This week, the Detroit Lions move from one AFC North opponent to another. The Cleveland Browns are next on the docket, and they’re a tough team to diagnose. A brief look at their depth chart shows an extremely talented roster that could make a deep playoff run. But a look at their actual performance reveals a team that is both capable of blowing out a talented team, as well as getting blown out by a middling team.
That certainly makes Sunday a tough game to predict, but there are some things the Browns do consistently well, and there are things they consistently struggle at, too. So let’s take a closer look at the Lions’ Week 11 opponent with our scouting report.
Note: Now that we’ve passed the halfway point in the season, we will no longer be focusing on each team’s offseason.
2021 season thus far (5-5)
Week 1: Lost to Chiefs, 29-33
Week 2: Beat Texans, 31-21
Week 3: Beat Bears, 26-6
Week 4: Beat Vikings, 14-7
Week 5: Lost to Chargers, 42-47
Week 6: Lost to Cardinals, 14-37
Week 7: Beat Broncos, 17-14
Week 8: Lost to Steelers, 10-15
Week 9: Beat Bengals, 41-16
Week 10: Lost to Patriots, 7-45
- 18th in points scored (23.1 PPG), 20th in points against (24.1 PPG)
- 17h overall in DVOA (13th on offense, 26th on defense, 5th on special teams)
- Offensive DVOA: 18th in pass offense, 1st in run offense
- Defensive DVOA: 26th in pass defense, 12th in run defense
The Cleveland Browns are everything an old school coach wants out of a football teams (except for a winning record). It start with inarguably the best running game in football. Need to be convinced? Here you go:
- 1st in run offense DVOA
- 1st in yards per carry (5.3)
- 1st in rushing yards per game (154.1)
- 1st in rushing touchdowns (16)
- 3rd in PFF’s run blocking grade
- 9th in PFF’s rushing grades
- 9th in ESPN’s run block win rate
That all being said, they haven’t been quite as efficient running the ball in the last five games as they were the first five:
First 5 games: 175 carries, 938 yards (5.36 YPC), 12 TDs
Last 5 games: 118 carries, 603 yards (5.11 YPC), 4 TDs
Now, this drop in efficiency can be described quite easily. Top running back Nick Chubb missed Week 6, 7, and 10—which just so happen to be some of the Browns’ least efficient games. Chubb is currently on the reserve/COVID list, but has been there over a week, so if he tests negative in back-to-back days, he’ll likely play on Sunday.
Despite a plethora of weapons, they haven’t been able to be as efficient through the air. Baker Mayfield, for all the attention he gets, has underwhelmed (71.2 PFF grade, 24th), but he certainly hasn’t benefited from an offensive line that has given up the second most sacks in the league.
Defensively, the Browns have struggled against the pass—opposing quarterbacks average a passer rating of 101.6 (eighth-highest), but they do a great job bottling up the run. Teams are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry against this Browns defense. They’ve also got one hell of a pass rush. Led by top-tier edge defender Myles Garrett, the Browns have a league-high 29 sacks on the year—that’s an average just short of three sacks per game.
Key injuries: OT Jack Conklin (IR), OL Chris Hubbard (IR), RB Kareem Hunt (IR), DE Takkarist McKinley (groin), QB Baker Mayfield (knee), WR Anthony Schwartz (concussion), NCB Troy Hill (neck)
The big injury here is of Baker Mayfield, who left Sunday’s game with a knee injury. Head coach Kevin Stefanski noted that Mayfield could have come back in had the game not been a blowout. Here’s Stefanski on Monday talking about Mayfield’s status:
”Baker is day-to-day with his knee, but we’re feeling good about where he is this morning. He’s fighting through it. We’ll always make smart decisions with our players in consultation with the medical staff and player. But he’s fighting through it.”
Elsewhere, the most significant injuries are to right tackle Jack Conklin, who was placed on IR earlier this month, and starting nickelback Troy Hill, who suffered a scary looking neck injury during Sunday’s game. Hill was taken to the hospital. He has since been released and has movement in his extremities, but seems highly unlikely to play this week.
COVID-19 reserve list: RB Nick Chubb, RB Demetric Felton, RB John Kelly, C Nick Harris
Chubb and Felton were placed on the COVID-19 reserve list last Tuesday (November 9) while Kelly was placed there last Monday (November 8). Chubb said he was vaccinated, so he is eligible to return to the team whenever he posts two consecutive negative tests 24 hours apart. There appears to be optimism surrounding his return this week, but it’s relatively unknown if Chubb is symptomatic or just testing positive.
Biggest strength: Run game/pass rush
Since I already went into detail on the run game, let’s talk about the Browns’ pass rush. Garrett leads the league with 13.0 sacks on the season. Admittedly, if you can somehow slow him—like the Lions successfully did with T.J. Watt last week—the Browns don’t have a ton of other passing rushing threats. Jadeveon Clowney is the next leading sacker on the team with just 3.5 on the year.
That being said, the Browns love to bring pressure from their secondary. Of their 29 sacks, 4.5 have come from players in the secondary.
Overall the Browns are seventh in pressure rate (27.0%).
Biggest weakness: Pass defense
Despite having a good pass rush, the Browns have really struggled against the pass this year. Cleveland ranks 25th in passer rating allowed (101.6), 21st in yards per attempt (7.5) and 26th in pass defense DVOA.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the breakdowns are happening, as Cleveland ranks eighth in PFF’s coverage grade and third in pass rush grade.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Who cares? The Lions can’t throw the ball.” Which, point taken. But the Browns have had an up-and-down season defending tight ends, so there may be some vulnerability there for T.J. Hockenson—assuming he doesn’t draw the attention of the entire Browns defense.
Vegas odds for Sunday: Browns by 10