CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns entered Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles minus Myles Garrett, who was placed on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list Friday. To say all hope for the defense was lost would be an exaggeration, but it’s never promising to lose one of the best players in the league.
However, the Browns defense didn’t just step up and hold their own with Garrett out, they were a major reason for the win.
Rough start for the offense
Cleveland's offense struggled for much of the game. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Browns were able to shine, thanks to running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Through the first half, the Browns were only able to drum up 19 yards on 13 carries.
A blocked field goal didn’t help, nor did two missed touchdown passes by quarterback Baker Mayfield. A fumble allowed the Eagles to tie it up 7-7 in the third quarter.
Luckily, the Browns offense was able to flip a switch in the fourth quarter and get the run game going. Chubb ended the game with 114 yards, with a massive 54-yard run to set the team up for a touchdown by Kareem Hunt that is a must-see.
The Browns didn't back down from running the ball, even when it wasn't working. Coach Kevin Stefanski said the team was searching for the right personnel and scheme to pair against the Eagles' rush defense and were finally able to unlock it near the end of the game.
"We just realized that if we stuck to the plan and used all those things that the run game was eventually going to hit," Mayfield said after the game. "Don't get away from it just because it's not working in the first half."
And while the fourth quarter offense deserves quite a bit of credit, the defense earned the highest praise on Sunday.
Defense steps up to the plate
Although the Browns offense couldn't get going early in the game, the defense came out of the gate hot.
"I really thought the defense set the tempo in that game. Three takeaways, scoring on defense, five sacks—OV [Olivier Vernon] having three of them. I thought Denzel Ward was outstanding, four PBUs [pass break-ups] and a pick himself," Stefanski said. "The guys were flying around. I thought they did a great job, really proud of those guys."
Eagles running back Miles Sanders fumbled the ball in the red zone and Karl Joseph, who was in for Ronnie Harrison after he injured his knee, recovered the ball and held off the Eagles from what seemed to be an inevitable score.
Not long after, Sione Takitaki put the Browns on the board first with a 50-yard pick-six, set up by Ward, who would continue to have a huge game.
“(Takitaki) was the game captain for today and the reason for that is he’s as tough as they come,” said head coach Kevin Stefanski after the game. “I’m so proud of him.”
The Eagles' run game was more successful to start than the Browns', and while Cleveland’s rush defense struggled at the start, the front four held down the fort.
Vernon stepped up in a big way, notching three sacks, one for a safety. Adrian Clayborn had a sack of his own and split another with Larry Ogunjobi.
Ward’s strong outing was sealed with a hard-earned interception with just over two minutes to play.
The Browns allowed just eight catches for 69 yards to Eagles wide receivers Sunday. In total, the Browns defense was responsible for nine of the team’s 22 points. This season, the Browns became the first NFL defense since 1997 to have multiple games with both a pick-six and safety in the same game—and they’ve done it twice now.
With Garrett, who is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, sidelined Sunday, the “next man up” mentality the Browns love to embrace came alive once again.
Mayfield, drawing inspiration legendary rapper from Snoop Dogg, perfectly summarized how the defense played on Sunday.
"We had a ton of guys step up. When they knew that Myles was out, they knew they had to get funky on the field like an old batch of collard greens," Mayfield said. "They played well together."
Another Victory Monday
The Browns are 7-3. It’s almost hard to believe but it’s true. Although it was tough to start, a win’s a win’s a win. And as Stefanski so eloquently put it after the game: “There’s no such thing as an ugly win. That was a beautiful win.”
The Browns will soon begin to prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars next week—but for now it's time to enjoy that seventh Victory Monday, Browns fans.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.