The 2-3 Cleveland Browns are looking for a rebound performance after getting shellacked by the now 4-0 San Francisco 49ers on the national stage of Monday Night Football. They will welcome the red-hot 4-1 Seattle Seahawks to The Forest City, a place the Pacific Northwest-dwellers haven’t won since September 9, 2001. The prospective opponent currently sits at number twelve in Pro Football Focus’ (“PFF”) NFL team power rankings and are coming off of 30-29 victory over the defending NFC-champion Los Angeles Rams on Thursday Night Football.
The Seahawks have one of the best young running back duos in the league in former seventh-round pick Chris Carson and first-round pick Rashard Penny. Carson has especially dangerous this season, as he currently ranks third in PFF’s elusive rating (100.9) with a corresponding 32 forced missed tackles. Exhibit A from Week 5:
Chris Carson can't be stopped.
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) October 4, 2019
The two have amassed 478 rushing yards on 116 carries (4.12 yards per carry) in a ground-and-pound, run-first style offense that is emphasized by Head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer uses a collection of traditional inside zone concepts and misdirection via jet sweeps that oft confused the Browns defense vs the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5, surrendering 275 yards, 6.9 yards per carry, nine explosive runs, and two touchdowns. On the season, the rush defense ranks 29th in yards per game (150.8) and yards per carry (5.2). As noted by WFNY’s Joe Gilbert in this week’s Film Room, a few of the main issues plaguing the defense versus the run is a lack of gap integrity, discipline, and missed tackles. This is a concept defensive coordinator Steve Wilks harped on when joining the team and will look to remedy in Week 6:
“That is what our defense has been about for years…It is everybody having their gap. It is everybody doing their job. It starts with trust, great communication, technique, and fundamentals. We are going to make sure that we emphasize that from Day 1. I think that is what you have to start within this defense — understanding your responsibility and understanding and trusting that the man beside you is going to do his job. We have to stop the run, No. 1.”
If the Browns want to claim victory on Sunday afternoon, they must improve on their physicality, gap discipline, and technique versus a Seahawk ground game that could run them out of the building.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson remains one of the most criminally underrated quarterbacks (and players) in the league.1 Per Next Gen Stats, he has the franchise record for completion percentage (73.1%), passing yards (1,409), yards per attempt (9.0), and passing touchdowns (12) through the first five weeks of the 2019 season. Further, he has completed >10% of his passes above expectation, which is the highest rate of any quarterback through the first four weeks in the last three seasons. Lastly, he is the only quarterback to rank in the top three in expected completion percentage in every season since 2017. Wilson is one of the best improvisational/off- schedule quarterbacks in the league, with an uncanny ability to turn a potential negative play into plus yardage for his squad. He is efficient, mobile, and displays elite pocket awareness and downfield anticipation. Exhibit A from Week 5:
Your weekly dose of Russell Wilson pic.twitter.com/d56EWLlh8S
— new-age analytical (@benbbaldwin) October 8, 2019
It will be imperative for the Browns to not let Wilson’s big-play ability decimate an injury-riddled secondary. It should be noted that cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams returned to practice this week. Look for further participation and injury designations on Friday’s injury report.
On the defensive side of the football, the Seahawks have talent abound with the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, Ezekiel Ansah, and Bobby Wagner to name a few. Where the defense is susceptible is when linebackers are forced into passing coverage situations. Per PFF, the trio of SAM backer Mychal Hendricks, MIKE backer Bobby Wagner, and WILL backer K.J. Wright have generated the following coverage statistics through Week 5:
It just so happens that the Cleveland Browns have two of the best yards after the catch wide receivers in the league in Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who were both top-five in the category from 2014-2016:
Freddie Kitchens should make it a point of emphasis to exploit this weakness via slant, in, and crossing routes for the playmakers in order to display their abilities in open space.
The Browns have gone through growing pains reminiscent of Kirk Cameron circa 1987 through the first five weeks of the 2019 season, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Under the direction of head coach Freddie Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken, the team is still trying to pinpoint an identity. The struggles have been apparent and frequent, as the team currently ranks 23rd in yards per game (340.2) and 25th in points per game (18.4). Further, the Browns are 28th in the league in third-down conversion percentage (28.57%) with an average yards to go of 8.7 yards, which is the fifth-highest in the league. Part of the blame is on the team’s lack of first-down success, wherein the team ranks 27th in rushing success rate (42%) and 28th in passing success rate (44%). Early down success will be pivotal in this match-up, so that the offensive line and Mayfield can avoid obvious passing situations on third down versus a formidable pass-rushing duo in Clowney and Ansah.
Kitchens should revert back to the Week 4 game plan versus the Baltimore Ravens that focused on quick, anticipatory throws and a fierce ground attack that funneled through second-year running back Nick Chubb. As mentioned above, between the numbers and 0-20 yards downfield should be the designed passing attack in Week 5, which is an area of the field Mayfield has completed 33 of 52 pass attempts for 532 passing yards and all four of his touchdowns in 2019.
As the OBR’s Jake Burns mentioned this week, the offense appears to be failing for one various reason on each snap, whether it be Mayfield escaping a clean pocket, a lack of protection by the offensive line, or a bad play call. In the words of Kitchens from Wednesday’s press conference, “Here is the key takeaway: everybody wants to win, and we do not care how we do it. We just want to win. To do that, we have to be more efficient, execute better and coach better. Everybody needs to do their job better, and everybody has taken ownership in that and that is what I expect moving forward.”
The Browns will have their hands full yet again in Week 6, as they look to improve to 3-3 heading into the bye week. The Seattle Seahawks are a formidable opponent in all facets of the game, but the Browns have the talent and wherewithal to claim victory on Sunday. Will the offensive execution match the talent? Will the run defense step up? We will find out in a few short days.