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Olivier Vernon shines with Myles Garrett sidelined, leads Browns to dominant defensive display

Olivier Vernon wasn't going to let a double-team from the Eagles' offense stop him.

As he awaited the snap on the right side of the line of scrimmage at Philadelphia's 4-yard line and stared at quarterback Carson Wentz, Vernon was intent on reaching the backfield to make a game-changing play.

Those big plays normally come from his teammate, Myles Garrett, who was not on the field Sunday. Garrett, who entered Week 11 leading the NFL with 9.5 sacks and was tied for the league lead with four forced fumbles, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list before the game.

The Browns defense needed to find ways to fill the massive void left from his absence.

"We all miss Myles," Vernon said. "We all wish he was out here playing."

Garrett is an irreplaceable player, but Vernon is talented, too.

So when the ball was snapped to Wentz in the back of the end zone, Vernon charged into left tackle Jason Peters. A second later, left guard Isaac Seumalo moved over to provide additional blocking help.

That didn't stop Vernon. He broke through both blockers and immediately wrapped both arms around Wentz, who had little room to maneuver in the pocket. Vernon tackled him to the grass. Then, he stood up, jogged out of the end zone and unleashed a howl as rain fell from the sky.


For Vernon, the play was his best since he came to Cleveland in 2019. For the Browns, it was a statement.

Yes, the Browns missed Garrett in their 22-17 win over the Eagles, but they have plenty of capable defenders who can wreak havoc on an opponent.

On Sunday, Vernon was certainly one of them.

"At the end of the day, all I kept thinking was, 'Please, just win this game,'" he said. "We got a big win against a good opponent, and we're just trying to get on a roll. I just tried to do my job, and God's got my back."

Check out photos of the Eagles against the Browns

Vernon demolished the Eagles with three sacks, three tackles for a loss and a pass deflection to give the Browns defense the boost it needed without Garrett in the lineup. He was the first Browns player to record three sacks in a game since Garrett accomplished the feat in Week 2 last season, and he became the only player in franchise history to have three sacks and a safety in a game.

Those big performances typically come from Garrett, who delivered game-changing plays in each of the Browns' six previous wins and has ascended near the top of the list of candidates in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year.

News of his absence for Sunday came as a shock to the Browns, but coaches and players expressed confidence in their depth leading up to the game. Cleveland's defensive line is tight-knit — several players extended best wishes to Garrett after hearing he would miss the game — and doesn't lack veterans or talent.

Vernon, a nine-year veteran, made sure all expectations with the group Sunday were fulfilled.

"We were counting on those guys to step up. OV, he did it today," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He was defeating his blockers in the run game. He was getting to the quarterback. We are counting on him. I told him that. He knows that."

Vernon's performance didn't only invigorate his position group, which also benefited with sacks from Adrian Clayborn and Larry Ogunjobi. He pumped life into the entire defense, which forced three takeaways against Wentz and has limited opponents to 17 or fewer points in each of the last three games, a sizable improvement from the first seven games when it allowed 20 or more points in all of them and 30+ in five of them.

Players at all levels of the defense stepped up to take down the Eagles.

Linebacker Sione Takitaki made his first interception and pick-six of his career. Cornerback Denzel Ward made a late-game interception in the red zone that became even more crucial when the Eagles scored a touchdown in the final seconds.

But Vernon did the most to fill the role of Garrett, and that won't be forgotten among the defense.

"We know what he brings to the table," Takitaki said. "He's a great defensive end. The D-line was penetrating. I tip my hat to those guys. It starts up front, and they set the tempo for the rest of the game."

Vernon's big performance assured that he would surpass his career-low totals from an injury-filled first season in Cleveland. He made only 3.5 sacks and missed six games last season. Now, he is second on the Browns with five sacks and continues to flash the dominance Cleveland saw in him when he was acquired.

His memorable Week 11 performance was capped off with the safety. That put the Browns up 12-7 and served as the top highlight from a massive day from the defensive line, which proved that it can still be great without Garrett.

The Eagles couldn't contain the unit no matter who was on the field.

And they especially couldn't contain Vernon.

"At the end of the day. Everyone played as a team," Vernon said. "We made plays when we had to. We made stops when we had to. I'm glad we're sitting at 7-3 right now."

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