Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams says the Browns were “allergic” to taking the ball away last season.
This year? Not so much.
After finishing with just 13 takeaways in 2017, Cleveland's defense forced six turnovers in Sunday’s tie against the Steelers in the season opener.
“It was pretty nice, but you know the thing that the players are always ribbing me about is I wasn’t satisfied because we touched three other ones we should’ve had,” Williams said, smiling. “It’s been a point of emphasis since I got here last year. But at times last year we were allergic to them, and now we have been on a roll doing that. And we got to continue to do that to be a top defense in the league, and help our offense, help this team.”
— Leading that charge was defensive end Myles Garrett, who finished with two sacks and two forced fumbles in addition to wreaking havoc on Pittsburgh’s offensive line all afternoon. Williams sees a desire to be great burning within the second-year player and former first-overall NFL Draft pick. “Myles wants to be in the upper echelon in whatever he does,” he said. “He rose up and played and played and played.” Garrett, limited by an ankle injury as a rookie, played 84 of 84 possible defensive snaps.
— The Browns will be without at least one starter and potentially another Sunday in New Orleans. Third-year defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (ankle) has been ruled out while linebacker Christian Kirksey (shoulder/ankle) is listed as questionable. “One of the 32 philosophies in our playbook is next man up,” Williams said.
Ogbah will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis while Cleveland hopes Kirksey, who hasn’t missed a game once in his career (65 of 65), will be healthy enough to go.
“I want to work through that the right way because we have another game that is really close,” head coach Hue Jackson said, pointing to next week’s Thursday Night Football bout against the Jets. “Let’s see exactly where he is and let’s make the right decision for him, the team and everybody. We will work through that tomorrow.”
— After rallying past a double-digit deficit Sunday, that furious comeback fell short when kicker Zane Gonzalez’s 43-yard field goal was blocked with 13 seconds to play in overtime. Had he connected, it would have given the Browns their first win since December 2016. Special teams coordinator Amos Jones chalked it up to a unit breakdown that simply can’t happen.
“At the end of the day, you have to go out and protect. We have to go out and snap, hold and kick,” he said. “I have to go out and coach and all of those things. I just kind of look at it is; the situation arises, we have to make our performance. We have to do our jobs.”
— Jackson expects rookie left tackle Desmond Harrison to take a big step forward in Week 2 after a jittery showing against the Steelers. “He’s focused. He’s worked hard. He understands that he has to get better,” he said. “The thing I like about him is that he’s very accountable. He doesn’t run from things that he didn’t do right. He wants to get them fixed and correct it as fast as he can. Normally, guys who want to do that stand a good chance of making those things happen.” Harrison, an undrafted free agent whom Cleveland named its starter last week, settled down after a rough first half in which he was called for three penalties, including a pair of false starts.
-- As the Saints' defensive coordinator from 2009-11, Williams knows veteran quarterback Drew Brees better than most. He said the 11-time Pro Bowler's work ethic is what separates him from so many other signal-callers across the league. To illustrate that point, Williams -- who helped New Orleans win a Super Bowl in 2010 -- said he stumbled upon Brees studying film at 11 p.m. in one of the hotel meeting rooms. "I don't think he ever saw me standing there in the dark looking in the door watching him do this at 5 until 11 before curfew that night," he said. "He outworks everybody." Brees was named Super Bowl MVP the next day following a 31-17 win over the Colts.
— After going 15-of-40 in Sunday’s rain-soaked affair, the Browns believe they’ll see a far more efficient version of starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who accounted for 274 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. “The one thing I do like about Tyrod, regardless of what the game said, is he is very consistent,” Jackson said.
“He came in, he’s eager and obviously, playing against a really good opponent, which we will every week. ‘Let’s dive into the game plan and see what I need to do and where I need to get better at in some areas.’ He worked at those things with the rest of his teammates. He is going to hold himself accountable. That is one thing I do like about him. With the rest of the guys, he wants to play better so I am sure he will play better.”
-- Running back Carlos Hyde described his debut with the Browns as average, hoping to put on a better showing this weekend in New Orleans. Hyde, the former 49ers standout who signed with Cleveland in free agency, finished with 22 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown. He expects better of himself moving forward. “I think that I played decent," he said. "Definitely could have played better. Left a lot of yards on the field."