(Photo credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)
The Cleveland Browns have a high-priced quarterback, but it's the NFL's top-ranked defense that is headlining the show.
Cleveland sackmaster Myles Garrett and the rest of the stingy unit aim for another strong performance when the Browns host the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC North matchup on Sunday.
The Browns (2-1) have allowed just one offensive touchdown in three games while leading the NFL in both scoring defense (10.7 points allowed per game) and total defense (163.7 yards allowed per game). The scoring average would be even lower if the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't score two defensive touchdowns in the Week 2 matchup.
Garrett ranks third in the league with 4.5 sacks for a squad that has limited two of its three opponents to fewer than 150 total yards. Cleveland leads in passing defense (111.7 pass yards allowed per game) and ranks second in rushing defense (52.0 rushing yards allowed per game) and has quickly adapted to the methods of new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
"Well, I think the credit goes to everybody," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I think to play at the level that we're playing at right now takes everybody -- players, coaches. Obviously, Jim's doing a great job, I think, leading that defensive side, including with the defensive coaches."
The strong results have helped Cleveland hold a 64-21 edge in first downs despite owning a minus-5 turnover differential.
Deshaun Watson, the quarterback with the $230 million contract, has been a middle-of-the-pack performer with 678 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
However, Watson is coming off his best showing since joining the Browns. He completed 81.8 percent of his passes (27 of 33) for 289 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 27-3 home rout of the Tennessee Titans.
"We feed off the defense, we feed off that energy and they feed off us," Watson said Wednesday after being limited in practice due to a sore passing shoulder. "The more points we put up, the better it is overall. ... We don't put any limits on ourselves. We just try to score each and every time."
Baltimore will look to test the Cleveland defense with an offense that ranks 14th in scoring (23.7 points per game) and 12th in total offense (348.0 yards per game).
The Ravens (2-1) have won 24 of the past 30 meetings with Cleveland, but the teams split the season series in each of the past two years.
"Those games are different because they're in the division so there is extra motivation because they are a rival," Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson said Wednesday. "They're physical games, very physical."
Baltimore's defense is also thriving. The Ravens rank eighth in scoring defense (18.3 points allowed per game) and 10th in total defense (292.3 yards allowed per game).
Ravens linebacker Jadeveon Clowney played for the Browns the past two seasons.
"I don't think I ever necessarily need no extra motivation," Clowney said. "It's a division game. I have a lot of respect for a lot of guys over there, a lot of friends over there. I hope for them the best, but not against us."
The Ravens will be healthier than they were while taking a 22-19 overtime loss to the visiting Indianapolis Colts last week. Baltimore was without seven starters (four on offense, three on defense) and then lost five players during the contest.
Three starters -- left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee), center Tyler Linderbaum (ankle) and safety Marcus Williams (pectoral) -- returned to practice in limited roles on Wednesday. Backup running back Gus Edwards (concussion) was a full participant after leaving the Indianapolis game.
The other four injured starters didn't practice: receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (ankle), running back Justice Hill (foot), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (foot) and linebacker Odafe Oweh (ankle).
Cleveland running back Kareem Hunt (ribs, groin) got banged up in his Week 3 return to the team and sat out Wednesday. Guard Joel Bitonio (ankle) also missed the session due to injury.
--Field Level Media