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The Browns Defense Just Demolished the Super Bowl Champs

It’s only preseason. It’s only preseason. It’s only prese—oh my God, they just forced another turnover!

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

In the second half of Super Bowl LII, the Philadelphia Eagles scored on every single drive. In the first half of Thursday’s preseason game, the Eagles turned the ball over on every single drive.

The 0-16 Browns against the defending champions sounds laughably lopsided on the surface, but Cleveland’s defensive starters dominated Philly’s first string, showing just how quickly the Browns can flip their script.

Before we freak out, the requisite caveats, in order:

  1. It’s the preseason.
  2. Many of these plays were more bad quarterbacking than good defense-ing.
  3. It’s the preseason.
  4. Foles has looked bad all month.
  5. The Browns went 4-0 in the 2017 preseason.
  6. It’s the preseason.

Still, let’s look at the play-by-play. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson went for it on fourth-and-5 from the Cleveland 38—the same kind of aggressive play-calling that won the Eagles the Super Bowl—but Cleveland’s defense held firm for a turnover on downs. The Eagles soon got the ball back at their own 1-yard line, and two plays later Nick Foles tripped in the end zone and defensive end Myles Garrett touched him while he was down for the safety (based on how quickly Garrett beat his blocker, he may have earned the two points even if Foles stayed upright).

When the Eagles got the ball back, the Browns’ fifth-round rookie linebacker, Genard Avery, stripsacked Foles on first down. Garrett was also a key part of this play, taking Eagles left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai for a test drive into the backfield, forcing Foles to step into the pressure.

The Browns started with three takeaways in three drives, but they were just halfway done. On the next drive, Foles (who seemed rattled by the pass rush) made a bad decision and launched an even worse throw that was intercepted by Cleveland cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun.

Six Eagles plays later, defensive back Terrance Mitchell forced another fumble from Eagles running back Matt Jones. And just when it looked like Foles had the Eagles settled down with a nine-play, 66-yard drive that took them to the Cleveland 6, Foles threw another pick.

That’s six turnovers in six drives, if you count safeties as turnovers. These games may not really count, but let’s appreciate that the 0-16 Browns just knocked the snot out of the defending Super Bowl champions for the most important half of the preseason (yes, I know “important half of the preseason” is an oxymoron). The Browns defense is loaded with high-caliber draft talent from their asset-stashing years under former GM Sashi Brown, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams may have the defense gelling.

Of course, the Browns turned those six takeaways into just five points, and only three of them came from the offense. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor temporarily exited the game with an injury to his left (non-throwing) hand, and Baker Mayfield looked very much like a rookie still feeling out NFL pocket pressure before Taylor returned to close the second quarter. The team went into halftime up only 5-0, but it’s still a satisfying performance against the Eagles and will soon be led again by Carson Wentz, who was acquired with the Browns’ first round pick in 2016.

Cleveland may not be ready to win championships, but for at least one half, their defense could beat the champs.