Browns starting defense swarms Eagles in 5-0 victory

Defense totals 4 turnovers, a stop on downs, a safety and 7 sacks in win

Daryl Ruiter
August 23, 2018 - 11:14 pm

© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Dominating.

That’s the only word needed to describe the Browns starting defense Thursday night, and this preseason for that matter.

After not allowing a single first down last week against Buffalo in 4 series, the D turned up the heat Thursday night against the Eagles. Philadelphia’s first half possessions ended like this: turnover on downs, safety, fumble, interception, fumble and interception.

“I know 5 turnovers in one half is pretty impressive,” defensive end Myles Garrett said.

Head coach Hue Jackson was impressed Thursday night – at least with his defense.

“I can’t say enough about the performance of those guys tonight,” Jackson said.

Unfortunately, Cleveland was unable to convert the turnovers into a slew of points and led just 5-0 at halftime, which stood up as the final score.

Thursday night Cleveland's defense racked up 7 sacks – 2 of them by Garrett, who feasted all night wreaking havoc in Philadelphia’s backfield for the 30 minutes he was on the field. 

“It's a blast,” Garrett said. “Making big plays, whether it's sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, it's a joy watching those guys get after it like that and being a part of it. I had a little bit of fun today, so I know those kind of plays, those win games and winning games is the ultimate fun in this league.”

Safety Jabrill Peppers got the ball rolling early when he made a nice tackle on the sideline of Eagles tight end Zach Ertz to hold Ertz to a 3-yard gain on fourth-and-5 allowing the Browns to take over on downs at their own 35 following a 10-play drive.

On that drive, rookie cornerback Denzel Ward suffered a back injury while trying to tackle Ertz following a 7-yard pass and did not return with 10:31 left in the first.

The Eagles’ second possession started at their own 1 after the Browns failed on 4 straight plays to successfully throw it into the end zone on goal-to-go situations from the 1 that also saw starter Tyrod Taylor injure his left hand falling out of bounds after an incomplete pass on fourth down.

On second down, Foles, under heavy pressure, slipped and his knee hit the ground in the end zone. An alert Garrett touched him for the safety, which came after replay review reversed Foles’ 18-yard completion to receiver Shelton Gipson out to the 23.

“I saw he was kind of on a knee, so I was just trying to make sure to touch him,” Garrett said. “I knew I didn't have to really pounce on him to get the sack.”

The Browns failed to gain a first down after linebacker Genard Avery strip-sacked Foles on the Eagles’ third series and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi recovered the fumble at the Eagles' 35. Zane Gonzalez kicked a 54-yard field goal to give Cleveland a 5-0 lead with 14:52 left in the second quarter.

Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah fell on another fumble, this one by Eagles receiver Mike Jones after he was stripped by cornerback Terrance Mitchell, with 9:40 left in the second quarter ending yet another Eagles possession.

Brien Boddy-Calhoun, who started at free safety after Damarious Randall was scratched with a knee injury during warmups, ended Foles’ fourth series by stepping in front of a throw intended for receiver Mike Wallace on the boundary at the Philadelphia 45.

“You've got to be hungry,” Boddy-Calhoun said. “If you want to win in this game, you've got to take the ball away and you've got to protect it on offense. Every day in practice we emphasize this, just in the secondary, we try to get at least two to three a day, so we know that the key to winning is taking the ball away and we've got to get better at that.”

The offense went 3-and-out after Carlos Hyde lost 4 yards, Taylor, who returned after missing 2 series, was sacked for another loss of 7 to thwart any hopes of cashing in another chance to capitalize on the defense's good fortune.

Linebacker Jamie Collins ended the Eagles’ biggest scoring threat of the half with an interception of Foles, a throw that was forced by pressure from Garrett ending a 9-play drive that got as deep as the 7 yard-line. 

“We are winning the turnover battle, and that is what I have harped on with our football team that you have to do,” Jackson said. “Our defense is finally getting them. Now, hopefully, we can become ballhawks in that way. We have to go take the ball away. We have to get the other quarterback of that team down as often as we can. That is playing good defensive football.”

Despite being out-gained and allowing 11 first downs through 30 minutes, Cleveland’s starters pitched a shutout and the reserves made it hold up in the second half.

Eagles kicker Jake Elliott shanked a 33-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and a potential 37-yard touchdown from quarterback Nate Sudfeld to receiver Rashard Davis – also in the fourth quarter – was overturned by replay.

Preseason or not, it’s hard not to notice the progress made on the defensive side of the football.

“They can be dominant,” Jackson said.