Kevin Stefanski found plenty to like from his defense's second effort of the season and even more to correct as the Browns head into the long weekend.
Just a few days after surrendering a number of big plays in an overall lousy afternoon in Baltimore, Cleveland's defense was stingier in a number of ways during Thursday's 35-30 win over the Bengals.
The unit toughened up at the goal line on multiple occasions, limiting the Bengals to field goals instead of touchdowns at critical junctures of the game. The defensive line delivered constant pressure to rookie QB Joe Burrow and made life difficult on a Cincinnati running game that had its way with the Browns in the teams' two meetings last season. And though the Browns secondary struggled to stop the Bengals when they attacked the middle of the field, Cleveland's cornerbacks, led by a Pro Bowl effort from Denzel Ward, played tight defense on the Bengals' best playmakers and denied most of their big play attempts.
"The defensive line was very aggressive," Stefanski said in a Friday video call with reporters. "Joe Mixon is a heck of a back, and he is not easy to get on the ground so there had to be some swamp tackling going on. If you can limit the run game like we did, it applies a ton of pressure and allows our front to rush the passer."
Cleveland's defense just had to rush Burrow more times than Stefanski would have preferred. The Bengals ran a whopping 88 plays (92 snaps) Thursday, including 61 pass plays. That forced Cleveland's defense — already down three starters and without another when Adrian Clayborn suffered a hip injury in the first half — to basically play a game and a half on just four days rest.
Despite all of the extra plays, the Bengals gained just 353 yards. That made for a significant drop in the ratio from just a few days earlier, when the Browns surrendered 381 yards on 58 plays in Baltimore.
Stefanski pointed to what the Bengals accomplished on third and fourth down — 8-of-18 on third, 5-for-5 on fourth — as the main reason why Cleveland struggled to get off the field.
"We will look at that, pull it apart and see what are the ways that we can just get off this field," Stefanski said. "It is hard. There are going to be some attacks and guys are moving the ball, but if we can find a way to get off that field and we find a way to turn the ball over, that will play to our strengths."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Bengals on Thursday Night Football
Reinforcements On the Way?
Stefanski said he's encouraged by the progress of the Browns defensive players who have yet to see the field this season because of injuries.
Without getting into specifics with each player, Stefanski said it was conceivable to see CB Greedy Williams (shoulder), LB Mack Wilson (knee) and CB Kevin Johnson (liver) back with the team when it resumes practice next week. DE Olivier Vernon (abdomen) missed Thursday's game but was still able to participate in some practice last week.
"It is nice to have this weekend here and get these extra days of rehab," Stefanski said. "They are all progressing. They are all moving in the right direction. Do I know that they are all going to play? I really don't know at this point, but I think they are all heading in the right direction."
Stefanski did not have an update on Clayborn, who had the only injury of note in Thursday's game.
"I think they are the two best in the NFL. You see it, one cut and they are gone. They are just gashing people," Janovich said. "Even after they are getting a 20-yard run, they are still making people miss after that. They are so hard to take down that I would not want to tackle them. It is awesome to watch. It is awesome to block for those guys."