Myles Garrett believes his excellent season can be better

BEREA, Ohio -- By almost any measure, the Cleveland Browns' “other” first overall draft pick is having an outstanding season.

Myles Garrett has 12.5 sacks, tied for third in the NFL (behind Aaron Donald of the Rams and Von Miller of Denver). Garrett is “officially” 1.5 sacks from the Browns’ single-season record, held by Reggie Camp in 1984 but truly held by Bill Glass, who had 14.5 in 1965 -- before sacks were tracked.

Garrett has forced three fumbles, tied for second behind J.J. Watt among defensive ends, and is one of only five NFL players with a dozen sacks and three forced fumbles.

Those are Pro Bowl-worthy numbers -- and they follow a strong rookie season that was limited only by injury.

In two seasons (24 games), Garrett has 19.5 sacks, most in Browns history in a player’s first two dozen games and tied for eighth in NFL history.

Go inside this season, and Garrett’s numbers get more impressive.

According to ProFootballFocus.com, Garrett has 57 total quarterback pressures, fifth in the NFL. PFF doesn’t split sacks, so the analytics site credits him with 14, which ranks second in the league, along with 13 quarterback hits, which ranks fifth.

He has done this while staying on the field -- and fighting through fatigue. Garrett’s 851 snaps are the most by any defensive lineman, as are his 509 pass-rush snaps, per PFF, which adds that on 39 other snaps, Garrett beat the lineman opposite him but wasn’t credited with a pressure because the quarterback got the ball out quickly.

The impact of his plays has also been significant:

  • Two of his three forced fumbles led to Browns touchdowns.

  • Three of his sacks came on third down and forced punts.

  • Three more came on second down, set up third-and-long and forced punts.

  • Another led to tough situations for the opposing team. One forced Tampa Bay to try a 59-yard field goal (which it made), and another set up a fourth-and-22 that Cincinnati converted because of a defensive penalty.

By almost any measure or metric, Garrett’s play stands out -- and like Baker Mayfield on the offense, his play and professionalism bode well for the future. Garrett is a 6-foot-5, 270-pound athlete who runs a 4.6 40-yard dash. Combine that physical ability with his desire and approach, and the Browns have zero regrets about using the first overall pick on him in 2017.

Garrett’s long-stated goal goes well beyond a team record, though. As he said in September, “You want to be Defensive Player of the Year,” and “that’s what I’m going for.”

Garrett will get to display his skills Saturday night in Denver, when the Browns play the Broncos and when Garrett, Bradley Chubb and Miller will all be on the field (combined sacks: 38).

Garrett isn’t ready to settle.

“For me, the bar is the guy at the top and exceeding him -- not the [Browns] sack record because once you pass that, it is still more season to go, hopefully,” he said. By “at the top,” Garrett means Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5.

Although Garrett knows he has been impactful, he -- and his coach -- believe there is more to come. The one thing that separates great from greater are impact plays, game-changing plays. Think Troy Polamalu making a strip sack and forcing a key fumble in the fourth quarter to win a game for the Steelers. Think the sack at the defining moment of the game that stops the other team’s drive. Donald has them, and Miller has them.

Garrett wants more. He took over in the fourth quarter of the season-opening tie with Pittsburgh and almost single-handedly gave the Browns a chance to win. He admits that the next step is more of those fourth-quarter plays that win games. Every sack matters, but Garrett thirsts for the strip sack that secures a win.

“It's probably the trifecta we talk about in the D-line room," Garrett said. “You want to get the sack, but you want to get the forced fumble and the fumble recovery. And if you get the touchdown, that's the cherry on top. But you're looking for those three always."

His coach agrees.

“We need to take the next step with that,” interim coach Gregg Williams said before the Panthers game.

Garrett has had some of those taken away. Against the Panthers, he came close. On a third-quarter rush, he and Genard Avery arrived simultaneously at Cam Newton and forced the ball loose. Initially, that was ruled a fumble, which the Browns recovered. But replay review took that play away, decreeing that Newton pushed the ball forward as he was hit for an incomplete pass.

In the Oakland game, a quick whistle by the referee took away another strip sack that Avery was returning for a touchdown. Garrett could only roll his eyes when that play was brought up.

Late last season, Garrett had what could have been a game-changing interception return for a touchdown in Chicago wiped out by an offside penalty on Carl Nassib.

Add any one of those plays to Garrett's résumé, and great becomes better. That fact and Garrett’s overall play have the Browns encouraged that it’s only a matter of when.

“I think it is instantaneous when it could happen,” Williams said. “Some of the great plays he has had in the pocket already have just been fractions of an inch of where he is attempting and making the attempt at the ball. ...

“We want more production that way, and he is doing a really good job of crushing and getting to the pocket and continuing to get those sack production things. We just have to get the ball out.”

When that happens, Garrett will go from being one of the high-level players to one of the elite. He’s just about there.