Browns vets praise Denzel Ward for his 'huge' efforts

Denzel Ward is making the Cleveland Browns front office look brilliant thus far.

Much of the public tossed eyebrow-raised sideways glances toward the Browns brass when they drafted the Ohio State cornerback at No. 4 overall instead of pairing pass rusher Bradley Chubb with Myles Garrett.

Through five weeks, the Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate has locked down opponents and was all over the field in Sunday's overtime win versus the Baltimore Ravens. Ward stuffed the stat sheet with five tackles, three passes defended, an interception and a blocked field-goal attempt.

His influence on the game went well beyond stats, and tipped the tide of the game.

His goal-line interception of Joe Flacco kept points off the board. (As Don Meredith used to say, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts we'd all have a merry Christmas....but, if the pass wasn't tipped, Ward might have housed that sucker, he was already jumping the route when the ball was released.) His field-goal block at the end of the half took another three points away from the Ravens. He broke up several vital passes, including a big fourth-quarter third down to John Brown, and blanketed Michael Crabtree on a potential touchdown.

"He was everywhere," Garrett said, via the team's official website. "He had a game just like he did in the first game of the season, where he was ball hawking and on top of guys at all times."

It wasn't as if Flacco shied away from targeting the rookie either. Ward was thrown at 14 times but allowed just five receptions for 60 yards, and allowed a passer rating of 19.9 on throws into his primary coverage, per Pro Football Focus. Whether it was covering the speedster Brown or the big-bodied Crabtree, Ward showed he was up to the task.

"He's a great athlete, and he's a good kid. He's learning, just like all NFL rookies are learning, but he's doing it I think at an accelerated pace. He's been huge for us this year," linebacker Joe Schobert said.

Through three weeks, Ward has been a star on a very good Browns defense that leads the NFL in takeaways. The 15 forced turnovers through five weeks is two more than Cleveland had all last season.

Ward is a huge part of that turnover equation. With three interceptions and one fumble recovery, he became the third rookie since 1991 to have four-plus takeaways over his first five career games. Others: Kiko Alonso (2013) and Champ Bailey (1999).

With Ward's sticky coverage and a menacing pass rush lead by Garrett, the Browns D is no longer a pushover, and it's fast becoming one of the most entertaining defensive units in the NFL.

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