1. Cleveland Browns wouldn’t run vs. Steelers, Packers
One of the weirdest stats of the 2021 season is that the Browns would not run in key situations against some of the league’s worst run defenses, and specifically Pittsburgh and Green Bay when it counted.
First, let’s take a look at which teams gave up the most rushing yards in the NFL.
The bottom five:
Pittsburgh Steelers 2483
Houston Texans 2418
Los Angeles Chargers 2361
New York Jets 2351
Detroit Lions 2296
Now, what about yards per carry?
Pittsburgh Steelers 5.0
Kansas City Chiefs 4.8
Green Bay Packers 4.7
Minnesota Vikings 4.7
Arizona Cardinals 4.6
The Steelers were really very good against the pass, and capable of sacking a quarterback a few times, but it does not take a rocket scientist to see that they sucked against the run. So what did the Browns do when they faced the Steelers at home?
They passed 31 times, plus four sacks and one improvised Mayfield run. That is a total of 36 pass calls. There were 23 runs for 96 yards. You can say that Nick Chubb might not have been at 100% after missing the previous game, and Kareem Hunt was injured. However, there was D’Ernest Johnson with a week and a half of rest after destroying Denver on Thursday Night Football with 146 rushing yards. Do you think he might have been used for more than four carries and 22 yards (5.5 yards per carry)?
That game was a microcosm of the Browns season, with Jarvis Landry receiving the lion’s share of targets with 10 and five receptions for 65 yards. Hooper was second on the team with six targets, four receptions and 24 yards. Combined, Njoku and Bryant were targeted five times, one fewer than Hooper, but caught all five balls for 72 yards, three times as many as Hooper.
OBJ was targeted only once for six yards. He believed that Mayfield was deliberately not targeting him at that point. Whether deliberate or not, the numbers say that Mayfield targeted mainly the receivers who generated the fewest number of yards and resulted in the most incomplete passes.
That week OBJ’s dad came out with his video, a form of extended vicarious temper tantrum which caused him to leave the team. While disagreeing with the method, the numbers do suggest the game plan and/or execution was horribly wrong.
The Browns did the exact same thing against Green Bay except worse, with a chance to win the AFC North Division. They had a real chance to beat the Packers that game. Note that the Packers were third worst overall against the run in terms of yard per carry. After Nick Chubb destroyed the Packers’ defense on the first drive, for whatever reason, Mayfield decided it was time to play hero ball and launched an errant bomb to Donovan People-Jones, which was ingloriously intercepted.
The Browns managed to lose this game by two points, while launching 36 passes, four of which went to the fellows in the green jerseys with the cheese colored helmets. There were five sacks (which normally are not counted in computing pass/run ratio but should be).
There were 25 total rush attempts, including two by Mayfield (without reviewing the game film to be certain, those were likely to have been on aborted pass plays).
So in total, there were 43 pass play calls, 23 run play calls. That’s a run percentage of only 34.9%. Incidentally, those run plays (minus Mayfield’s 11 yards) gained 208 yards, an average of 9.04 yards per carry.
The Green Bay game was the most frustrating game of the season because it was the most incomprehensible to us stat boys. Here they were, facing one of the weakest run defenses in the NFL, making nine yards per carry, give or take, and instead the Browns relied on a passing attack that blew up for five sacks and four INTs and generally sucked all night long. That is not a mathematical term, but you understand what is meant.
We can only assume the coaches knew something we did not, and there was some good reason for throwing interceptions and taking sacks and not running over a defense giving up nine yards per carry on the ground. Otherwise, this was the worst offensive game plan and the worst offensive play calling this stat-head has ever witnessed in his entire life. That has been a long time, by the way.
Had the Browns not been so chicken to run the ball against under-performing run defenses, they — not the Cincinnati Bengals — could have won the AFC North. Does anyone want to dispute that? Your comments below, please!