has guys that have played in big games, guys that have played on great defenses and guys that are true professionals. We've been here all training camp working at it. Obviously throughout the season, we'll obviously jell even more, but going into Week 1, I think we'll be fine."

Johnson spoke throughout training camp about the parallels he sees between his current and former defense. DT Aaron Donald was the All-Pro elite talent in LA. Garrett is in a similar talent stratosphere in Cleveland. The secondaries are both full of depth, and the linebackers are both rangy and quick.

But having a loaded defense doesn't always translate to low-scoring results. Johnson saw it first-hand against the Chiefs in Week 11 of 2018, when the Rams won 54-51 on Monday Night Football. The game, regarded as one of the most memorable shootouts of all time, ended with the Rams persevering through a barrage of three fourth-quarter touchdowns and securing a Mahomes interception in the final seconds to secure the win.

The Browns could be in for a similar style of game Sunday, and Johnson is confident the Browns will be ready to handle whatever game situation arises — regardless of the score.

"I don't want that to happen with this one coming up," he said. "I want it to be low scoring (on their end) and high scoring on our end. As long as you can win games and if you have fourth down stops and two-minute stops at the end of a game, I think you have a good enough team to go to the Super Bowl."

Stopping the Chiefs is much easier said than done, and doing it will require a level of cohesion difficult to maintain throughout four quarters.

But Johnson believes the Browns have veterans capable of grinding through it together. They've had ample time to prepare for the challenge, and they're not looking to waste any time to prove they're ready to take on anyone.

That's how the best defenses in the league look to operate.

"You can't just cake-walk your way through that game," he said. "You always want a challenge every week. It'll be fun to just go out there and compete with one of the best."