Those unfamiliar with meme culture or early 2000’s film adaptations of childrens’ shows may be unaware of the concept of “bigger boot”...
Essentially, there is always a bigger fish. Even great white sharks are preyed upon.
Last week I wrote about how the Carolina Panthers defense is the biggest test for Mac Jones so far this season relative to where the Patriots are at at this point in the season. Jones and the Patriots’ offensive line passed the test, as Jones got the ball out at the third-fastest rate of all quarterbacks in the NFL and only targeted a Panthers defensive back on seven of his eighteen attempts. Patriots offensive linemen only allowed three total pressures. Jones didn’t need to do anything too sexy because of what his defense was up against on Carolina’s offense. Check mark, easy W.
Now here comes the orca whale to the Panthers’ great white.
Panthers defenders Haason Reddick and Brian Burns certainly made their impact against the Patriots, even if it didn’t translate to large amounts of pressure. Reddick is fifth in ESPN’s pass rush win rate statistic. Of the four players ahead of Reddick, three are Cleveland Browns rushers. Myles Garrett is first in the NFL, while Jadaveon Clowney and Takk McKinley are third and fourth, respectively. The unit as a whole is tied with the Panthers for second in the NFL in the same category and is sixth in pressure percentage.
What makes the Browns matchup the “bigger boot” to the Panthers matchup is Cleveland’s offense. Baker Mayfield is by no means a world-beating quarterback, but it's a far more competent unit than that of Carolina and thus the margin for error on Jones’ side of the ball is going to be far thinner than it was against the Panthers. Even with Nick Chubb’s positive COVID test, Cleveland’s offense has shown to be an effective rushing unit regardless of who is at running back.
Here are three more aspects of the Cleveland Browns to keep an eye on this Sunday...
Split Seam Madness
“Is X team better without Y player?” jokes are funny 100 percent of the time.
They’re also usually false 100 percent of the time -- until now.
Boiling down why this is the case is hard to do. The best explanation I can come up with is that Kevin Stefanski runs a run-heavy offense that uses two-plus tight end formations at one of the highest clips in the league and is heavily dependent on precision, from both the quarterback and pass-catchers. Those don’t necessarily mesh with a receiver like Beckham and lends to Mayfield being hesitant when throwing Beckham’s way.
Regardless, Beckham is no longer on the Browns. The more competent version of the Cleveland Browns offense is the one that will roll into Gillette on Sunday.
Message from the writer: The following commendation of Nick Chubb was scribed prior to Chubb testing positive for COVID-19 and his stats for Sunday’s game is up in the air. Replace Chubb’s name with “D’Ernest Johnson” and everything written is still mostly applicable.
The most significant piece of Cleveland’s offense that will lead to the aforementioned thin margin of error for Mac Jones on Sunday is Nick Chubb. Chubb has the second-most average yards before contact among running backs and the third-most yards after contact. It helps that Chubb has one of the best run blocking offensive lines in the NFL, one that notably lost starting right tackle Jack Conklin to a dislocated elbow against the Steelers two weeks ago. Regardless of Conklin’s injury or Nick Chubb’s status for Sunday, Kevin Stefanski offenses are notorious for the “plug and play” nature of the running back position.
While Cleveland underwent a defensive backfield makeover this offseason, the consistent piece has been Denzel Ward, who since being drafted fourth overall in 2018 has turned into a true number one corner. Joining him this season are L.A. Ram castoffs Troy Hill at slot corner and John Johnson at safety, who have performed well for the Browns this season except against Tyreek Hill -- an unfairly high bar to hold a defensive back.
Greg Newsome II, who the Browns drafted in the first round this year, is developing well and notably held fellow rookie Ja’marr Chase to only three catches for 30 yards on seven targets last Sunday.