BEREA — The clip of Myles Garrett mimicking a hesitation, between-the-legs, crossover dribble on his way to the line of scrimmage for a pass rush went viral after the Browns’ 24-3 opening win Sunday over the Bengals.
Coach Kevin Stefanski loved it live.
“You know, it’s funny, when Jim made that call, my eyes went right to Myles, knowing where he was going to be rushing, so I saw it right away,” Stefanski said Thursday. “And, listen, whatever it takes, he can go around the back next time if he wants.”
Myles Garrett was toying with the Bengals offensive line yesterday 😭
— PFF (@PFF) September 11, 2023
Stefanski was on the headset to hear defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz dial up one of the many pass rush looks he threw at Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in his first game with the Browns. On that play, Garrett fake dribbled his way over the center, blew past him and quickly pressured Burrow as fellow defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo cleaned up for the sack. Schwartz had the Bengals off-balance all day, varying the number of rushers, who was coming and from where.
The Browns will try to do the same Monday night against second-year Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett in Pittsburgh. Pickett was sacked five times and hit nine times Sunday in a 30-7 home loss to the 49ers.
“We want to carry over the effort and the toughness and the swag and the badassery and all those things that we talk about,” Schwartz said Friday. “But that game is over. And our challenge is to do it again this week because this is a big game for our team, for our franchise, for our city.”
Garrett lined up at right end as customary but also took turns at left end, right tackle and as a standup “linebacker” in the middle vs. the Bengals. End Za’Darius Smith switched sides and saw time at tackle. Schwartz used five defensive linemen at times, blitzed linebackers, safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Denzel Ward and dropped Garrett and Smith off the line in zone pressures.
Just about everyone got to Burrow, as he was sacked twice and hit 10 times. The rush was so fast, Smith and Garrett forced incompletions on quick passes in which Burrow was stunned he didn’t have time. Smith’s was on a run-pass option to start the game, and Garrett’s on a swing pass.
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) September 16, 2023
“You just have so many athletic and talented guys, skilled rushers coming at it from different angles, from the edge, inside, the mix-up between D-tackles outside, me and Ogbo and Z on the inside,” Garrett said after the game. “It’s just a lot of different points of attack and guys with different skill sets. That’s just a lot for any offense.”
Garrett is the focal point of the defense and the opponent. He drew the most double teams among the league’s edge rushers last season, so letting him roam from time to time further stresses the protection.
“You probably want to put two bodies on him as much as possible,” All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio said. “But if he’s moving around, you don’t know where he is at. So it makes it a little bit tougher to double-team him every play.
“It definitely makes you communicate a lot more as an O-line. And as we saw in the game, there’s a few times where you’re not going to be able to get that double team and he has a one-on-one matchup.”
Garrett’s fourth-down sack in the fourth quarter led to a touchdown and 2-point conversion that iced the game. He beat right tackle Jonah Williams and a chip from running back Trayveon Williams.
That was Garrett being Garrett and winning with speed, strength and determination. Plenty of the pressures were products of the scheme and calls.
Schwartz didn’t want to make too much of moving Garrett — “They know Myles wears No. 95 and he’s 6-5 and 270 pounds,” he said — but didn’t downplay the versatility of his front four.
“We have guys that are multidimensional, have multidimensional skills, and that gives us the ability to move guys around in different ways,” Schwartz said. “And we talked about that when we traded for Z from the very beginning. That was an important part of his profile. And having flexible guys like that allow you to move pieces around.”
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) September 16, 2023
The result is controlled chaos.
“It was really fun just to see the O-linemen confused and not knowing who was going where,” Okoronkwo said after his Browns debut. “It worked out exactly how Coach Schwartz said, so we listen to Coach Schwartz and in Coach Schwartz we trust.”
The confusion was obvious in center Ted Karras’ eyes as Garrett approached with his basketball move. It wasn’t the only time the line looked perplexed.
“You can see it,” Okoronkwo said. “They’re pointing everywhere. They don’t know who to block, who’s dropping, who’s coming. It’s a beautiful thing.”
The goal is to create the most favorable matchups and as many one-on-one rushes as possible. The Browns saw a weakness in Cincinnati’s interior line and exploited it with Garrett, Smith, Tomlinson and the blitzers.
“When I get to see a guard or a center by themselves, I’m licking my chops,” Garrett said.
Smith said Schwartz gives the linemen freedom to freelance.
“Just cut us loose and that’s big up to Schwartz, man,” Smith said. “He knows what type of guys he has up front. Every guy can play every position. So moving around is big for us. And it worked perfectly.”
“You can’t just prepare for one thing because we’ll just flip and start doing random stuff up front,” Tomlinson said.
Linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., who was the most frequent blitzer, called the line the “engine” of the defense and one of the best groups he’s been around.
“When you have those guys, you can pretty much do whatever you want,” he said. “You can go five D-lineman, you can go four-man rush, five-man rush, six-man rush, whatever you do. And then the guys just willing to execute, guys being selfless. You saw a lot of guys just clearing the space for other guys to work and nobody was selfish about it.
“We were all happy to see each other make plays and I think that’s the most important thing. You don’t have selfish guys in this room.”
Walker was asked if he could see the confusion from the Bengals. He paused for a long time and smiled wide.
“We’ve got to play them again, so …,” he said.