How the Browns offense can get back on track

How the Browns offense can get back on track

Mac Blank
9 months ago
5 min read
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson looks on during game vs. Ravens

Isn't it crazy to think two weeks ago this team and this city was riding high? Fresh off of blowing out Tennessee and like most blow out wins, it hides a team’s imperfections. Things changed quickly as we found out QB Deshaun Watson was injured during the game and he would end up being a game time decision whether or not he could play vs. the Ravens.

When Watson couldn't play, it became the DTR show vs. the Ravens and the offense looked like a shell of itself from a week ago. Now, it's after the bye and Deshaun is still day to day with his injury, but the offense still needs correcting no matter who is in at QB. Here's how they can right the ship.

Retool the run game

Of course this teams run game will never be how it was before Nick Chubb going down. This team will never be able to match the success running the ball now that the best running back in the league is injured, but they can at least make it complimentary and take pressure off the passing game. 

The solution? There needs to be an emphasis on running the ball up field, thinking more north and south rather than east and west. Too often this team wants to rush to the perimeter, but outside of one broken play where Jerome Ford reversed field, these runs are not successful on average. Looking at every rushing attempt from Ford, Hunt, and Strong- 49% of their rushing attempts have been off tackle, accumulating for a total of 165 yards on 36 rushes. At a glance, 4.5 yards per carry might sound nice, but taking away the 69 yard run of an outlier, this becomes a measly 2.6 yards per carry. 

Interior runs with the same players hold a bit better average at 3.32 yards per carry. This makes sense as the Browns have had the best two run blocking guards in football with Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller since 2020 and even with a down year for those two, running behind them fairs far better results compared to running behind tackles Jed wills and rookie Dawand Jones. The good news is GM Andrew Berry stated the running back group will become more of a "platoon" of running backs and not have a definitive starting back. This likely means we will see more of Kareem Hunt and Pierre Strong, two running backs who are better at running inside and downhill compared to speedster Jerome Ford.

LT needs to be addressed

Speaking of offensive tackle play, the Browns needs to figure out how to either work around or upgrade the play of offensive tackle Jed Wills. Even the fans that don't pay attention to the trenches can clearly see Wills is holding the entire offensive line back. 63% of those off tackle runs are to Wills' side and he's proved he can't be the focal point of the run blocking scheme, as his poor PFF grades and game tape proves this to be true. It was known before the season he wasn't a good run blocker but it didn't matter as his pass blocking was sufficient enough to justify him being the starter. 

This year is a different story as through 4 games he has already given up 18 QB pressures this season. To put this in perspective at this rate hell end up with more than 76 pressures allowed at the end of the season, where last year he only allowed 41 in what was thought as the worst he could possibly perform in a season. If The Browns can't find a way to make Wills less of a liability, they need to find a replacement in a hurry. Whether it be in house with James Hudson or trading for a guy like Denver's left tackle Garrett Bolles, the Browns need to make a move here to upgrade this position

Get the ball out

The biggest problem with the Browns offense this season is their inability to run the ball. This has led to even heavier passing game plan than in years past and with more passing attempts comes more opportunities for the defense to rush the passer. With no run game to balance things out, rushers are pinning their ears back knowing the team has to throw. 

Now mix in an offensive line that has given up 63 pressures this season, this just adds to the difficulty of quarterbacking this offense. To compensate for this, the Browns should focus on getting the ball out quicker. In 2023 the Browns have two different QBs that are top ten in average time spent in the pocket- rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson being 7th with 3.92 and Watson is 2nd with 3.98 seconds. Of course some passing plays need time to develop, but 40% of the teams total passing yards have come after the catch, so why not take the easy throws and let your playmakers make plays in the open field? Deshaun Watson is 5th in the league among starters in depth of target and some of it is justified. 

When you are behind at an average of 8 yards on 3rd down, you have to throw above that to convert, but sometimes it’s best to take the easy completion underneath. For one, Kevin Stefanski has a tendency to go for it on 4th down and you also have a top five defense that will keep you in games. 

Imagine if instead having the sack fumble returned for a touchdown in Pittsburgh, the ball was out and we trusted the defense to take the lead. Heck, the defense kept Baltimore game within 1 score for the first 19 minutes of the game, where the Browns had five possessions in that time. With shorter, easier completions comes rhythm and momentum. This is proved to be true as the best offensive outing Deshaun Watson had was against Tennessee where his time in the pocket and average depth of target was the lowest it’s been all season.

So, can they get back on track?

Looking ahead to the best team in football, the San Francisco 49ers come to town on Sunday to give the Browns the best matchup they'll face all season. That isn't an exaggeration either, as they boast both a top three offense and defense. The unclarity of whether Watson will play or not of course now makes pulling out a win even more difficult, but nothing is impossible in this league.

 Regardless of who is at QB, there are other things in the offense that can be fixed to make life easier on the signal caller. Let’s hope adjustments were made during the bye week because the Browns cannot afford to go on a losing streak in this very tight AFC North division. 

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