A year after being bothered by a nagging ankle injury, Myles Garrett — healthy, confident and determined to live up to his lofty draft status — played 84 of 84 defensive snaps in Sunday’s thrilling season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As it turns out, the Browns needed every bit of it from Garrett, the second-year defensive end and former first overall NFL Draft pick who delivered a monster performance in a 21-21 tie at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“I challenged him to,” coach Hue Jackson said of Garrett’s playing time. “I showed him a stat of all of the top defensive ends, how much they have been playing. Last year he played 71 percent and if I’m not mistaken, the top guy this past year was in the 98 percentile. So I think he was chasing that.”
Garrett, who finished with two sacks, two forced fumbles, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup, helped the Browns rally past a double-digit deficit and slow start. He was so motivated to play every down, Jackson said, that he shrugged off both exhaustion and a minor injury in the process.
“That says a lot because there was a couple of times that I knew he wanted to come out. He just looked, he was on his way and said ‘Nah, I am staying,’ and kept playing,” he said. “So we now know, and I think he now knows he can play as long as he needs to. We won’t try to have him have that big of a workload, so hopefully in the fourth quarter he can go make a play to win the game for us. But it was good to see.”
— While nerves got the better of him, Desmond Harrison said he felt more and more comfortable as Sunday’s season opener against the Steelers unfolded. Harrison, the undrafted free agent rookie whom the Browns named their starting left tackle last week, struggled in a 21-21 tie but believes he gained confidence throughout the contest. “In general, me and my quarterback – they keep me more comfortable in anything,” Harrison said.
Added Jackson: “I think he did some good things. I think for his first game – obviously the illegal procedures we want to clean those up. But he fought, he battled hard.”
— In his debut as the Browns starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor turned in an uneven performance. On one hand, he combined for 274 all-purpose yards and a pair of touchdowns, helping pace the team’s fourth-quarter comeback. On the other, Taylor completed 15-of-40 pass attempts and was sacked seven times. Jackson believes Cleveland will see a better version of Taylor moving forward after a steady rain, among other dynamics, made for a tough afternoon.
“Not good enough,” Jackson said of the showing. “What I’m also saying in there is that it’s not all him. Sometimes guys got to be in the right spot. Protection has to hold up for him. All of those things in a passing game makes a difference. I think we all understand that. It’s not just him. Does he have to do his job better? Yes. I think everyone around him has to do their job better, too.”
— The same goes for Cleveland's run game, which totaled 30 carries for 100 yards between Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and rookie Nick Chubb. Jackson said he wasn’t pleased despite some bright spots against traditionally one of the NFL’s better run defenses. “We need more out of it, we expect more out of it and I think we will get it.,” he said. “We just got to keep grinding, grinding at this thing. Keep going.”
— Second-year kicker Zane Gonzalez had his 43-yard field goal attempt blocked with 13 seconds remaining in overtime. Had he made it, it would’ve given the Browns their first win since 2016 and their first win in an opener since 2004. Jackson said those kinds of special teams errors simply can’t happen. “We wished the ball would have gotten up a little bit higher. It didn’t,” he said. “It got blocked and we cannot have that happen.”
— Third-year defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah could “miss some time” because of an ankle injury, Jackson said. Ogbah, who suffered a season-ending foot injury last November, sustained the injury on the last play of the first quarter in Sunday’s game. The Browns will turn to Chris Smith and Anthony Zettel to fill that void for however long.
— Star wide receiver Josh Gordon finished with one catch — a spectacular 17-yard touchdown that tied the game late in the fourth quarter — on just three targets in 69 snaps. Jackson said the offense simply needs to play better. “We got to get him opportunities where he can make plays,” he said. “Him (tight end) David (Njoku), all of them. We got to get our skill guys going and moving the right direction. I think that’s the whole unit issue.”