Myles Garrett has made an emphatic early-season leap toward achieving one of his biggest career aspirations.
Garrett, the Browns' fourth-year defensive end, has always wanted to win an NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award since he became the Browns' first overall draft pick in 2017. Garrett, however, put that goal to the side before the 2020 season began and wanted to focus on just one thing.
"Winning," he said in August. "I want to go to the playoffs."
So far, Garrett's performance is helping him get closer to accomplishing both of those tasks. He's made big plays in each of the Browns' three games of their three-game win streak and has been one of the most valuable players of Cleveland's 3-1 start, the team's best record to open a season since 2001.
"(He means) everything," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said Thursday with a big smile. "When we get him in a one-on-one, I feel like he has a chance to win every time. What he's done over the last three games really speaks to the level he's playing at right now."
That "level" might be as high as it's ever been in Garrett's career. He's tied for the NFL lead with five sacks, three forced fumbles — which already matches his season-high set in 2018 — and two fumble recoveries. He has 19 sacks in his last 17 games, and only four players — Reggie White, Aldon Smith, Shawne Merriman and Derrick Thomas — have more sacks than Garrett's 35.5 total through their first 41 career games.
Garrett has beaten his opponents with just about every move in the book — a spin, swim move or just a straight bull rush. He's moved past defenders out of sheer force and flexibility, and it takes a near perfect game from an offensive lineman to effectively prevent Garrett from making plays that change an entire game.
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No defensive player was better than Garrett in Week 4, when he made two sacks and forced a fumble against Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to help the Browns defense find enough big plays in a 49-38 victory. Garrett won AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career for his performance.
"Myles Garrett is a hell of a player," Prescott said in his postgame interview. "He's one of the best pass rushers in this game. He did a good job of getting to me."
Anyone watching the Browns this season, though, knows those games have become the norm for Garrett, and the biggest beneficiary to his dominance might be Woods.
When Garrett and the rest of the defensive line is pestering the backfield on a near every-down basis, Woods can afford to show more creativity with his play-calling for the secondary. Man-to-man coverage, for example, is much more efficient when the quarterback routinely has less than two seconds to throw the ball and can lead to more interceptions — the Browns are 11th in the league with four picks and lead the NFL with a +6 turnover margin.
When Garrett is at his best, Woods' life becomes much easier.
"A big part of me calling plays a certain way is based on how we're rushing up front," Woods said. "When you have one of those flamethrowers out there, that's what allows you to do certain things in coverage. We always try to put Myles in good situations. That was the plan the whole way."
Garrett has been there to help the defense in any scenario, and his best plays have usually come when the Browns have needed a big stop — or, in Garrett's case, a turnover.
All three of his forced fumbles have been recovered by the defense at crucial points of the game. In Weeks 2 and 3, Garrett's fumbles gave crucial possessions back to the Browns as they attempted to deflate second-half comeback attempts from the opponent. On Sunday, Garrett's fumble sapped the momentum from a surging Cowboys offense that had scored touchdowns on its previous two drives.
"Myles is in control of what he does," cornerback Denzel Ward said. "I'm glad he's on my team, for sure. You just see him detailed in his work out there. It's not just about going for the tackle, but he's going for the ball and trying to change the game."
The Browns always seem to rally behind Garrett's big plays on the scoreboard, too. Cleveland has scored on the ensuing offensive drive after every turnover created from Garrett thus far. When the ball is loose and the Browns recover, the offense can't wait to get their next play started.
"I think our players have fed off of that," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I know the offense feeds off when the ball gets turned over. They're excited to get back on the field."
When the Browns do score, Garrett looks even more valuable. His plays have made an impact on how everyone performs, and his importance goes far beyond the efficiency of the defense.