Washington brings stout D-line into battle vs. Browns
With limited summer camp work and no preseason games, both Kevin Stefanski and Ron Rivera admit there is plenty they still don’t know about their teams.
Both will get another data point when Stefanski’s Browns host the Washington Football Team on Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.
The Browns (1-1) shook off a dreadful opener and took steps forward with a 35-30 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 17. Stefanski, Cleveland’s first-year coach, saw his offense rack up 434 yards behind running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who combined for 210 rushing yards.
“I think it’s baby steps,” Stefanski said. “I just go back to: It is September, we need to build on it, and it has to be a constant growth type of thing, offensively speaking.”
Rivera, in his first season with Washington (1-1), is saying a lot of the same things. His team rallied from a 17-0 deficit to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 but was hammered 30-15 at Arizona last week after falling behind 20-0 to the Cardinals early on.
The early deficits can’t continue if Washington is to find firm footing in the NFC East.
“Go out to practice and work on it,” Rivera said. “That’s all you can do right now. We’ll continue to grind away and work at it. Eventually things will start to fall into place.”
The one thing Rivera can count on is pressure on the opposing quarterback. Washington leads the NFL with 11 sacks after two games, thanks to a front populated with five first-round draft picks. Ten-year veteran Ryan Kerrigan is the oldest amongst that group, which also includes Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.
The group received more talent this spring when Washington made defensive end Chase Young the No. 2 overall pick out of Ohio State. Young has made an immediate impact and is tied for the NFL lead with 2.5 sacks in two games.
“Eleven sacks in two games gets your attention immediately,” Stefanski said. “It’s a very, very formidable front. You just turn the tape on and they’re getting home to the quarterback over and over again.”
Cleveland, meanwhile, has excelled in protecting Baker Mayfield so far. Rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. has been a plug-and-play starter at Mayfield’s blind side, as the offensive line has gelled early. The Browns are tied for second in the NFL by allowing just two sacks through two games.
Wills vs. Young will be one of the pivotal matchups on Sunday.
“Their defense relies on their defensive line,” Wills said. “We have to be ready to play.”
Chubb is fourth in the NFL with 184 rushing yards after two games, and Hunt (158) is ninth. The duo has given Cleveland offensive balance to go with Mayfield and down-the-field threats Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
Containing the ground game, not just getting to the quarterback, will be essential for Washington.
“It’s still about the 11-on-11. I don’t want to create the perception that it is all on (the defensive line),” Rivera said. “If you don’t stop the run, their play-action game is very dangerous.”
Washington is still looking to find itself offensively and could find gaps in a Cleveland defense that is giving up 34.0 points per game — fourth worst in the league. Dwayne Haskins hasn’t thrown an interception yet but has just 401 passing yards and has been sacked seven times in two games.
Terry McLaurin (12 catches, 186 yards) is on track for a breakout season at wide receiver, but the Washington ground game has been inconsistent at best. It won’t be helped with starting guard Brandon Scherff on injured reserve for at least the next three weeks.
Washington’s front seven defensively may also be thin.
Backup linebackers Thomas Davis Jr. (illness) and Cole Holcomb (knee) and backup defensive ends Ryan Anderson (shin) and Kerrigan (toe) all did not practice Wednesday. Also out was starting wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (toe) while starting right tackle Morgan Moses (hip) was limited.
The Browns may be boosted by the return of three defensive contributors.
Cornerbacks Greedy Williams (shoulder) and Kevin Johnson (liver) both returned to practice in a limited capacity Wednesday, as did starting linebacker Mack Wilson (knee). Defensive ends Olivier Vernon (abdomen) and Adrian Clayborn (hip) did not participate Wednesday.
–Field Level Media