The Cleveland Browns admittedly have bigger problems to deal with at the moment. The words of the upcoming 2022 season are currently “suspension” and “massages.” All joking aside, there are no guarantees with the looming suspension of new star quarterback Deshaun Watson.
However, it doesn’t hurt to look at other areas of the team with a healthy dose of skepticism. One area that could use some questioning is the defensive line.
Now, Myles Garrett himself is not a bad player. He is indeed, an extraordinary talent. The physical tools are off the charts and he’s proven that at a professional level.
However, when it comes to being an all-around defensive player who can dominate a game, he falls short. It may come as a surprise to many Clevelanders that many Browns fans share this same take, unfortunately, they are quickly shunned and told to “cheer for the Steelers” with a swift wave of the hand.
Garrett, for being an outstanding physical specimen, seems to disappear in crucial moments on Sundays. He also appears to underachieve in other parts of the game beyond sacking the quarterback, such as chasing down runners, setting the edge and batting down passes.
This isn’t just speculation with a broad eye either, I’ve got a little evidence to support my claims. For instance, take last year’s 2021 Browns season. On the surface, you’ll see his highest sack total and tackle-for-loss total in his career, 16 and 17, respectively. These categories have steadily risen and that’s a good sign. However, when you begin to look underneath the surface you’ll see a puzzling vanishing act that seems to only take place in crucial games against tough opponents.
During the crucial two-game swing against the Las Vegas Raiders and Green Bay Packers, two games vital to the Browns’ fate last season, Garrett combined for zero sacks and zero tackles-for-loss, mustering up just three total tackles and one tackle assist. The Browns entered the game versus Las Vegas with a 7-6 record, with a chance to take control of their destiny, and the division and lead themselves out of a stagnant season.
The Browns needed their leaders to step up and make plays, preferably in big moments down the stretch. Let’s also throw in the game at Heinz Field in Week 17. Garrett, again, did not show up, racking up one tackle on the night. Compared to TJ Watt, who played with a fire and fury that Garrett could not match. Watt went for four sacks, along with two passes defended (PD), meaning batted down throws. Garrett had three batted-down passes during the whole 2021 season, while Watt more than doubled that amount with seven.
It’s clear which player’s team was propelled into the postseason, even with less-than-subpar quarterback play on both teams. Watt has led Pittsburgh to the playoffs in three years since being in the league; Garrett has done it once. Watt was also drafted with the 30th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the same year Garrett was selected number one overall by Cleveland.
And while Garrett is often seen as a “sack artist,” Watt beats him in every defensive category including sacks (22.5 to 16, respectively).
Garrett also appears to commit costly penalties in inopportune times of the game. He and Jadeveon Clowney shared the title for most pre-snap penalties committed by the Browns defense in 2021, each with five.
Often, Browns fans will make excuses for this kind of underwhelming play with claims that Garrett is double-teamed, triple-teamed, quadruple-teamed (borderline impossible), chipped and held by offensive linemen. However, this argument falls apart when realizing that every great pass rusher in the NFL is double teamed often. Quarterback is the highest valued position in modern sports; football teams have famously taken extra caution when addressing their offensive lines. Garrett’s only move seems to be a speed rush around the edge and lowering his shoulder. Whenever offensive tackles figure this out and take away his outside speed, forcing him inside, he becomes neutralized. We’re beginning to see this now.
Maybe Garrett is perturbed by this underachieving in crucial games down the stretch. Maybe he has an extra chip on his shoulder because of how last season turned out. Nobody knows for sure. But Garrett only seems to care about posting videos of how much he’s deadlifting or putting up on the bench. The reality is that football is just as much a mental game as a physical one, and most importantly, a team sport.
When he’s prevented from sacking the quarterback, he disappears. You will almost never see Garrett turn and burn, chasing down runners from the backside, unlocking from linemen, or blowing up screens for his teammates.
The enigma that is Garrett comes into focus with one story: his graveyard of sacked quarterbacks displayed on his front lawn. This is admittedly humorous and not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but it does reflect the crucial error in his game: sacrificing winning games for individual stat padding. If you actually look at the quarterbacks featured in his graveyard, you’ll notice that five of the seven QB’s with gravestones BEAT him in games during 2021. Garrett’s team lost to most of the QB’s in his front lawn. Some of them are blatantly tone-deaf: Justin Herbert put up 398 yards, 4 touchdowns, and zero interceptions to go with 47 points on the Browns defense. Kyler Murray came into FirstEnergy Stadium and threw for 229 yards, 4 touchdowns in a commanding 37-14 win. The only QB’s the Browns beat on Garrett’s graveyard were Justin Fields, a rookie starting in his first game, and Joe Burrow.
Other questionable moves like his love-fest with Ravens QB Lamar Jackson immediately after throwing a touchdown against his team, are also head-scratching.
This may seem like an overreaction and downright crazy. You may be enamored with the Browns’ continued hyping of Garrett’s 4.5 sack game against the Chicago Bears in week three. However, it remains mind-boggling to hear awards like “Defensive Player of the Year” thrown Garrett’s way.
Myles Garrett is here to stay, and Browns fans should hope he puts down his phone and steps up in other facets of the game. He is undoubtedly one of the most talented players in the NFL, but he also leaves a lot to be desired for the number of bouquets that are thrown his way.