Phillips, the third-year pro out of LSU, was expected to elevate his game this season. Now, after the Browns lost starting middle linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. to a season-ending torn quad tendon in Thursday's 29-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, that pressure just got accelerated.
The one who's looking forward to it the most? The one who's going to be feeling it the most.
“I like when I feel the pressure," Phillips said after the game. "I feel like that is when I thrive the most when I am out there and I am able to adjust and get a feel of the game. Obviously, I am blessed to walk out of this game healthy and for the plays that I was able to make.”
That includes two plays that may have been game-savers for the Browns. There's no guarantee that had Phillips not made the play, the Steelers would've won. There was also no guarantee that had he not, the Browns could've been looking at a second disastrous collapse in five days.
The first came with just over five minutes left and the Steelers at their own 13, facing third-and-3. Phillips swooped in and sacked Mitch Trubisky to force a punt.
The next one came much closer to the Browns goal line. However, because of Phillips, the Steelers weren't able to cross that line.
On third-and-5 from the Browns 21, tight end Pat Freiermuth was running a crossing pattern and Trubisky placed the ball right where his big target could catch it. Except that Phillips was able to get a hand in and break it up to, eventually, force a 34-yard field goal by Chris Boswell with 1:51 remaining.
"We were running a man coverage," Phillips said of the play. "Typically in our coverage, we won't box that loss, but you know, just communicating on the field, we did. Our whole thing, before going on the field, I was telling everybody, like, 'Let's finish. Everybody do their job, trust yourself and trust the communication' and I was able to close on it and break it up."
Those two plays weren't the only ones Phillips made in a game in which unfortunate circumstances early in the third quarter left him to take the baton from his injured teammate. He finished with a team-high seven tackles, two of which were solo, plus the sack, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and the key pass defensed.
In the first two games of the season, Phillips had combined for three solo and two assisted tackles, Those were his only individual defensive snaps.
Yet, in a crucial moment in a crucial early-season game, Phillips, a former third-round pick, made his presence known the most.
“Big-time plays by a big-time player who's young, who's ready, waiting in the [wings] and he went out there and capitalized on an opportunity," fellow linebacker Sione Takitaki told the Beacon Journal. "Obviously, I hate to see guys go down. I hate, hate, hate to see dudes go down, especially guys that are leaders and your buddies, but I think Jake did a great job going in there and making a lot of plays.”
Phillips is certainly going to get a lot more snaps than he had been prior to Thursday. He had a combined 47 defensive snaps between the Browns' first two games, then turned around and played 46 snaps, or 78% of all of their defensive snaps, against the Steelers.
That speaks more to Walker's importance as a leader to the defense. One of five season-long captains chosen by his Browns teammates, he was one of two on the defensive side of the ball.
So, losing Walker was a shot to those around him on that Browns defense. However, it wasn't a shot at all in the confidence they have in Phillips.
In fact, Phillips' eventual importance to the defense was emphasized by the way he and Walker worked throughout training camp.
“They both prepared like starters all of training camp," safety John Johnson III said. "I think it was like kind of a battle. They both played on the field at times so it is like they are both kind of the same person. They try to both be starters. They both look at themselves like starters. He was ready for it, and like you said, he came up big today.”
Which, Phillips believes, can be just the start of something even more.
“Definitely," Phillips said. "Even going into this game, my role increased, and I was excited for that. Whatever increase the team has me do I am thankful for.”
Beacon Journal sports writer Nate Ulrich contributed to this report.
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On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ
Browns at Falcons
Time: 1 p.m. Oct. 2
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns' Jacob Phillips embraces pressure to replace Anthony Walker Jr.