Key for Browns: Worst to first in takeaways, turnover ratio

BEREA, Ohio – Damarious Randall said it was emphasized from the first day he arrived in Cleveland.

Christian Kirksey said it's stressed in practice, especially on "Takeaway Thursday."

T.J. Carrie said there are film breakdowns on players who are susceptible.

The Cleveland Browns' turnover frenzy has not happened by accident, but it has had a huge impact on the team winning two of its first five games. Through five games, the Browns lead the NFL with 15 takeaways, the most by a Browns team in the first five games since 1989. More important, they lead the NFL in turnover ratio at plus-eight.

"It's the biggest win-loss stat there is in football," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.

The numbers back him up. This season teams that are plus-1 in turnover margin in a game have won 77 percent of those games. Take it back to 2000 and plus-1 teams have won 79 percent.

Teams that are plus-2 have won 87.5 percent of their games this season, 88 percent since 2000.

The bottom line: Forcing turnovers and having a positive margin gives a team an 80-to-90-percent-plus chance of winning.

The change in this Browns team is remarkable. A year ago the Browns finished with a minus-28 turnover margin, last in the league. They also ranked last in the league with 13 takeaways and first with 41 giveaways.

What has been the difference?

"Players," coach Hue Jackson said.

Along with emphasis.

"Been preaching it since I got here, man, and we went out and got some guys who like to get the ball," Randall said.

Forcing a turnover just doesn't happen, though.

"You have to be able to take the ball away," defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. “That happens with ability first. You have to have that ability. Some guys do not have much of that instinctive ability. Then, when the opportunity presents itself, you have to be able to go ahead and get it done."

Which is where ability and effort come in. The Browns have shown plenty of both.

Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, the fourth overall pick, is tied for the league lead with four takeaways -- three interceptions and one fumble recovery. Inside linebacker Joe Schobert and Randall are tied for third. Schobert has an interception and two fumble recoveries, Randall two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Larry Ogunjobi and Myles Garrett have forced two fumbles each (Garrett would have had a third in Oakland without a quick whistle), as has injured cornerback Terrance Mitchell.

Williams almost seemed embarrassed that the Browns struggled so much in 2017 to get turnovers. Every practice includes specific drills designed at taking the ball away. Kirksey said the defense has Takeaway Thursday, where the defense expects to take the ball from the offense at least five times.

How often has it worked?

"I don't want to put the offense out there like that," he said with a smile.

Time is spent in film study and preparation about players that show vulnerability to being stripped, and the best way to do that. Jackson said forcing a turnover is as much about "know how" as it is effort.

"Because certain guys carry the ball a little differently than others -- running backs as compared to receivers, tight ends and quarterback ball carriers," he said. "All of those things, we talk about. We coach the details to find ways to get the ball out. I think our guys are well versed on how different guys carry the ball in games to see if we can punch it out."

Said Carrie: "We watch a lot of film on opportunities, on how to turn it over and visualizing the plays you're going to make in the game. When we get to practice it's all about strips, picking up the ball, running to the ball. A lot of turnovers really are just about effort.

"If you're loafing, you might not be there that second the ball gets stripped or the second that it gets fumbled. When you focus on effort, effort alone is going to put you in the right situation, then you have to capitalize on the play."

Kirksey echoed similar thoughts.

"We've been really focused on the small details of if you go to make a tackle, the second man comes in and tries to strip it out," Kirksey said. "Always just watching where the ball is at. Little things like that that keep you thinking about the football."

The Browns' 15 takeaways are four better than the four teams tied for second with 11. Cleveland is tied for third in the league in interceptions and leads the league in fumble recoveries.

The next step: turn more of the turnovers into points. The Browns lead the league in turnovers and turnover margin but are only 11th in the league with 24 points scored off the turnovers.

"We can really put a stamp on a game when the defense gets turnovers," quarterback Baker Mayfield said. "We need to take advantage of when they do get those turnovers. We need to turn those into points and really take the life out of the other team. We just have to continue to feed off of that because it is very rare that you get a defense like that that has 15 this early.

"Just keep feeding off of it."