Sione Takitaki is rising to the occasion.
That occasion unfortunately happened after injuries gashed the linebackers room — Anthony Walker Jr. who went down with a season-ending quad injury, then Jacob Phillips suffered a season-ending pectoral injury. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is injured, too, after he suffered a knee injury that wasn't season-ending but forced him to miss his first game of the season in Week 8.
Takitaki, a fourth-year veteran, has been one of the players next up. Largely a rotational player before the injuries, he's now started four of the last six games and has put together back-to-back strong showings on defense. No Browns defender has more tackles than the 21 he's totaled the last two games, and he was arguably the most impactful defensive player in the Week 8 Monday night win over the Bengals with 13 tackles and a strip-sack.
"When opportunities come, you want to take advantage," he said the day after the game. "I feel like wherever I can help, and (the) coaches felt like I was the next guy up, kind of just went out there and did my job. I felt like that is all I was doing, getting the calls from the sideline, coaches calling some great plays, and I was just out there doing my job."
Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Miami Dolphins
"Flying around" is a term cliche used often for linebackers, but it's been an accurate depiction of the way Takitaki has played recently.
Pro Football Focus gave Takitaki an overall grade of 87.3 in the Bengals win, including a 91.6 grade in pass rush. His 78.5 grade for the season is the highest of his career, and he's on pace to set career-highs in tackles, tackles for a loss and QB hits.
Takitaki, 27, is peaking at a time when the Browns need him most — not only because of injuries, but also due to the defense's sense of urgency to show significant improvement from a slow start. The Browns entered Week 7 ranked 31st in the league in average points allowed and have improved to 24th in the last two games.
Takitaki plugging the middle of the defense has been one reason why the group has begun to take off.
"He's played really well," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "You've seen an increased number of snaps, and I think what he's done with those has been impressive. Sometimes when you're that base linebacker that comes off in nickel, you just don't get the opportunity and you don't get the exposure. I think with added exposure, he's done a nice job. He plays very physical, a good tackler, smart and in the right place. Excited for him to have a continued role in what we're doing moving forward."
The snaps should keep on coming for Takitaki, who played 45 snaps (85 percent) last game against the Bengals, his highest percentage in a game since Week 1 of 2020.
As long as he keeps making plays, the Browns won't stop leaning on him anytime soon.
"Things are definitely slowing down," he said, "and you can play a little faster."