Playing the Cleveland Browns defense has not been fun for the NFL so far this year. In fact, it’s been downright hard to move the ball more often than not. The Pittsburgh Steelers should know. They mustered just 249 yards from scrimmage, their third-fewest total, with just 77 passing yards.
Yet these numbers are far from out of character for the Browns this year. They have allowed just 2,433 yards from scrimmage through 10 games, averaging just 243.3 yards per game as a result. According to John Breech of CBS Sports, that’s the best mark any defense has put up through 10 games since the 2008 Super Bowl Steelers defense.
The Steelers allowed just 238.1 yards per game over the course of the first 10 games of their 2008 season. By the end of the year, they were only allowing 237.2 yards per game, the best in the NFL, while also leading the league in points allowed.
Only seven teams since 1990 had given up fewer yards per game through the first 10 games of the season than that 2008 Steelers team—and one of them just so happened to be the 2007 Steelers, who unfortunately suffered too many key defensive injuries to maintain postseason success.
Three of the 16 teams since 1990 that allowed under 250 yards per game through the first 10 weeks of the season won the Super Bowl. In addition to the Steelers team of 2008, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 1990 New York Giants also made it all the way to the promised land.
And neither of those teams had ideal quarterback situations, as you might recall. The Ravens were stuck with Trent Dilfer, and the Giants ended up shifting from Phil Simms to Jeff Hostetler after Simms broke his foot late in the year.
This Browns defense is strapped with rookie fifth-round QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson after losing Deshaun Watson for the season due to a shoulder injury. They were 5-1 in the games that Watson started, even if he didn’t always deserve a great deal of credit for those showings.
But they only scored 13 points on Sunday against the Steelers, including a last-second game-winning field goal. Even for a defense as good as this Browns unit appears to be, it’s going to be very hard to win consistently in 2023 while flirting with a single-digit scoring output.
And the Browns aren’t even in the top five in terms of points allowed so far this season, though they are right there at sixth. They are allowing 18 points per game on the year, but they have given up 24-plus points in half of their games.
And they have not scored more than 20 points in any game that Watson did not start. The P.J. Walker-led units produced 19 and 20 points. Thompson-Robinson’s two starts have yielded 3 and 13 points. They have gone 2-2 in those games.