The calling card of this Browns team is their dominant 1-2 punch in the running game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb got 1,067 yards and 12 scores while Hunt got 841 and 6. The lead back of the offense is clearly Chubb (15.8 Carries per game vs. 12.3 for Hunt), but the Browns have the luxury of not having to overwork their lead back and risk serious injury.
The passing game looked much more functional under new coach Kevin Stefanski, who helped rejuvenize young quarterback Baker Mayfield and finally make him look like the player that was taken #1 overall out of Oklahoma. Baker threw for just 26 scores, but his interception rate was cut almost in half from last season, from 3.9% to 1.6%. The dominant run game allows Baker to avoid taking unnecessary risks.
The Browns receiving core is really solid, and if Odell Beckham Jr. manages to stay healthy and returns to his All-Pro form, this offense could look really scary, with an above-average offensive line, and other weapons like Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Austin Hooper at his disposal through the air.
The Browns’ best player is Myles Garrett, a true menace to opposing quarterbacks. Garrett paced the team in sacks with 12 and was impressively dominant against the Colts.
Overall, this is a well-rounded team with plenty of blue-chip players that should contend for years to come, especially now that they are led by a competent head coach. Also, bonus points to the Browns for getting one of my favourite players in the Draft in Jeremiah Owusu-Karamoah.
It seems like the Browns’ most glaring weakness is mental. The team will need a couple more winning seasons to get the loser mantra out of their mentality, and they have had some discipline issues in the past, with divas and hot-headed players. Off-the-field issues have plagued the Browns and their first priority should be to get all of them sorted out and prevent them from happening again. As for the football side, there are some warning signs that could develop into bigger problems for the Browns.
The first one is that the Browns passing offense, despite having plenty of playmakers available, was sort of pedestrian last season. While they managed to take great care of the ball, with Baker throwing just 8 picks, the Browns ranked 17th (tied) in passing touchdowns. Still, with Beckham Jr. back and continuity with coach Stefanski, the Browns should be able to take a more aggressive approach in the passing game.
Despite their success on offense and defense, the Browns were held back by a special teams unit that ranked 27th in DVOA. Everything starts with kicker Cody Parkey, who did not even attempt a field goal over 50 yards and was 19-22 on field goals and 43-47 on extra points. The Browns coverage unit was also rather suspect. In fact, Colts’ rookie cornerback Isaiah Rodgers scored an electric kickoff return touchdown against them.
How they match up with the Colts
The Browns won last season’s matchup against the Colts 32-23, but keep in mind that the Colts were without starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo and All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard. The game was also early in the season before Rivers found his mojo in the Colts’ offense.
As for next season, if the Colts revamped front 7 manages to contain Chubb/Hunt and forces Mayfield to get creative, then I like Indy’s chances. However, on the other side of the ball, if Wentz gets a little too aggressive and turns it over, I doubt the Colts have the secondary to handle all the Browns’ playmakers while stacking the box.