CLEVELAND (AP) — Joe Burrow was penalized in the Monsoon season opener. Kenny Pickett was forced to rely on Pittsburgh’s defense to score on Monday night. Ryan Tannehill and the Titans were trampled on Cleveland’s home turf.
Three up, three down.
The first three quarterbacks to face the Browns’ No. 1-ranked defense this season have struggled to varying degrees. None of them were comfortable. Everyone was under duress.
Led by the devastating Myles Garrett, Cleveland’s boastful and powerful defense has dominated thus far, leading the NFL in virtually every major statistical category while playing at historic levels.
First-year coordinator Jim Schwartz’s unit rose to the occasion.
The hardest part will come on Sunday.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore’s dynamic dual-threat QB, will strain Cleveland’s arm and legs as the Ravens (2-1) visit in a game that will go a long way toward proving whether the Browns (2-1) are legitimate. . threat in AFK North.
At the moment, their defense looks real.
The Browns have given up one touchdown, six scores in two home wins and just 491 yards in three games, the third-lowest start to a season in league history. Only the 1999 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (430) and 1970 Detroit Lions (431) were stingier.
“These guys are flying all over the place,” Jackson said this week.
For the Browns to contain Jackson, it may take a lot of flying around and more, passing for 200 yards and rushing for 100 yards in last week’s overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts, who took advantage of Baltimore missing several starters players due to injury.
The Ravens are much closer to full strength. And as long as Jackson is on the field, they can compete with anyone.
He is dangerous both on his own 1-yard line and in the opposing red zone.
“He’s one of the best athletes in the NFL who just plays quarterback,” said Schwartz, who has helped the Browns thrive with his offensive-style scheme. “If we saw running backs doing that, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. We have to deal with him as a running back. Treat him like he’s a wide receiver. Just because he has the ball in his hand doesn’t mean he’s not still a run threat.”
Jackson appears to be aligned with first-year coordinator Todd Monken, who has found the right mix of passes to highlight the QB’s unique skill set. Jackson completed 73% of his passes (63 of 86) as Monken forces him to make shorter passes to get the ball out of his hands faster.
Against Garrett, the faster the better.
Burrow’s speed was slowed by a calf injury in Week 1, and Garrett and company held him to a career-low 82 yards passing. Last week, Garrett sacked Tannehill three and a half times on his own and the Browns held the Titans to 94 yards, the fewest since they were the Houston Oilers.
Tennessee decided not to give Garrett any extra attention until it was too late. He had 2 1/2 Tannehill sacks by halftime, including one on the final play of the second quarter as the Titans threatened to score.
The Ravens need to make sure Jackson is better protected, even if that means using a tight end or running back to tackle Garrett.
“He’s such a special athlete and specimen,” Ravens Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews said. “He’s so good at what he does. This is one of those weeks where you have to be ready to step up or guys like him and other guys on this defense are going to make you pay.”
Quarterback Deshaun Watson’s best play since joining the Browns came at a cost.
Watson took several hard hits to his right shoulder while running the ball against the Titans, and his practice has been limited this week. He didn’t throw at all on Wednesday and only threw short passes on Thursday.
The Browns expect him to play, but they decided not to announce any planned moves to keep him safe.
END OF THE GAME
Jadeveon Clowney left Cleveland on bad terms. He does not seek revenge upon his return.
Clowney, 30, who played well in his first season with Baltimore, said he has no animosity toward the Browns after an acrimonious split that ended with his release in March.
When Cleveland finished 7-10 in 2022, Clowney said the team was more focused on getting Garrett into the Hall of Fame than winning. The Browns responded by sending him home before practice and making him inactive for the final game.
“I have a lot of respect for a lot of those guys that I still consider friends,” Clowney said this week. “If I had been on any bad terms, I don’t think I would have signed to go back there for two “. years in a row.”
Clowney appears rejuvenated and the Browns know not to take him lightly.
“He’s wreaking havoc,” defenseman Joel Bitonio said. “It looks long. It looks long. He looks explosive. He will definitely be a big test for us.”
The Ravens will have to live out of their suitcases for a while.
Starting this weekend, they will play three straight games on the road in Cleveland, at Pittsburgh on Oct. 8 and in London against Tennessee on Oct. 15.
Baltimore will complete its road division schedule by the end of Week 5, having already won at Cincinnati in Week 2.
“I play these games just like any other game, but it’s different because they’re in this division,” Jackson said. “I would say this is additional motivation. It’s like a rivalry and it’s a physical game, very physical.”
AP Sports Writer Noah Treaster contributed.
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Tom Withers, Associated Press