As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
For the final time of the regular season, breaking down the Cleveland Browns’ offense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Browns’ Run Game
As you know, the soul of the Browns’ offense. Certainly one of the better rushing attacks in football. Their 4.7 team yards per carry is tied for 7th in the league while their 19 rushing scores is tied for 6th most in football. It’s a two-headed attack manned by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Hunt has more carries than Chubb but that’s because Chubb has missed time with a knee injury. Here are each of their seasonal numbers.
Kareem Hunt: 188 carries, 604 yards (4.3 YPC) 6 TDs
Nick Chubb: 176 carries, 959 yards (5.4 YPC) 11 TDs
Impressive numbers from each, especially from a Steelers’ fan perspective. Hunt’s stats are almost identical to James Conner’s. And Hunt is really the backup.
It’s no surprise the Browns also have one of the league’s most explosive running games. They’re tied with the Baltimore Ravens with 69 runs of 10+ yards. And they’re second with 19 runs of 20+ yards. Despite his injury, Chubb is tied for the fourth most runs of 10+ yards, trailing only Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, and Kyler Murray. And Chubb is second in runs of 20+ with eleven of them, only behind Cook. He’s a big-play dude and one of my favorite backs to watch.
Schematically, they’re a diverse rushing attack with a great offensive line coach in Bill Callahan. The Browns will also have guard Wyatt Teller this week. He didn’t play in the first Steelers/Browns game. There’s a mix of zone game (inside zone/split zone) and gap scheme (Iso/G-Lead/Counter) that you have to be ready for.
Here’s a concept you don’t see too often. Pin and pull with the frontside tackle and frontside guard pulling. On pin/pull, you don’t often get two adjacent frontside linemen, the guard and tackle, pulling across.
Here’s another frontside gap run. G-lead, just the FSG pulling, out of two-back. FB Andy Janovich gets plenty of burn in this offense.
Some other offensive stats. They’re slightly above average in points per game on the season, 25.6 points per game. The offense has been a bit feast or famine. Seven games of 30+ points. Four games held to or under ten.
They’re a very good situational football team. 8th on third down (44.6%) and fourth in the red zone (74%). This offense takes care of the football too. Only 16 turnovers all season, about one per game, which is tied for 5th best.
Browns’ Pass Game
With Baker Mayfield at quarterback, of course. And good news for Browns’ fans – their receivers return too. After nearly their entire room missed last week’s loss to the Jets, Jarvis Landry and company will play on Sunday.
But back to Mayfield. It’s been a decent season for him though he didn’t quite take the next step the way same thought/hoped he would. Completing just under 63% of his passes with 25 TDs and 8 INTs. Jarvis Landry has been their king of gadget plays. He’s 4/4 for 74 yards and a touchdown this season. Watch out for those tricky, tricky Browns. Specifically, watch out for them in the first quarter and in plus territory. Three of Landry’s four attempts have come in the first quarter. All four have come between the opponent’s 30 and 45 yard line.
As a team, the Browns rank tied for 15th in YPA (7.4) and have taken the fifth fewest sacks of any team this season. Just 22 of them. That run-heavy approach helps a bit.
Jarvis Landry is the team’s leading receiver with a 67/789/3 line. Rashard Higgins has stepped up as a deep threat, averaging 15.5 YPC on 35 receptions. Mayfield has been able to spread the wealth; six Browns have scored at least three touchdowns this season. And a guy like rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones is coming on strong, looking like a steal of a 6th round pick. Last three games, he’s caught eight passes for 221 yards and a touchdown.
Overall, the offense is average in securing big plays through the air. 17th with 44 completions of 20+ yards and tied 27th with four completions of 40+.
Schematically, see a lot of playaction from them. Don’t have the exact data to quantify things but I bet you the Browns are top five in playaction rate. Lots of deep shots, crossers, and even the occasional TE/RB screen off it.
Concept I don’t see a lot from offenses in the NFL. A “tare” concept. Three man combination of two out routes coupled by a go route. Two examples of it.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Cleveland Browns week, Pittsburgh Steelers fans! And with that comes the end of the 2020 regular season for the black and gold, which are heading back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The Steelers have essentially thrown in the towel on Week 17, considering a number of key starters will be sitting this week. This game means a ton for the Browns though, as Cleveland is fighting for its playoff life against the rival Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium on the banks of Lake Erie.
Against the New York Jets in Week 16, the Browns were down three receivers, making life difficult for Baker Mayfield offensively. That shouldn’t be the case this week despite the Browns being forced to shut down the facility Monday and Tuesday due to COVID cases.
Despite all the ups and downs this year with COVID and injuries, Mayfield has played some really good football under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski. Mayfield still has a very strong arm and isn’t afraid to take some chances down the field.
He’s been exceptional on play-action this year too, which is a massive staple of Stefanski’s system.
He’s smart with the football, reads the defense well off of play-action and is very accurate.
I love plays like this from Mayfield in Stefanski’s system. He sells the play-action and flips his head around quickly knowing that two defenders are unblocked to sell the run. He knows where he’s going with the football and does a good job identifying where rookie tight end Harrison Bryant is and throws a dart to him for a first down.
When not utilizing play-action, Mayfield still has a great arm and pushing the football down the field well, especially up the seam.
The Browns have moved star tight end Austin Hooper around in recent weeks to utilize matchups, and he’s delivered. This is one of the first times this season I’ve seen them use Hooper out wide, and he does a great job pushing vertically up the seam into a huge throwing window for Mayfield, who delivers a strike.
It’s just a bit high of a throw, but Hooper shows off his huge catch radius to pull this one down. If Mayfield hits him in stride Hooper is still running. The Steelers can’t afford to make a mistake in coverage like this on Sunday.
One guy who has really emerged in recent weeks and established a strong rapport with Mayfield is rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones. With injuries wrecking the wide receiver room, DPJ has stepped up and made some great plays for the Browns.
Mayfield has a ton of trust in him, especially in traffic like he did on this throw. I love the way Mayfield is able to reset his base quickly and throw an absolute dart in the middle of the field to the rookie.
Jarvis Landry is the security blanket for Mayfield and makes a number of tough catches, while veteran Rashard Higgins has also seized upon opportunities, putting together a breakout year for the Browns. He’s a strong No. 2 and could pose problems for a Steelers defense playing a handful of backups on Sunday.
At tight end, Bryant will miss the game due to COVID-19 issues, so it will be up to Hooper and David Njoku to carry the torch. Hooper has fought his tail off to improve as a blocker. He’s not where he wants to be, but he’s passable there for now. Njoku will be used on tight end screens, and will add some plays down the field where Mayfield is comfortable taking shots.
Make no mistake though: this offense runs through the running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt behind a strong offensive line.
Chubb, for my money, is the best pure runner in football. He has a great feel for what defenses are doing in front of him and has a tendency to see holes developing before they truly open. He’s nimble and has a ton of power.
He runs really well in Cleveland’s zone rushing attack too.
I love the way he sets up this cutback run for a score in Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens.
He sells this run to the left hard, forcing the Ravens’ defenders to flow to their right, opening up a massive cutback lane. Notice the backside defender for the Ravens stays with Mayfield on the bootleg. The Browns will run multiple looks off of this, so it will be interesting to see how the Steelers play this on Sunday with no TJ Watt.
With Hunt serving as a strong No. 2 in the backfield, it feels like people have forgotten about Hunt as a runner, considering most of his damage has come as a receiver for the Browns.
Hunt led the league in rushing as a rookie and still has impressive power and burst.
I love the way he turns the corner here. I also want to point out the combination block by Hooper and Bryant. That’s a great job by the two tight ends – not known for their blocking – sealing the edge to let Hunt rumble downhill.
It helps having a strong offensive line up front.
Here’s how I expect them to line up on Sunday, left to right:
LT — Jedrick Wills Jr.
LG — Joel Bitonio
C – JC Tretter
RG — Wyatt Teller
RT — Jack Conklin
Wills Jr. has been incredible as a rookie, allowing pressure on just 3.8% of pass reps, which is second best among rookies this season. He’s an excellent athlete for his size and really excels in pass protection.
Opposite Wills Jr., Conklin has been quite the signing for the Browns. He’s really stabilized the line in pass protection and has been a mauler in the run game. The Browns love running behind him and Wyatt Teller, who has had a breakout this year at right guard. He should garner All-Pro votes this year; he’s been that good.
Bitonio has been the steady veteran presence for years in Cleveland, while Tretter has provided stability at center, serving as significant help for Mayfield in identifying defenses, setting up protection.
Teller, Tretter and Conklin were all limited on Wednesday due to lower body injuries, so that’s something to keep an eye on Sunday.
On special teams, kicker Cody Parkey has been so hit or miss lately. He’s missed a couple of extra points and has come up short kicking field goals. It’s a significant problem for the Browns, especially if they sneak into the playoffs.
Punter Jamie Gillan has a massive leg and can really flip the field for the Browns. Plus, he has been called upon to take shots at long field goals. He hasn’t hit one yet, but that’s worth keeping an eye on.
DPJ will handle the punt return duties on Sunday. He hasn’t done much this season, returning one for a long of 13 yards, but he’s steady back there and won’t muff the punt.
D’Earnest Johnson has handled the kick return duties in recent weeks. He has power and speed back there as the No. 3 RB on the roster and has looked very comfortable handling those duties. He has a long of 43 yards this year and is averaging nearly 25 yards a return.