Jabaal Sheard missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury. Quentin Groves was also out. Defensive lineman Billy Winn wasn’t able to go. Those are three productive players on the Browns’ front seven.
And the defense didn’t miss a beat.
The Browns are building a defense that other teams have to take notice of. The term ‘front seven’ generally refers to the defensive line and linebackers that that are in the front of the defense and have the primary responsibility of stopping the running game and getting pressure on the quarterback.
For the Browns, the front ‘seven’ includes Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Quentin Groves, Barkevious Mingo, D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn and John Hughes. Yes, that’s eleven players.
The Browns have managed to build not just a very good starting defense, but one with depth. That depth was tested Sunday as Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo played every snap on defense. In fact, eight Browns defenders played every snap including both Jackson and Robertson as well as Joe Haden, Tashuan Gipson, T.J. Ward and Buster Skrine.
No matter which way you look at the numbers, they add up to the Browns being a top 10 defense. The Browns are third in yards given up per game at 291. They are eighth in points per game allowed at 17.5. They are fourth in rush yards allowed per game at 79 yards, and have yet to allow a 100 yard rusher. They are third in passing yards allowed, one of only five teams that gives up less than 300 yards a contest.
The defense is also beginning to feel like they are becoming a special unit.
“I speak for myself as well as the team, I feel like defensively we have a ton of confidence.” said Tashaun Gipson. “At the end of the day, what we do is go out there and put good game tape on film. When we have our front seven playing like this and you have our back four playing the way we did, it’s easy. When you have, in my opinion, the best cornerback in the league shutting down one side of the field, it’s definitely easier. I tip my hat off to the defense. It’s a defensive game, it’s nasty out there, but we got the win.”
Joe Haden had one of the best games of his career, keeping A.J. Green in check. But Haden knows it isn’t just him that opposing teams need to worry about.
“If people out there don’t respect it, we’re just going to keep going out there and do what we do until we get the respect that we deserve.” said Haden. “We feel like we have one of the best defenses in the league and we’re just going to keep fighting and pushing every week to keep proving it.”
Joe Thomas sees them every day in practice, and he thinks this group has something special as well.
“No question. They’ve played outstanding football in the last four games we’ve played.” Thomas added, “Our defense is going to to be tough against anybody. It’s exciting because on offense we know that even if we don’t have a great drive, or we get stopped three and out, we know we’re going to get the ball back right away so we get to be aggressive. We don’t have to worry about playing conservative.”
Holding the Bengals without a touchdown was impressive. They had not scored less than 20 points in a game this season before playing the Browns.
There is more work to be done. There will still be moments when the secondary struggle, but the improvement is not hard to see.