Initial Thoughts on the Browns

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So, as I’m sitting down to write this article, there’s 10:11 in the 2nd quarter, and the Browns are up 28-0. Big Ben just threw another interception, and the Browns are absolutely dominating. Of all the things I expected on Wild Card weekend, the one thing I was emphatic about was that the Browns weren’t going to win. I couldn’t see a scenario where they had a bunch of players on the Covid-19/Reserve List, and without their head coach, going into Pittsburgh and beating the Steelers. Yet, here we are. The Chiefs somehow are going to play the Browns, and honestly, if you made me pick a matchup for the Chiefs, this is the matchup. We’ll get a bigger preview out later this week, but for now, here’s some initial thoughts on the Browns.

The Browns Are Going to Run

The Browns are going to run the football. It’s their ethos. They’re 3rd in the NFL in 1st down run rate at 61% (behind Baltimore and Tennessee), and 14th in 2nd down run rate at 40%. The Browns run the highest 13 personnel rate in the league (1 RB, 3 TEs) at 13%, and run two RBs 9% of the time (T-3rd). The Browns operate out of 11 personnel (3 WRs) only 42% of the time, 3rd lowest in the league.

It makes sense as to why the Browns run the football primarily. The Browns have potentially two of the top 10 running backs in the league in Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb. Nick Chubb had nearly 11 yards in 11 games, and he averages 5.6 yards per carry. Kareem Hunt’s stats are slightly worse at 4.2 YPC, but he nearly had 850 yards of his own. The offensive line is led by Bill Callahan, super OL coach, and they have elite personnel. Jedrick Wills (LT) has penalty issues, but the interior is really good. Joel Bitonio (LG) will be back from COVID-19 presumable, and Wyatt Teller has been a top 5 guard this season (RG). J.C. Tretter is still very good as center, leading the front. Jack Conklin did get hurt in the Steelers game, but he’s generally the right tackle. Frank Clark had a ton of success against him last year. If he’s not good to go, Kendall Lamm will step in. Like all Callahan teams, they run a bevy of run concepts. Power, zone, everything is there. From my eyes, it’s a lot of outside zone, so the Chiefs are going to have to stretch the field a lot.

The Chiefs are likely to counter with a lot of Mike Pennel/Derrick Nnadi interiors, and a ton of base defense. If Willie Gay is good to go this week, he should receive a lot of snaps in neutral game situations. Maybe even some Chris Jones at defensive end this week. The Chiefs will have to prepared for a ton of different formations and run concepts this week. Luckily, the Chiefs run defense was exceptional the last 8 weeks of the season, so you should feel pretty confident.

Getting Pressure on Baker Mayfield

The key to beating Baker Mayfield is getting pressure. Unfortunately, that’s no easy task. The Browns are the 8th best team in the league in pass protection, giving up a 18% pressure rate (hurries/hits/sacks). Baker Mayfield has only been hit 24, tied for the 2nd least amount in the league. Mayfield has only been sacked 26 times this year. Only 49 hurries. This offensive line is very good in pass protection, but Mayfield’s issue in the NFL is dealing with pressure. Mayfield holds the ball at the 2nd highest rate in the league at 3.05 seconds, but he’s had issues throwing under pressure. He’s not a great scrambler, and his arm isn’t overly talented. He’s fixed some of the issues with Stefanski, but the key is still getting to Mayfield. He’s going to hold the ball, so Chris Jones and Frank Clark should have shots to get pressure.

Beating Cover 3

The Browns operate a lot out of Cover 3. I unfortunately couldn’t find stats to back this up, but Joe Woods comes from San Francisco, and the Pete Carroll tree. They play a lot of Cloud coverages out of Cover 3, and play deep zone concepts. The Browns reverted to a lot of Cover 2 in the Steelers game to operate underneath, but I expect the Browns to play a lot like the 49ers and the Chargers did against us. Luckily, the Browns don’t have the same horses on the backend. Their linebackers, namely Mack Wilson, Jacob Phillips, B.J. Goodson, and Sione Takitaki, aren’t good coverage linebackers. Andrew Sendejo, Karl Joseph, and Ronnie Harrison mainly operate the backend as safeties, but they’re not good deep. They’re solid in the box, but none have the flexibility or range to operate as the deep high safety. Denzel Ward, Pro Bowl CB, had COVID-19 and could potentially be back, but he was eligible this week and couldn’t return, so we don’t know his status. Terrence Mitchell, former Chief, runs the other side off of Ward, with Kevin Johnson in the slot.

The Browns operate a lot out of spot-drop coverages because they’re personnel isn’t super athletic. They rely a lot on teams holding the ball for their front 4 to win, but without Olivier Vernon, who was playing super well before an Achilles tear, their pass rush is just okay. Myles Garrett is superb, but besides that? Adrian Clayborn is meh, Larry Ogunjobi isn’t a pass rusher, and Sheldon Richardson is just fine. The Chiefs should be able to hold up in pass protection this week if they’re healthy, and give Mahomes enough time to kill this bad secondary. There’s familiarity on how to beat Cover 3 from the Chargers and Super Bowl, so with Andy Reid making the gameplan, we should fare well.

Conclusion

I’ll get into the film later this week. There’s a lot to breakdown with all the running concepts and play action, but here’s the basic way I’m thinking about this game currently.

The Chiefs are simply better than the Browns. I know fans are worried about the Chiefs run defense vs this exceptional rushing attack, but the Chiefs run defense has quietly been exceptional since week 7. The run defense has only allowed 4.03 yards per carry since week 7, which is tied for 7th in the league. They haven’t faced an offensive line or rushing attack then, with the Chiefs only facing one top 10 unit in that time (Saints). That being said, this isn’t your old Chiefs run defense. This run defense is actually good, and won’t get gashed all day.

Offensively, I can’t see the Browns possibly stopping a focused Chiefs. Emphasis on focused. If the Chiefs come out with an attacking mentality and take this game seriously, they should score over 40. The secondary isn’t good for Cleveland, the middle of the field should be open every play. Travis Kelce should have over 150 yards next week. This a bottom 10 passing defense, and I even think that doesn’t represent how creaky this secondary is.

If the Chiefs force Mayfield to hold the ball and pass, he’s not the same. This is similar to the AFC Championship last year, but I don’t think the Browns are anywhere as good on defense, or maybe even offense. This is a good team, a very quality playoff team, but they can’t beat the Chiefs, even if the Chiefs aren’t perfect. The tape could change my mind some, but watching this team for a while now, I just can’t see the Chiefs losing this game.

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Severely Concussed
Severely Concussed
01/11/2021 1:34 pm

Myles Garrett is the only game changer on the Browns. He is the one guy we need to gameplan for.

They have other good players, but nobody else scares me. The Browns are just a solid football team. They remind me of the 90’s Marty teams.

upamtn
Reply to  Severely Concussed
01/11/2021 4:06 pm

The Browns are just a solid football team. They remind me of the 90’s Marty teams.

funny you should say that (and it’s very appropriate) since Marty came to KC by way of Cleveland …

upamtn
01/11/2021 1:12 pm

great writeup, thanks …

my two cents: hope KC has Willie Gay back, Browns are gonna try to run run run and then run some more …

… also, the Chiefs can beat any team in the league … problem is, any team in the league (or at least still in the playoffs) can beat the Chiefs

Plus Name and Plus Name
Plus Name and Plus Name
Reply to  upamtn
01/11/2021 4:24 pm

Any team has to prove it for me to believe it. Not a whole lot of losing going on with this Chiefs team.

Simtex
Simtex
01/11/2021 12:32 pm

To spite all you said above it will be a tough game for Chiefs. browns have a very good line on both sides. This is honestly our weakness on both sides. If we allow browns to constantly pressure Mahomes and keep score low they can pull this out. If we’re unable to pressure baker and have solid gap assignment in run game. You will see a browns team March down the field 7,8, 10, yards at a time until they finally run it in. This game comes down to the line. Chris jones must demand a double team and beat it sometimes. The others must be able to beat 1:1 and penetrate the gaps. We do this we win big. We don’t and it’s a long close game.

Nasrani
Nasrani
Reply to  Simtex
01/11/2021 1:45 pm

If Jones and Nnadi can both demand double teams (and Nnadi has been solid against the run), then that takes care of the line.

Armychiefj
Armychiefj
01/11/2021 11:44 am

The Browns looked like world-beaters yesterday and will also dominate the Chiefs…if the Chiefs decided to shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly and lose the turnover battle 5-0 like the Steelers did.

Call me crazy, but i have this weird feeling that is a little bit of a revenge game for Mahomes. Baker won their big shootout in college because Texas Tech’s defense was crap. Mahomes doesn’t talk, but he seems to remember things like that. I think he comes out focused and ready for a big day.

SCKSChief
SCKSChief
Reply to  Armychiefj
01/11/2021 12:17 pm

Mahomes has already beaten him once in the league.

I think this is a “get right” game for Mahomes and the O. That will be their driving focus.

probablyamistake
probablyamistake
01/11/2021 11:39 am

Their game yesterday was a mirage. Don’t believe the Chiefs will come out flat or rusty, they’re gonna come out firing. Reality will set in by halftime just how over their heads they are. They’re not even close to being a championship caliber team.

kcfreak725
01/11/2021 11:12 am

The Chiefs won’t turn the ball over 500 times in a game like the Steelers

SCKSChief
SCKSChief
Reply to  kcfreak725
01/11/2021 12:17 pm

500 has to be a record of some kind.

upamtn
Reply to  SCKSChief
01/11/2021 1:14 pm

damn near

871510
871510
01/11/2021 10:24 am

This was the best possible outcome for us.
Let the Bills and Ravens beat the hell out of each other, while we get to practice with the Browns.

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh
Reply to  871510
01/11/2021 10:44 am

I’m certainly not looking past the Browns. I’m really worried the team is going to come out rusty.

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh
Reply to  Nate Christensen
01/11/2021 11:00 am

I don’t expect the Chiefs to make the same mistakes the Steelers did, but it’s still a possibility.

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh
Reply to  Nate Christensen
01/11/2021 11:27 am

I still think the Chiefs win. The only way the Browns win this game is if the Chiefs give it to them. The Browns are capable of getting into a shootout. Just not as well as the Chiefs.

upamtn
Reply to  Nate Christensen
01/11/2021 1:17 pm

as someone else said: Mahomes & Co often come out flat/rusty and at times are prone to turnovers … if they DO turn it over if Browns DO go up by a coupla scores, it COULD get dicey

Chiefs DO have “the weapons” to win, but also the means (and occasional ability) to self-destruct on occasion … not likely, perhaps, but possible (and THAT’S why they play the games)

Plus Name and Plus Name
Plus Name and Plus Name
Reply to  upamtn
01/11/2021 4:26 pm

When have the Chiefs self-destructed? I have yet to see that happen with Mahomes.

Last edited 14 days ago by Plus Name and Plus Name
upamtn
Reply to  Plus Name and Plus Name
01/11/2021 5:26 pm

he’s tried to force things at times … not saying it WILL happen, but he COULD toss a couple picks and who knows what happens (if Browns score)

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