Through three weeks, Cleveland's defense is playing at a rate unseen in the city since the days of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban.
Lamar Jackson didn't exist back then, but he certainly does now, and he's bringing his Ravens to Cleveland this weekend. After falling in overtime to the Colts at a soggy M&T Bank Stadium last weekend, Jackson might have to carry his banged-up team -- which listed 11 players on its Wednesday injury report -- to victory.
Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is well aware of Jackson's rare abilities and is planning to prevent such an outcome by sticking to his approach.
"You can err on the other side of Lamar Jackson," Schwartz said Thursday. "If you sit there and chew the chickens, as we say, you're not gonna get him either. We're gonna rely on our team speed, we're gonna rely on team defense, we're gonna rely on running through with leverage and try to take the fight to him as opposed to sitting back and trying to hem him in."
While we might never know exactly what "chew the chickens" means (it's likely related to lying in wait, hoping to prevent the big play), we know that Schwartz's group has turned plenty of offenses into chicken salad in Cleveland's first three games. The Browns rank first in points allowed per game, passing yards allowed per game and opposing three-and-out percentage. Cleveland is forcing teams to punt on the fourth snap of possessions at a rate of 61.5 percent, has surrendered just one offensive touchdown in 12 quarters, hasn't allowed an opponent to cross Cleveland's 10-yard line, and has held two opponents to three points each.
None of those offenses featured a talent like Jackson, though.
Just last week, Jackson completed 22 of 31 passes for 202 yards, and ran 14 times for 101 yards and Baltimore's only two touchdowns of the game. He almost singlehandedly accounted for Baltimore's offensive output in the loss to Indianapolis.
Conversely, Baltimore went three-and-out three times between touchdowns, and finished the game with five such possessions.
It reads like a case of boom or bust for the Ravens, but what Sunday truly was was a case of two methodical scoring drives, and a bunch of missed opportunities sprinkled in between. That would seem to play into Cleveland's hand rather well.
Schwartz is aware that last week means very little to this matchup, one in which Jackson has tended to find success by extending plays, improvising and making the Browns pay with his legs. This isn't the same Browns defense as in past years, though, and Schwartz isn't about to dial back the aggression -- Cleveland ranks ninth in blitz rate at 32 percent -- just because Jackson can make them pay for it.
Increased aggression requires added focus on fundamentals. The Browns cannot afford to get sloppy, a message Schwartz has made sure to deliver to his players regarding Jackson's elusiveness.
"He's one of the best athletes in the NFL and he just happens to play the quarterback position," Schwartz said. "If we saw running backs doing that, we wouldn't bat an eye. We've got to tackle him like he's a running back, tackle him like he's a wide receiver. Just because the ball's in his hand doesn't mean that he's still not a threat to run. … We're gonna try to be physical. If he does run, we're gonna try to play our game and put some hits on him and those kinds of things."
We'll see if it works out. So far, it's produced two wins and a narrow loss for the Browns. A third victory in four weeks could end up going a long way by season's end.