Browns defense showed why they are the best defense after win on Thursday Night Football
When RB Nick Chubb surprised his teammates on Thursday by being the Dawg Pound Captain, the defense didn't need any more motivation to perform well against the Jets.
"He surprised us all," CB Greg Newsome II said. "I thought LeBron was coming because they told us it was a surprise coming out. But when we saw it was Chubb, we got even more hype. We have been playing for him all season."
This season the Browns defense has dominated opponents, and it started with their real first test going against the 49ers offense in Week 6. The 49ers offense was ranked the best in several categories. The Browns defense held MVP candidate Brock Purdy to a 44.4 completion percentage.
Despite their dominant performance, the Browns defense was still undervalued as they had hiccups playing road teams. During the West Coast trip, the defense allowed 169 rush yards and two touchdowns to the Broncos. Then they gave up 279 passing yards and three touchdown receptions to the Rams.
Yet, in Week 16, the Browns answered whether they could play on the road. The Browns defense kept the Texans from scoring for three quarters. The Texans didn't score until the Browns' backups were in play with 6:11 left in the game. They limited the Texans offense to net 178 receiving yards and 72 rushing yards.
This week they had the opportunity to show the world on national television that they are the real deal. Thursday was the Browns' second nationally televised game of the year. Their first was a Monday Night game vs. the Steelers, which they lost 26-22. On Thursday, they played a Jets offense with talented young stars.
After the Browns offense scored a touchdown on the opening drive, the Jets offense came down and did the same thing. It was the second time this year that the defense gave up an opening-drive touchdown at home.
The Browns defense got started when S Ronnie Hickman caught a pick-six with 2:12 left in the first quarter. QB Trevor Siemian dropped back and tried to throw a slant route to WR Garrett Wilson. Reading Siemian's eyes, Hickman slid to the right side and picked off the pass.
After picking off the ball, Hickman used his speed and agility to return the ball for a 30-yard touchdown. The interception gave the Browns a 20-7 lead in the first quarter.
"Yeah, that was incredible," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "The ball finds Ronnie Hickman. It's incredible. Out at practice and walkthrough, somehow, the ball finds its way into his lap, and he does a great job. You know, scoring – it was a great play by a young man and he's doing a nice job. We're going to continue to need these guys to step up."
The Browns then forced the Jets to go three-and-out three straight times. The Jets were then able to put together a six-play, 47-yard drive that ended in a field goal with 1:25 left in the second quarter. At the end of the first half, the Browns defense only gave up 10 points, but the Jets had 17 due to a pick-six. In the second half the Browns defense was even better.
On the Jets' first possession in the second half, Siemian led the Jets up the field for an 11-play 58 net-yard drive. The Jets couldn't get into the end zone, so they opted for a field goal instead. K Greg Zuerlein attempted a 31-yard field goal, but DT Shelby Harris blocked it, preventing the Jets from reducing the Browns' 34-17 lead. This marks Harris' fifth career blocked field goal.
"That field goal block unit, that's something that we take a lot of pride in," Stefanski said. "And we have some guys that are outstanding in that group with Shelby (Harris), Jordan Elliott and Dalvin (Tomlinson) and Myles (Garrett) and Denzel (Ward) over the course of time. So that's not a play off for us. And that was a big play in the ball game. I think it helped maybe getting the five yards moved back a little bit, maybe change the trajectory of the kick potentially. But we have guys that don't take a play off, and they want to get that ball because that's just a game changer when you come away with no points there."
In the second half, the Jets only scored three points and were unable to move the ball against the Browns' defense effectively. The Jets had 174 net yards in the second half over six possessions.
The Browns defense was stoked after the win and is ready for the playoffs. The group has been consistently the best defense in the league. They are second in takeaways per game with 1.7. They are first in opponent total yards allowed, with an average of 266.6. They are first in opponent completion percentage with 56.4 percent and are third in interceptions with 17.
"We take a lot of pride in that," CB Denzel Ward said. "We have been saying we want to be the number one defense. I think we have been showing that. When we have the opportunities to go out there and get the ball back to our offense, we are executing."