Fixing the Browns offense

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

To say that the Cleveland Browns have come along way since 2017 would be accurate. A team that went 0-16 with little to no optimism, had few outstanding players on that year’s squad. Deshone Kizer was the starting quarterback, Duke Johnson led the team in receiving yards and receptions, and Seth DeValve was a strong proponent of the offense with 33 receptions for 395 yards. A running back leading the team in receiving yards and receptions is not ideal and the backup tight end being second was not great either.

As a team on the offensive end, the Browns ranked 29th in the league in passing touchdowns, 23rd in passing yards, 5th in rushing yards, 3rd in rushing touchdowns, and were last in points in the NFL. Through six games in 2018, the Browns ranked 28th in the league in passing touchdowns, 22nd in passing yards, 18th in rushing yards, 19th in rushing touchdowns, and are 23rd in points scored. The running game has certainly made improvements but the passing game is still among the league’s worst.

Despite signing catching-machine Jarvis Landry, drafting a speedster in Antonio Callaway and selecting a grounder at running back, the Browns offense is still lacking positive production. Landry is tied for 26th in the NFL in receptions with 31 and 28th in receiving yards with 392 yards but only has one touchdown. Last season, Landry averaged a touchdown every other game. One of the most eye-opening stats is Landry has been targeted 67 times which is the sixth most in the NFL but has only hauled in 31 catches.

Callaway has been a burner but is facing similar disconnect issues as Landry. The rookie receiver from Florida, Callaway, has been targeted 39 times but has only hauled in 15 catches for 186 yards. Second-year tight end David Njoku’s 45 targets is the 28th in the NFL but has only gathered less than half the amount receptions (27).

Landry, Callaway, and Njoku are clearly three of the most impactful players from the Browns offense (as they should be) but the Browns should be getting more production from these guys. The most obvious answer to why they have not is because of one problem … catching the football.

According to Pro Football Focus, Landry has a drop rate of 10.8% which is the second worst in the NFL among receivers with 30 or more receptions. Callaway has a drop rate of 18.2%, the fourth worst in the NFL with pass catchers with double-digit targets and receptions. Njoku’s drop rate of 14.7% is the worst in the NFL among tight ends with more than 15 receptions. The way PFF calculates a pass-catcher’s drop percentage is by identifying the amount of “dropped passes” thrown to the player divided by the ones that they had actually caught. Collectively as a team, the Browns have dropped 15 passes with Baker Mayfield as the starting quarterback, the 4th worst in the NFL.

Although the Browns receivers are the majority to blame for the lack of production in the passing game, rookie Mayfield did have his “Welcome to the NFL” moment on Oct. 14 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Mayfield’s completion percentage of 55.6 percent is the worst in the NFL only behind fellow rookie quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Josh Allen (Tyrod Taylor’s 48.8% is the worst in the NFL but now that he has sat, he falls out of completion qualifiers). For comparison’s sake, Sam Darnold’s is not much better, as he ranks just behind Mayfield with 59.8 percent. It should come as no surprise that the four starting rookie quarterbacks have the worst completion percentage in the NFL, but Mayfield is not getting any help at all from his pass catchers.

In terms of quarterback rating, Mayfield’s rating of 72.8 is the third worst in the NFL (behind Tyrod Taylor – 63.7 and Josh Allen 61.8). To spin some light on the situation, Mayfield’s 77.8 passing grade by PFF is 12th in the NFL.

So how can the Browns improve on offense with Landry, Callaway, and Njoku underperforming? Let’s look back at 2017 with Johnson and Njoku.

Johnson was given a three-year $15.6M contract extension after an outstanding season in his third career-year in the NFL. He was fourth among running backs in receptions and yards after the catch and third in the NFL in first downs. So far in 2018, Johnson has only hauled in 14 receptions but is averaging 11.7 yards per catch. Especially with no Rashard Higgins, Johnson needs to be more involved in the offense if the Browns want more production.

DeValve hauled in 33 catches for 395 yards last season, only dropping three passes. Against the Chargers last week, he only saw one snap on offense.

Most importantly, Chubb needs more of a look. Starting running back Carlos Hyde has the worst yards per rush total for any running back in the NFL with more than 100 carries. Hyde is tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns but is just not getting the job done consistently. Chubb has a rushing grade of 93.6 by PFF and an overall grade of 91.3, both the best among all running backs in the NFL. He also has the highest “elusiveness rating” out of all running backs with an outstanding grade of 537.5. Johnson is sixth in the NFL with a rating of 137.8 in elusiveness.

If the Browns offense wants to start finding more success, they need to start putting the ball in the hands of their playmakers. Specifically, Hyde’s role needs to decrease and Chubb’s role needs to increase. Chubb has totaled just 31 snaps in the backfield this season, where Hyde has totaled 234. That number needs to look more like Hyde with 140 snaps, Chubb with 125.

Lastly, the Browns pass catchers need to catch the flipping ball. Mayfield is not the greatest quarterback in the NFL right now, but he is damn good. This is the first franchise guy this team has had since Brian Sipe, and he is not going to win ball games with dropped passes and poor player personnel management.