Myles Garrett has been a one-man wrecking crew in the Browns’ 5-2 start.
They could use more of a group effort from the pass rush as they try to avoid playing in a shootout every week.
Garrett, who will play Sunday against the Raiders despite missing two days of practice with an ankle injury, has been downright dominant at defensive end with a league-leading nine sacks — more than five teams — and a league-high-tying four forced fumbles. But the rest of the Browns have combined for nine sacks and four forced fumbles.
“If it is not what it is supposed to be, then we just have to do better,” Garrett said Friday. “I have to do better. I have to win my one-on-ones quicker. I have to beat whoever I have to beat to get pressure on them.
“That is on us who is called upon. We can’t be asking for anybody else. We can’t be complaining about the scheme. We just have to find a way to make it happen.”
Garrett returned to practice Friday and was limited, but he and coach Kevin Stefanski said his workload will be normal Sunday.
“Making sure we are keeping tabs on him, but he is ready to go,” Stefanski said, adding there was never significant concern about Garrett’s availability for the game.
Garrett said he tweaked the ankle leading up to and during the 37-34 win over the Bengals on Sunday, and just needed rest. He had two sacks and a forced fumble in Cincinnati.
“I tweaked it twice so I just needed some time to get right,” he said. “It’s doing all right. Getting old, so just trying to take my time when I can.
“Doing the best that I can and going out there and making the plays that I am supposed to make. For what is in the forecast (wind and rain), I will probably be doing a little bit more run stopping than pass rushing. Whatever happens, I will be ready for it.”
Garrett was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month on Thursday. He’s the first NFL player since forced fumbles became an official statistic in 1999 to have nine sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in the first seven games.
The numbers are impressive, but the drop-off to his teammates is concerning. Not only are Garrett’s nine sacks half the team’s total, which ranks tied for eighth in the NFL, he has 21 of the 61 pressures and 13 of the 31 quarterback hits.
Stefanski called Garrett the “straw that stirs the drink,” but would like to see more ice cubes get involved.
“That is a huge part of it,” Stefanski said. “We have a rush plan. Sometimes that is rushing four, sometimes it is five or six or sometimes seven. I think ultimately what it goes to is we are trying to create matchups for our guys and then our guys have to go win a one-on-one.”
Garrett has drawn consistent double and triple teams, so his linemates have gotten those solo opportunities. But ends Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn and tackles Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi haven’t won enough of them.
Richardson is second to Garrett with 2.5 sacks and four hits, Clayborn has two sacks and two hits, Vernon has no sacks and two hits and Ogunjobi hasn’t officially reached the quarterback.
“I always want to go out there and make a play, and I feel like that’s everybody’s mentality,” Ogunjobi, who rarely plays in pass-rush situations, told The Chronicle-Telegram by phone. “So you’ve just got to get the sacks. There’s not really anything else to dress it up as. Myles is going to be Myles. So it’s just guys gotta go make plays.”
Coordinator Joe Woods has stressed the defense must find a way to get off the field besides its league-high 14 takeaways. The Browns have allowed 47.1 percent (40 of 85) of third downs to be converted (24th in the NFL) and 91.7 percent of fourth downs (11 of 12), which ranks worst for any team facing more than three attempts.
The Browns have allowed 31.6 points a game (29th) and a 97.9 passer rating (21st).
A collaborative pass rush would help all those areas, and Woods called more blitzes against the Bengals, especially with nickelback Kevin Johnson, who had a half-sack.
“The other part about this scheme is everybody does get a turn to blitz, and we are finding out who can do that and who is better at it and then allowing them to have more chances,” linebackers coach Jason Tarver said.
Garrett welcomes the pressure of being the offense’s top target and has obviously found a way to continue to be successful. But the Browns are paying Vernon $11 million guaranteed on a restructured one-year deal and expect more off the other edge.
With Garrett mostly at left end but moving around to find the most favorable matchups, Vernon has primarily played on the right side this year. He dealt with abdominal and groin injuries early in the year but appears past them.
“I feel like he is definitely healthy,” Woods said. “I think he is just trying to find his niche and just get comfortable with some of the things we are doing with the defensive line. He is very close. He has had a couple plays where he has hit the quarterback right as he is throwing the ball. I think it is just a matter of time before you will start to see the production from him.”
That would be a giant benefit for the Browns, who could also bolster the pass rush with a trade by the deadline Tuesday. In the meantime, Garrett keeps drawing rave reviews.
“I’ve always expected it from him,” said Ogunjobi, who was drafted in the third round in 2017 after Garrett was picked No. 1. “He’s just playing for a lot right now, and you can definitely tell in his play that he wants to make a statement. He’s real comfortable in the position he’s in.
“The proof’s in the pudding. I expected nothing less. He works hard. He’s a special kind of talent, and it’s good to see everything working out for him.”
Garrett appreciated his first player of the month award but wants to maintain his edge.
“The recognition is nice but can’t let it get to me or allow me to get passive or apathetic about what is going on,” he said. “I have to stay passionate about the performance that the entire defense is putting out there and not just me and not settle with what I have going on right now.”
Garrett signed a five-year, $125 million extension before the season, but Raiders coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday on a conference call he wishes he had him.
“I have been to Las Vegas a couple of times. It is not my scene. Can be fun for a day or two,” Garrett said. “It is a lot of respect paid in that comment, and I appreciate it. He is a helluva coach, and he is a winner. That goes a long way, but still going to do my best out there to make his day as long as possible.”