WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Myles Garrett doesn’t have just a pass-rush plan.
The Cleveland Browns All-Pro touts a pass-rush ideology that has fueled five straight seasons of double-digit sacks and a level of dominance that traditional box scores alone can’t capture.
“Freedom,” he described it Tuesday in a one-on-one interview with Yahoo Sports. “We work with tracks. Keep the noise out of your head, stay focused, and the easiest thing to focus on is one spot — that track.
“Don’t veer off it.”
With new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz guiding the Browns, Garrett and his teammate need not veer.
The Browns swapped defensive coordinators after two losing seasons, bringing in Schwartz to capture the magic of a long career that has included coordinating the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl LII title and serving as Detroit Lions head coach. Garrett and Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah joked this week that their eyes are turning green from watching so much Philadelphia film. But laughs aside, they like what they’re seeing.
Aggressive rushes. Stopping the run on the way to the quarterback. Stirring up chaos without waiting to respond to offensive cues.
If you haven’t heard the word “attack” on repeat, you haven’t heard the Browns discuss their defense this week. And it’s great news for Garrett and pass-rush partner-in-crime, Za’Darius Smith, whom the Browns acquired this spring.
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“Attack mentality, with the defensive line being the engine for the unit, really fits well with our players,” Browns general manager Andrew Berry told Yahoo Sports. “Because the emphasis is on pass rush.
“And we think we have the best pass rusher in the league.”
They also think he hasn’t yet played his best football.
Is there ‘another level’ for Myles Garrett?
Garrett shakes his head and laughs when he hears his head coach’s scouting report.
“Myles, I don’t think he’s played his best football,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told Yahoo Sports. “He’s a great, great, great player. But I think there’s another level for him.”
What’s that level? Again laughs Garrett, a player who’s reached and maintained statistically rare heights.
Garrett’s 16 sacks last season trailed only the San Francisco 49ers’ Nick Bosa, his 67.5 the past five years second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ T.J. Watt. Pro Football Focus graded Garrett highest among all edge rushers in total defense (92.5) and pass rush (93.5), while ESPN’s pass-rush win rate metric slots Garrett third with a 27% success rate.
So Garrett is elite at attacking offenses, getting home to quarterbacks and finishing plays. What then might that next level of his play look like? He yearns to improve coordination with players like Smith, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson and defensive end Obo Okoronkwo.
“Just playing well together and playing well as a unit,” Garrett said. “Being a cohesive unit and allowing each other to play off each other. It hasn’t always been at its best. … But all of us on the same field at the same time, it’s hard to double team everyone. So allowing us to know that situation, coaching us beforehand, watching the film and everyone being on the same page of how to react and how to attack from there — that is how we all go to the next level.”
Garrett is looking to be more vocal in meetings than in past years to fuel that coordination, studying leadership including with a book Stefanski hand-delivered to him, “The Captain Class: A New Theory of Leadership.” (Stefanski gave the book to all coaches and select players.)
The 2017 first overall draft pick says he’s coaching teammates on their rush tells, whether they’re leaning too much in one direction before a first step or exposing their chest when taking a slant step. Garrett considers if that same slant step was sufficiently flat, how precise hand placement was, and whether a tight end was sufficiently on his heels to get separation.
“For most of my career, I’ve led by example just trying to be first when I’m out here … winning my reps, doing it clean,” Garrett said. “But now, this stage of my career, trying to lead [by] having that ability to be outspoken in a way that most shows younger guys, it’s not just coach. A lot of these older guys have a lot of knowledge we can tap into.”
Why the Browns want to create chaos
With Schwartz at the defensive helm, the Browns will still play in the four-man front in which Garrett has thrived. Their angles and technique will shift some. Expect them to rush wider and send extra rushers more frequently than last year to draw one-on-one matchups, a decision confirmed in part by the Browns’ belief in their man coverage.
They’ll challenge themselves to force offenses into as many second-and-7-plus downs as possible, goading the offense to pass and set up longer-developing plays against a feisty set of trench men. The goal isn’t just to capitalize when money downs arrive but to create money downs.
“Part of the philosophy is to increase those obvious passing situations and then use your strengths along the defensive line along with your rushers to go win on those downs,” Berry said. “Our goal is to steal a number of snaps as pure rush snaps throughout the game.”
They know affecting the quarterback will be paramount in a division with Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson. They’ll tweak game plans and rush angles accordingly to account for a threat as elusive as Jackson, though Garrett says not to discount Burrow’s athleticism either. (“Joe does have wheels. Don’t let him fool you. He’s a special talent, a special athlete as well.”)
Regardless of the opponent, they’ll aim to rush aggressively. Freely. That’s the idea.
“Our defensive line messing things up as they come off the ball,” Stefanski said. “Not waiting for things to happen.”