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Talking Cleveland Browns With Football Outsiders

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364e2a3fe060be51099484ce879d4f3f_mediumI'm sure most of you have heard about Football Outsiders for their unique statistical breakdowns, providing the subtle details that might get overlooked on gameday. Their Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 is for sale now on I've already read the Browns section and I was able to easily pick up on some interesting stats. I'm looking forward to catching up on a few of the other teams in the book to have some more insight on them when we play each other this year.

We asked Football Outsiders a few questions on the Cleveland Browns, including some tidbits about how the Browns in the secondary, what defensive coordinator Rob Ryan brought to the team last season, and what the best unit at inside linebacker would be. Our interview was conducted with Robert Weintraub, who wrote the chapter on the Browns in this year's Almanac.

Chris: "Opposing teams were able to pass the ball effectively last season. With Brandon McDonald leaving the starting lineup and Sheldon Brown taking his place, how will that change this season?"

Rob: "Statistically, Brown is an upgrade over McDonald, who wasn't all that terrible, surprisingly.  We charted Brown as being even better than Wright, with slightly more Stops and Defeats (see the Almanac for precise definitions on the stats), and a better Success Rate.  A CB quartet of Wright, Brown, McDonald and Haden makes the secondary a strength of the team overnight.  Pass rush is still a crucial part of a team's ability to defend the pass, but strictly from a coverage standpoint, the Browns are in good shape."

Chris: "The Browns have a lot of linebackers that are considered versatile. From your statistical research and rankings, is there a "starting four" that would seem to work best, statistically?

Rob: "This is a tricky question given that several of the linebackers are going to be expected to play in multiple positions, but purely from a numbers standpoint, the best four on the roster are Bowens, Jackson, Roth, and Fujita, although the latter two are barely ahead of Trusnik.  From a stats perspective, anyway, Gocong would appear to be the odd man out--but as we all know, much more goes into these decisions than just effectiveness from play to play."

Chris: "It is stated in your book that the Browns faced five or more pass rushers more often than any other offense in the league. Do you think that was a result of ineffective quarterbacks, a weak right side of the offensive line, poor receivers, or just a combination of everything?"

Rob: "Yeah, all of the above, plus facing the Steelers and Ravens for four games was a factor as well.  As with most matters Cleveland-related, the overriding factor was likely the weak soup the Browns used for quarterbacks."

Chris: "The consensus is that QB Jake Delhomme has been awful since his playoff collapse against the Arizona Cardinals two years ago. Beyond his decision-making, is there anything statistically that stands out as having gone wrong last season compared to his better days?"

Rob: "Delhomme's accuracy is his main weakness.  His completion % has always been at or close to 60%--never phenomenal, but passable (pun semi-intended).  In 2009 it was 55.5%, which is not only awful but a particular no-no for a west coast offense QB.  His DVOA plummeted from 18% to -19% as well, and at his age, it is unlikely to rebound."

Chris: "Another general opinion that has formed is that while Shaun Rogers is still a very good defensive lineman, the Browns didn't suffer too much of a dropoff once Ahtyba Rubin took over for him at nose tackle. Would the Browns be better off having Rubin at NT this year with Rogers moving to DE and having more freedom to rush the passer?"

Rob: "The Rogers-Rubin thing is quite simple--they are the two best players on the line, and thus need to be on the field as much as possible together.  Since Rogers is a capable 3-4 end despite his bulk, and Rubin clearly will be a dependable NT, it's a no-brainer."

Chris: "The Browns recently added veteran receiver Bobby Engram to the roster. Can he help this team, or is he probably just a veteran presence for camp?"

Rob: "We didn't even bother writing up a profile for Engram for the book, and we did one for CFLer Weston Dressler, so that should answer your question."

Chris: "What did defensive coordinator Rob Ryan bring to the Browns' defense last season, especially toward the end of the season during the team's four-game winning streak?"

Rob: "Ryan did an excellent job of mixing and matching the newcomers he was forced to use with the few guys who weren't hurt, and even more so, he got them to play hard, reminding them that an NFL-future was a possible reward for a strong finish.  With guys like Roth, Rubin, and Trusnik, it paid off.  Ryan was given free rein to blitz often and creatively (the Browns were 6th in the NFL in sacks by linebackers, 5th in sacks by DBs), and it worked to disguise the missing pieces.  Weak opposition also helped."

Chris: "Lastly, can you pick out one neat statistic or nugget about the Browns, or a new player on the team, that fans might find compelling?"

Rob: "One for each side of the ball--the Browns were dead last in the league in defending against 3-wide receiver sets, hence the secondary beef-up, which should prevent a repeat barring injury.  On the other hand, Cleveland receivers led the league in dropped passes per attempt, even with Braylon Edwards exiled mid-season.  And that position wasn't addressed this offseason to any great degree (barring Bobby Engram, of course)."

Thanks again to Football Outsiders for their time!