Cleveland Browns Week 4 Analysis: Defense Wins Championships

The Browns beat the Vikings on the road this past weekend 14-7, improving to 3-1 and in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North with the Bengals and Ravens.

This game was supposed to be a shootout between two high-powered offenses, but in a surprising twist, it wound up as a low-scoring defensive brawl. There were a few reasons why the Browns’ offense couldn’t get going, which we’ll cover. But the Browns’ defense is the real story here.

When the Vikings got the ball on the first drive of the game, they swiftly cut through the Browns’ secondary with a big catch from Adam Thielen. The Browns defense then stiffened near the redzone putting them in a 4th and 1 situation. Dalvin Cook ran it for a first down. After 3 more downs, Kirk Cousins found Justin Jefferson in the endzone for the first points of the game, 7-0 Vikings. The Browns first drive lasted 13 minutes, but ended in a turnover on downs in the red zone.

Now, before I get into this game any more, I have to address the elephant in the room. Baker played poorly. He had a 45% completion percentage and threw for 155 yards and no touchdowns. He missed a lot of key throws that I will get into later. A lot of people will think that Baker is overrated and the Browns should hit the panic button and trade for Deshaun Watson right now. But in the words of Aaron Rodgers: R E L A X. Speaking of Rodgers, good QBs can have bad games. Look at Rodgers in Week 1 against New Orleans. He had 2 picks and only threw for 133 yards. Don’t forget that Baker was the only QB last year to throw 5 TDs in one half and he did it twice. Baker will bounce back. QBs can have bad games.

Now, back into the game summary.

The next few Vikings possessions, the Browns defense improved each time and stopped Cousins from connecting on deep passes. The Browns were able to drive down the field thanks to big plays from Chubb and Hunt as well as a big third down catch by Demetric Felton. Chubb was a man on a mission. In the redzone, the Browns couldn’t capitalize on another chance to score. They went for it on 4th down again and Baker missed a throw but a pass interference call gave them new downs to work with. On third down, Kareem Hunt found the endzone. After a penalty on the extra point, the Browns went for a 2-point conversion and got it with a pass to the fullback Andy Janovich. Browns surprisingly went for 2, got it, and were ahead 8-7. The Browns got the ball back with less than a minute left in the first half, and got in range for Chase McLaughlin to hit a 48-yard field goal. 11-7 Cleveland.

In the second half, Takk McKinley ended the Vikings first drive with a sack. On the Browns next drive, they got down to their own 40 yard line thanks to Chubb and Hunt. On third down Baker took a shot to a wide open Odell Beckham Jr. near the endzone. Odell had about 2 steps on his defender, but Baker missed the throw, hitting the defender in the back of the head. The Vikings offense could still not get anything going after a sack by Garrett and Ward. When the Browns scored again, this time in the 4th quarter. It was due to a combo of a great leaping catch by Odell and Chubb making plays on the ground. After the Browns got stopped on 3rd down, . They settled for a 53 yard FG to make it a one-score game at 14-7.

With around 6 minutes left, Kirk Cousins lofted it for Adam Thielen and was picked off by Greedy Williams in his first start this year. With a minute left in the game Odell got wide open again on third and 5. This time Baker hit Odell in the back on what should’ve been a game-icing 50+ yard TD. The Vikings were held scoreless on their final drive due to the strength of the Cleveland secondary. The Browns improve to 3-1.

Most of the offense in that game was quiet. The run game couldn’t get as much steam due to the strength of the Vikings front seven. The exploitable Vikings secondary wasn’t as leaky due to Baker’s accuracy problems.

Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins led the receiving corps with 4 catches for 63 yards. Followed by OBJ with 2 receptions for 27 yards. Njoku and Hunt both had 2 receptions for 17 yards.

An odd stat that I saw was that the Browns are the only team in the league to not have a passing touchdown to a wide receiver. Landry had a rushing TD in week one and our Tight Ends and Running Backs have been shown the most love in the Redzone. This is interesting from a fantasy perspective.

Next week against the Chargers’ defense will be tough. The Chargers’ D-Line is among the league’s best. If Cleveland cannot get Chubb and Hunt past Joey Bosa and Co. they will have to rely on the passing game, which I believe is the Chargers game plan. They want to force Baker to throw after seeing his inaccuracy this game. Baker is normally a very accurate QB, so it’s up to him to bounce back if the Browns are going to beat the Chargers.

Odell has looked good in terms of his own play, Baker just needs to hit him when he’s open. That chemistry should come in due time. Odell should be matching up against LA’s Michael Davis, who is a tough corner, but OBJ has proved even Chicago’s Jaylon Johnson (one of PFF’s highest graded CB’s) cannot slow him down. If Baker’s throws are on point, Odell will put up big numbers. Higgins should draw the rookie Asante Samuel Jr. who is proving to be a rising star in this league already. I think Donovan Peoples-Jones might get the most favorable matchup, with Chris Harris Jr., who is no scrub, but DPJ’s mobility could exploit him.

Nick Chubb rushed 21 times for 100 yards. Chubb had a very quiet 100 yards with no real big plays. Hunt had 14 carries for 69 yards and the only Browns TD.

The defense, on the other hand shined this game. The front seven shut down Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. Cook had 9 carries for only 34 yards and Mattison had 10 carries for 20 yards. Keep in mind Dalvin Cook was dealing with a lingering ankle injury that seemed to flare up during the game but he played through it. The Browns were fortunate that he wasn’t 100%.

Takk McKinley had one sack, while Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward both finished with half a sack. While the Browns’ D-line didn’t get quite as much pressure on Cousins as they got on Fields two weeks ago, the Browns’ D-line is a strength for this team. These numbers seem pedestrian for a great defense like Cleveland. Joe Woods used the D-line to force Kirk Cousins to throw the ball quickly with pressure from Clowney and Garrett. Clowney, by the way, is tied with Aaron Donald with 21 QB pressures on the season.

The linebacking corps, which was thought to be the weak link, turned out to be pretty good this game. Former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith led the team in tackles with 6 and 2 assists. Followed by the rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah with 5 tackles and 2 assists. Sione Takitaki had 2 tackles and 1 assist.

JOK continues to impress with his performances while still not starting for the team. I feel that he has proved enough for Joe Woods to start him now. He played great as a pass defender and a run stopper with some big hits on Dalvin Cook. I think his diversity adds so much to the defense.

The secondary performed extremely well after the Vikings’ first drive. Denzel Ward was matched up with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen most of the game and they combined for only 130 yards. Thielen was limited to just 46 yards on 3 receptions. Denzel Ward is one of the few corners that can play 1-on-1 with Tyreek Hill and stop him. People continue to sleep on Ward’s almost lockdown status. Troy Hill’s name didn’t get called much but he was solid.

Obviously Greedy Williams played great in his first start since 2019. He switched with Ward on covering Thielen and Jefferson this game and got a key interception on Kirk’s deep pass to Thielen. Now, as much as I like Greg Newsome, Greedy should continue to start at cornerback alongside Denzel Ward. He has shown a lot of potential in his play and the Browns could have one of the best cornerback duos in the league.

The Browns’ safeties played great as well. Ronnie Harrison unfortunately went out with a concussion early in the game, but Grant Delpit stepped up big time. He had a key pass break-up on Thielen in the second half and had some big hits when he stayed in the box. If Harrison is out for an extended period of time, the Strong Safety position will be safe with Delpit.

John Johnson III, one of the Browns’ biggest offseason acquisitions, played great. He, like JOK, is a multi-tool defensive player and can play all over the field. As you may remember, Johnson was the signal caller for the Rams defense last year. It is no small feat for a safety to call plays especially for the league’s top unit. He is proving himself to be a great leader for the defense this year. He almost got his first sack of the year but Cousins barely got the ball out in time. Johnson also had a key pass breakup in the endzone to seal the game. Johnson is getting back to his Rams form with each game he plays. Besides the one slip-up with Tyreek Hill in week 1, he hasn’t allowed any big plays.

If the Browns can get their offense on the same page as their defense, this team will be a problem for the rising Chargers. Ward and Greedy Williams will have their hands full with Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, but should be up to the task. Austin Ekeler is coming off a great performance against the Raiders, but the Browns D-line is a step-up from what the Raiders are working with. Look for Garrett to try and exploit rookie offensive tackle Rashawn Slater, who hasn’t given up a sack since 2018. Garrett is a good bet to break that streak.

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