Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens: Statistical Preview

Jason Miller

This week we take a look at how the Browns stack up compared to the division rival Ravens.

With last Sunday's debacle behind us it's officially time to start looking forward to this week's matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. Once again I'll be using some more advanced metrics to break down the upcoming game. Specifically, I'll be leaning on DVOA and DYAR from Football Outsiders. Full explanations of the metrics are available at their site, but here's the short version: positive numbers are good for the offense, negative numbers are good for the defense. Let's get to it.

Before I get to the team summaries I want to introduce another FO metric called DAVE. This is simply a team's overall DVOA combined with FO's preseason predictions. This is included to help smooth out the numbers for teams that may have had a particularly good or bad week. For instance, if a team is supposed to have a good run defense but gave up 150 yards in week one, they will have a very bad DVOA but a much better DAVE. As the season goes on the projections are given less weight until finally they are disregarded altogether. For week one, DAVE is made of 90% projection, 10% actual performance. Now let's take a look at how the teams measure up to one another.

Team Total DVOA DAVE Rank Offense DVOA Rank Defense DVOA Rank Special Teams DVOA Rank
CLE -42.9% -13.3% 28 -42.7% 31 -4.3% 12 -4.5% 22
BAL -82.6% 3.1% 13 -18.0% 27 53.3% 32 -11.2% 29

What immediately jumps out to me here is how even the two teams were in week one. In fact, I would say Cleveland fans have much more reason to be optimistic. Yes, the DAVE projections have Baltimore as the much better team, but with the injuries and roster turnover they've experienced I wouldn't trust that projection. The reason I think the Browns are in better position is that they only stunk on one side of the ball. The offense might as well have not shown up last week, sporting an abysmal -42.7% DVOA. Only Jacksonville was worse. The defense, on the other hand, managed to play slightly above average football, which is especially encouraging given the field position Miami was handed. Baltimore, meanwhile, was a total train wreck. We all know what Peyton Manning did to their defense, but I was somewhat surprised to see their offense ranked so poorly as well. With the Ravens missing some linemen and lacking credible receiving threats after Torrey Smith, the only thing the Browns should have to worry about is Ray Rice. Hopefully the run defense can look as good as they did last week.

When Baltimore Has the Ball

As I just mentioned, the Baltimore offense struggled last week. The surprise here is that their running game was significantly worse than their passing game. Their passing game was ranked 29th with a DVOA of -9.9% while the running game was much worse, with a DVOA of -25.9% ranking 20th. Don't get too excited though, most of that is due to their backup situation. Ray Rice was still the 16th best back in football last week. Cleveland's defense, on the other hand, struggled mightily against the pass, ranking 25th in the league, but made up for it with an absolutely crazy DVOA of -71.3% against the run, good enough to be ranked third in the NFL for the week. Numbers for how the defense did against specific receivers aren't available yet, but I don't think it's any secret that the Browns struggle against second and third receivers, and I would expect that trend to continue. I said here last week that fantasy owners should start Brian Hartline and I'm considering starting Marlon Brown myself this week. Having said all of that, Ray Rice is Ray Rice, so anything can happen. Still, I think Baltimore will look to abuse the Cleveland secondary depth and use Rice mostly as a decoy or pass catcher.

When Cleveland Has the Ball

If Baltimore was a train wreck last week, the Browns offense was a car crash. There is some reason to be optimistic though. Interestingly, Baltimore's DAVE projection for defense still only puts them at 5.4% which would be one of the three worst defenses in the league. That means that even if their defense regressed to expectations, they still wouldn't be very good. The Ravens lost a lot of talent in the offseason and Elvis Dumervil playing an unfamiliar position isn't going to make up for that. We all know how bad the Baltimore pass defense was, but the run defense wasn't much better, with a DVOA of -10.3% or 20th in the league. That's against a group headlined by Knowshon Moreno, so I expect big things from Trent Richardson this week.

Speaking of which, it's not all doom and gloom for the Cleveland offense. The pass offense was terrible, but the running game had a DVOA of 1.8% good for 8th in the league. Apparently it was difficult to run for everybody last week. Loyal readers will want to brace themselves for the next part. Trent Richardson had a pretty good week against the Dolphins. He was tied with Rice for 16th in the league according to DYAR and had the 15th best success rate. The success rate is particularly encouraging, since his numbers in that area last season were very poor. However, his YPC was still just 3.6 which means while he was keeping the offense "on schedule" he wasn't doing much to contribute additional value. For Richardson to really take that next step some of those 8 yard runs need to turn into 20 yard runs. This week, look for the Cleveland offense to feed Trent the ball more than 13 times and try to run the ball all over Baltimore. I predict that the big gains in the passing game will come off of play-action.

Summary

Looking at these numbers actually has me way more optimistic about this week. The Ravens are in trouble, and while I don't think every game is going to be like last Thursday, I do think they're in for a long season. They simply didn't have the depth to replace what was lost. Brandon Weeden is once again the key to victory, but I think his task is simple for this game. If Weeden takes care of the ball and manages to hit a couple "dagger" plays, we should score enough points to win. I'm still terrified of Oneil Cousins, but even with a literal turnstile I think the Browns would score some more points this week. Miami's defense is great, Baltimore's is not. As long as the Browns defensive front seven repeats the performance they had last week, this game should be in the bag. That may sound absolutely nuts, but I truly believe it.

My Prediction: Browns win, 27-10
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