CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns' most significant acquisition this offseason wasn't on the field for a single snap in Sunday's season-opening win over Cincinnati.
Jim Schwartz received a game ball.
Cleveland's new defensive coordinator designed a plan that overwhelmed quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals, who managed just 142 total yards and six first downs in a rain-soaked 24-3 loss to the Browns.
With All-Pro end Myles Garrett leading the charge — while also showing off some basketball moves — the Browns pressured Burrow from the start, hurrying the newly minted $275 million QB into making bad throws on a day when just gripping the ball was a challenge.
Burrow managed 82 yards passing — by far the worst performance of his NFL career — against a rebuilt Cleveland defense that showed off its depth, versatility, swagger and an aggressiveness that has defined Schwartz's career.
The fiery 57-year-old former Detroit head coach, who won a Super Bowl as Philadelphia's defensive coordinator in 2017, was hired by Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski in January and tasked with repairing a defense that was awful last season.
So far, Schwartz has delivered.
With his input, Cleveland's front office revamped its defensive front, acquiring three-time Pro Bowl end Za'Darius Smith in a trade to pair with Garrett, and signing free agent end Ogbo Okoronkwo and tackle Dalvin Tomlinson.
On Sunday, Schwartz kept the Bengals and Burrow guessing by moving his linemen from side to side, from inside to outside. Cincinnati struggled to counter.
“In real time 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. It all was executed perfectly.”
Smith set the tone on the first play, coming off the left side and hitting Burrow just as he released the ball. Although Cleveland only had two sacks — Garrett essentially closed the game with his — the Browns were credited with 10 hits on Burrow.
Schwartz has the Browns playing fast and physical. And, maybe most important, with confidence.
From the moment he arrived, Schwartz was intent on making his mark. He's demanded excellence and accountability, and it doesn't take long to locate him on the practice field. Actually, you'll hear him before you see him.
“I’m not everybody’s cup of tea,” he said last week when asked about his coaching style.
But it's effective. Schwartz is building trust along with a Cleveland defense that couldn't have had a much better debut.
"It worked out exactly how coach Schwartz said,” Okoronkwo said. “So we listen to coach Schwartz, and in coach Schwartz we trust.”
Along with the defense's demolition job, Cleveland's often suspect special teams were on point.
Newly acquired kicker Dustin Hopkins made all three field-goal attempts in slippery conditions. Cleveland fans erupted in cheers that were mixed with relief when Hopkins split the uprights on his 42-yarder in the second quarter.
Hopkins credited long snapper Charley Hughlett and holder Corey Boroquez, who averaged 47.3 yards on seven punts.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Like Burrow, Deshaun Watson had a tough time throwing what Stefanski called a “heavy ball” in the steady, soaking rain.
Watson finished 16 of 29 for 154 yards. Not bad, but he misfired on some makeable throws, including a deep one to Marquise Goodwin for a potential TD.
Plenty of choices, especially on defense. But with the passing game compromised, the Browns turned to reliable running back Nick Chubb, who churned out 106 yards, averaging 5.9 per carry.
Chubb also had a team-high four receptions, perhaps a taste of how he'll be used more this season.
Running back Jerome Ford bounced back nicely from a fumble on his first carry, but the Browns have to know they can count on the second-year back to fill in for Chubb without making mistakes.
Ford's promise as a rookie is one of the reasons the team didn't retain Kareem Hunt or D'Ernest Johnson.
Starting right tackle Jack Conklin suffered a season-ending left knee injury in the first half. It's the 29-year-old Conklin's second major injury in three seasons.
His loss will force massive rookie Dawand Jones onto the field earlier than expected. Jones held his own against the Bengals, and he'll get a tougher assignment next week — Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt.
2 — Sunday's win was only the Browns' second in Week 1 at home since 1999 in 18 tries. Cleveland has also won consecutive season openers for the first time since 1993-94.
A Monday night visit to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers, who are stinging from a Week 1 thumping by San Francisco. Watson hasn't been in Cleveland long, but already has a handle on one of the league's nastiest rivalries.
“They hate us. We hate them,” he said.
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Tom Withers, The Associated Press