Junkyard Dawgs unleashed: Browns defense shuts down Burrow, Bengals in 24-3 win

Cleveland’s defense stepped up in every phase of the game and throttled a Super Bowl favorite in Cincinnati.
CLEVELAND, OHIO – SEPTEMBER 10: Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after sacking Joe Burrow (not pictured) of the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 10, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Browns came out with a dominant performance on defense against their division foe, the Cincinnati Bengals, in a 24-3 win in Week 1. With the team seeking to make a statement, they controlled the game and made noise. It all started with their defensive front, assembled to wreak havoc every week, precisely what defensive mastermind Jim Schwartz expects from his unit every week.

In the off-season, the Browns signed Schwartz as their next defensive coordinator. Schwartz loves to be aggressive in a 4-3 Base defense by sending unique blitz packages to get after the quarterback. During his five-year tenure as defensive coordinator in Philadelphia, the team finished with 208 sacks. Cleveland knew they needed to get him more quality pieces on the defensive line to team up with superstar defensive end Myles Garrett. The Cleveland Browns’ General Manager, Andrew Berry, signed Dalvin Tomlison and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in free agency and traded for Za’Darius Smith, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end from the Minnesota Vikings.

In their matchup with the Bengals, the Browns produced ten Quarterback Hits, four Tackles for Loss and two Sacks. The defensive front controlled the game with constant pressure, forcing ill-advised throws by Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow. New faces Smith and Okoronkwo made their presence felt off the edge with Smith racking up four quarterback hits and one pass defended, while Okoronkwo finished with three tackles, one quarterback hit and one sack. The two have no teammate, like superstar edge rusher Myles Garrett’s caliber, which creates more openings for one-on-one matchups. Garrett requires a highly respected amount of attention but still finished with a dominant performance, recording four quarterback hits and one sack.

The defense held the newly highest-paid player in NFL history, Joe Burrow (5 years, $275 Million) to 14/31 Passing, 82 Yards and a 52.2 Rating. The weather was a factor, as throws would slip out of both quarterbacks’ hands. Still, the secondary did not allow much separation for the wideouts, leaving only tight windows to make throws for Burrow. Cornerbacks Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II, and Martin Emerson Jr. combined for ten tackles and two passes defended. The stat line may not be the most impressive, but they shut down the Bengals’ star-studded receiving core.

“I feel like it sets the tone,” said Smith postgame. “Being able to hit him I feel like is sometimes more important than sacks. Sometimes, you can get one sack in a game but hit the quarterback five times. But we got guys – we’ve got speed guys, we’ve got big guys, all types of guys on our d-line up front, so we’re able to do a great job up front.”

CLEVELAND, OHIO – SEPTEMBER 10: Grant Delpit #22 and Greg Newsome II #0 of the Cleveland Browns celebrate during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 10, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Amidst the smack talk by star wideout Ja’Marr Chase, 2-time Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward stood up to the challenge, limiting Chase to 5 receptions, 39 yards, and 7.8 yards per catch on a total of 9 targets. Martin Emerson Jr. and Greg Newsome II locked down the other two premiere wideouts Cincinnati has to offer, holding Tyler Boyd to 2 receptions, 10 yards, and 5.0 yards per catch on three targets. In contrast, Tee Higgins had 0 receptions on eight targets, which isn’t typical for the fantasy football stud.

Another performance that stood on defense out in the secondary was safety Grant Delpit, who was all over the field making impact plays. Delpit finished the day with eight tackles, 1 pass defended, 1 quarterback hit and 1 tackle for loss. This game may have been the best of his career on tape. Delpit was not only extraordinary in coverage, but he also was a force in the run defense, limiting big plays, and had a big quarterback hit while being sent on a blitz by Schwartz. His exceptional performance on the field should be noted league-wide.

It’s worth mentioning that the Browns’ run defense in this game was a highly underrated performance. They held the Bengals to 75 yards, 3.8 yards per carry and 0 touchdowns on 20 carries. Adding Schwartz not only improved the pass rush and secondary but also vastly improved the run defense, which was statistically one of the worst in football last year. The improvement was expected, as Schwartz had the Eagles limiting teams to 88.8 Rush Yards per game over three years from 2017-2019. Sure, it’s only one game into the season but it’s night and day when comparing this year’s effort from Cleveland’s defense to last year’s effort.

“It was a hell of a dress rehearsal with these guys,” said Garrett postgame. “They have a very explosive offense and very skilled players in each position. So, this was a big one for us to see where we’re at and we really showed what we can do and set the bar high, and this is the standard we got to continue improving from here.”

Cleveland’s defense is just starting, and the team’s confidence will only increase after their performance against the Bengals. The Junkyard Dawgs will be in Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football next week against their bitter rival, the Steelers.

Kristopher’s Right Down Euclid’s go-to intern as he begins his sports media career by studying at the University of Mount Union this fall. He’s been a lifelong fan of the Browns, Cavaliers, and Guardians and has dreamed of becoming a sports journalist since he was ten. Some of his recent stops include work with Phenom Media, and he runs @clecentral_ on Instagram.

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