The Cleveland Browns offense struggled big time for most of Sunday’s contest. It isn’t exactly unexpected that a young offense will struggle. Plus, yesterday they were dealing with the loss of Peyton Hillis to what must be one heck of a bout of strep throat.* These facts make it all that more amazing that the Browns not only won the game yesterday, but that they were even in the position. The defense of the Browns is playing incredibly well so far this season, especially considering their youth.
It starts up front. The Browns biggest question mark coming into the season was defensive line. Before the draft, all Browns fans were wondering who would play alongside Ahtyba Rubin**. Most of us were hoping that Marcus Benard could play defensive end and sure enough he is a backup. Rubin along with Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard and Jayme Mitchell have been steady and productive so far this season.
Yesterday alone, Rubin had a team high seven tackles and 1.5 sacks. Phil Taylor had five tackles and a sack of his own. Keep in mind that while you want your interior linemen to get some tackles and sacks, they are really designed to occupy offensive linemen so other people can pile up those stats.
Jabaal Sheard only had one tackle, but he made his presence felt hitting Henne’s throwing arm and causing him to float a pass harmlessly to the turf in the red zone. It was especially nice to see Sheard play aggressively in Henne’s face after getting a flag for some kind of excessive touching to the QB head and / or facemask.*** His counterpart Jayme Mitchell had 1.5 sacks as well. They are far from dominant, but considering their ages and time played, it is pretty phenomenal so far.
The Browns’ secondary also seemed to be everywhere. Eagles fans warned us about Dimitri Patterson when he was acquired, but he looks very comfortable as the Browns’ third CB. He had no easy task yesterday either having to chase Davone Bess around the field all day. Joe Haden too must have had a good day. I say that mostly because Brandon Marshall only had four catches for 43 yards.
Now, a lot of you will want to get all over Sheldon Brown who was victimized by Brian Hartline for a 38 yard pass. The fact is that Sheldon Brown is a vet and not getting any younger. That being said, the Browns aren’t going to shut down a team’s entire passing game no matter who the corners are. That means occasionally guys are going to catch passes and most likely it will be away from Joe Haden. At the end of the game, Chad Henne had 255 yards passing on the Browns. All in all, I don’t think you can get too crazy about it. Sheldon Brown is still the best available option to play corner opposite Joe Haden on this team. Deal with it. He isn’t perfect, but he also doesn’t have to apologize for his performance. Few teams can boast multiple shut-down corners.
Last, but not least the linebackers also played well. I sometimes have a tendency to take these guys for granted because they are the veterans on the defense. Chris Gocong had a very solid game for the Browns including a big sack. I know Scott is a fan, but how about that formal handshake celebration that Gocong and his teammates use? D’Qwell Jackson and Scott Fujita were also solid even as they didn’t stand out a whole lot.
The Browns defense still isn’t particularly deep, but they are easily the strength of this team outside of Josh Cribbs’ brand of special teams. Oh, and how can you forget Mike Adams and his game-ending interception? Those are the kind of contributions that take a decent defense and make it truly great. If the Browns can get solid play from the guys they are supposed to get them from and also get additional big plays from guys like Mike Adams, Buster Skrine, who had tight coverage on one of the pass attempts in the game-saving 4-play stand to keep the Dolphins out of field goal range, they will continue to be better than average.
* I mean it. I would never question the toughness of a guy who is so clearly tougher than I am.
** His name is Ahtyba, not A-Tuba as the announcers on TV seemed to think.
*** It was a penalty by the letter of the law, but it is so hard to see guys get 15 yards without any kind of real nefarious intent.