Why weren’t the Browns top five in points scored in 2020?
This is possibly the weirdest question the Dawg Pound has had to answer in past 20 years. Usually, it’s about why the national publications hate the Browns so much. We’re not used to receiving an over-abundance of high ratings from respected publications like Pro Football Focus.
One partial answer is that PFF always admonishes is that its grading system measures the player’s effectiveness in carrying out the play, not necessarily how good the player is or how effective he is at scoring points. The grades do not account for quality of the opposition.
So if the plays are designed to be part of a conservative ball-control offense and the team carries them out, they get high grades but perhaps not a ton of points. Conversely, Lamar Jackson is an example of a quarterback who does things that other quarterbacks should not (namely deciding to abandon the normal progressions in favor of running), while still obtaining positive results.
Second, the Browns offense was actually very good, especially the second half of the season, but there were some very low-point total performances versus Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Houston, and the New York Jets that are part of the Browns record. Baltimore was not indicative of the Browns’ true performance because it was the first game with a new offense and zero exhibition games to practice it.
Plus, Pittsburgh and Baltimore were probably among the very best defenses in the NFL at the time the Browns played them early on, so not scoring points against them is perhaps just part of life in the AFC North.
The Las Vegas and Houston Games were played in monsoon conditions that suppressed scoring, even though the execution of the game plan might have been reasonably good. The AFC North will always be a rough neighborhood that reduces point totals a bit, but last season might have been more severe than usual.
Then there was the Jets game, in which JaMarcus Bradley had to be promoted to the top wide receiver position due to Covid.
Analysts have to be careful about choosing to disregard certain performances or “cherry-picking” the data. This is not just making excuses, but understanding why the point totals were lower in 2020 than the grades for the major contributors might suggest.
Some specific notes:
Nick Chubb is the superstar-in-residence but was only on the field for about 40% of the offensive snaps due to injuries. Kareem Hunt was very good but graded below average by PFF. Remember, when Chubb went down, Hunt also had to play hurt, and so a significant percentage of his reps were when he was not at his best. The eyeball test says that Hunt still has it, but 2020 may have been a down year.
Jarvis Landry gutted it out despite injured ribs, but his receiving yards per snap stayed constant at 1.20 yards per snap. That stat is rather phenomenal, but he did miss time and that held down his contribution. OBJ, of course, had to give way to Rashard Higgins, who may have been the top receiver for the second half of the season. Higgs is a really good number three wide receiver, but not exceptional as the number one wideout. Receivers KhaDarel Hodge and Donovan Peoples-Jones were graded as liabilities by PFF.
Tight ends David Njoku, Austin Hooper, and rookie Harrison Bryant were also graded lower than average. Yet Bryant was on the field 56% of the time. The two-tight-end formation can work in the NFL, but the team has to have two really good tight ends. Bryant showed promise, but Njoku was much better for the present. He has missed considerable time due to injuries, unfortunately.
As a group, the Browns had too many reps from RB2, WR3, WR4, WR5, TE1, TE2, and TE3 and that tended to bring the average team grade much further down than would be expected just by looking at the raw grades from the first string.
Bottom line, it is not that huge of a shock that the Browns were only 1.5 points per game better than the average offense in 2020.