Myles Garrett was a force to be reckoned with, and the Browns defense forced six takeaways in Sunday’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While the rain-soaked bout ended in anticlimactic fashion — a 21-21 tie in front of a raucous home crowd at FirstEnergy Stadium — this was the kind of defense Cleveland hopes it'll be this fall and for years to come.
Leading the way was Garrett, the second-year defensive end and former first overall NFL Draft pick, who helped the Browns rally past a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. He finished with two sacks, two forced fumbles, two hurries and a pass breakup while playing every single snap of a physical game that went into overtime.
"I think that's who Myles Garrett is," head coach Hue Jackson said Thursday.
"When we drafted him, I knew that about him, that he wants to be one of the best to ever play, and that's just what his motivation is."
It was indeed the type of performance Cleveland envisioned when it tabbed Garrett in 2017 and it’s what 22-year-old demands of himself on a weekly basis. "He does it on the practice field every day, and we expect him to do it every week in every game," Jackson said. "And I think now his teammates have seen it, they expect it too. That's another part of the pure pressure from your teammates saying ‘Hey look, we need this from you. To win this game, this is how you have to play for us.’ That goes a long ways.”
As goes Garrett, so goes a Browns defense that could be one of the league’s better units. If it sounds like a heavy burden to bear, but Garrett is up for the challenge.
“I mean, you’ve got to have that kind of expectation every week,” he said. “If I hope for four or five sacks and only get two or three, that’s a good week for me.”
Garrett hopes to have a similar or better showing this week in New Orleans. After being limited by a nagging ankle injury throughout his rookie season, Garrett believes he’s as healthy as he’s been since Week 4 of his junior season at Texas A&M. His teammates, meanwhile, see a player starting to come into his own. Everyone benefits.
“He makes my job easier,” said rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, who had two interceptions Sunday. “He’s that type of player, the type of player who can affect the game on every play.”
“Every time I see him, I tell him ‘Defensive Player of the Year.’ I want him to have that mindset,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry added, smiling. “It’s something that we’re going to need out of him the whole season.”
Garrett, who won’t back down from entertaining such lofty aspirations, said he has to prove it on the field each and every week.
“It shows that I’m playmaker and that they believe in me,” he said. “It’s nice of them to believe in me like that and hopefully I can live up to my own expectations.”