CLEVELAND – The Browns picked up a huge early-season AFC North win on Thursday night. However, during their 29-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, they also picked up some big injury questions on defense.
None of those were bigger than the quad injury that linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. sustained early in the third quarter. Walker was face down on the turf for several minutes before he was eventually carted off the field.
On the same series in which that injury occurred, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah left with a groin injury and defensive tackle Taven Bryan also did the same with a hamstring injury. Neither returned to the game.
Coach Kevin Stefanski said in a Friday Zoom call with the media that the team was still waiting for the results of the MRIs done on each of those injuries. Shortly after the call, though, a league source confirmed to the Beacon Journal that Walker tore his quad tendon and will require season-ending surgery.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report. The team officially announced the diagnosis later Friday afternoon, and placed Walker on the injured reserve list.
A source also confirmed that the injuries to either Owusu-Koramoah or Bryan are viewed as long-term concerns, something ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler first reported. That also goes for safety Ronnie Harrison Jr., who suffered a hamstring injury during pregame warmups and did not play, and left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., who returned after a leg-injury scare in the fourth quarter leg.
The loss of Walker will be the longest-term hit to the Browns’ defense. Considering MRI results, a trip to the injured reserve is in the future, with a five-to-seven month recovery.
“When you see, obviously, the attention on the field, it obviously didn’t look good,” Stefanski said Friday. “I think that’s obvious. We’re hoping against hope for Anthony. Talked to him last night. He’s a huge, huge, huge part of our football team, what he brings to us on the field, off the field. So we’ ll see what the MRI holds, but past that, I’ll just wait to see.”
Walker’s leadership role is unquestioned on the Browns. He was one of two defensive players elected by his teammates to be among the five full-season captains. He is also designated with the green dot on his helmet, meaning he received radio communications from defensive coordinator Joe Woods.
Stefanski said the green dot would go to the player who will be replacing Walker in the lineup, Jacob Phillips. Phillips led the Browns with seven combined tackles, plus a big third-down sack and another big third-down pass break-up against the Steelers.
“He does a nice job communicating,” Stefanski said. “There were two plays he made late in the game with the blitz and the sack and then the PBU that were outstanding. I’m just proud of Jacob because you wish you could put 12 guys out there for the defense and we listed him as a starter with Anthony early because those guys, we think, they’re both capable of starting.”
‘Leave it to the league’ on Steelers OT Chukwuma Okorafor
What bristled some about the play on which Walker was injured was what Steelers right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor did after the Browns linebacker went down. Walker appears to initially get his foot caught in the turf and he’s stopping, and then is knocked backwards by Okorafor.
However, while Walker was clearly laying face down on the ground, Okorafor came back and jumped on top of him. Stefanski was asked if that was something he could send to the NFL office for further review.
“I will let the league handle those things,” Stefanski said.
Time to open the mini-bye for Browns players, coaches
Thursday night games like the one the Browns played against the Steelers can be a pain on the front end. Sometimes, as is the case with some of Cleveland’s injuries out of the game, it can be a pain in the moment and going forward as well.
However, there is a benefit that comes out of playing on Thursday. It gives the playing teams a chance at a small break they normally only get during their full bye week.
“You are always interested when the schedule comes out where is the Thursday night game and where is your bye week,” Stefanski said. “It is a mini-bye in a lot of ways. Hopefully, these 10 days, we get to get guys healed up and recharge for a second. On the front end [of the Thursday night game], you have to play. I mentioned it last night, there are so many guys who pushed to make it to that game, which I am really proud of them. Then they earned the time off on the other side.”
That time off also includes the coaching staff. Stefanski said the plan was for the coaches to try to get away from the facility as well as the next couple of days before getting started on preparation for the game Oct. 2 at the Atlanta Falcons.
“We will get a little bit of a break here,” he said, “but it does give you an opportunity to do a little three-game study of yourself and then do some work on Atlanta.”
Myles Garrett getting extra attention off the edge
An edge rusher of Myles Garrett’s stature can’t help but expect to see some extra attention from opponents. That’s going to be even more so when Jadeveon Clowney is sidelined as he was with an ankle injury during Thursday’s win.
Garrett had two assisted tackles and one quarterback hit in the win over the Steelers. Often, he was battling not just left tackle Dan Moore Jr., but others coming in to help as well.
“That is what you can expect,” Stefanski said. “Teams will wait to see where he lines up, and they are going to move the tight end to his side, they are going to send the line his way and they are going to send it back his way. That is just the nature of how teams are going to try to defend us. It opens up opportunities for guys. There are things that we did last night and things that we will continue to do as ways to try and free him up. It is no secret.”
What’s also no secret is that Garrett remains a half-sack behind Clay Matthews’ 62 “official” sacks record. The sack was not considered an official NFL statistic until 1982.
Garrett last got a sack when he took down Joe Flacco with just over eight minutes remaining in the second quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Jets. He also sacked Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield twice in the opener.
“I think you control what you can control,” Stefanski said. “Premier rushers get that type of attention. I think of Von Miller when we played him a couple of years ago. You are going to make sure you have somebody chipping him every play. It is just what teams do.”
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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns’ Anthony Walker Jr. out for season with torn quad tendon