Hey there folks, starting this week I'm going to resurrect an old feature previously started by Ryan Kelsey. In this series I'll be taking a look at each week's matchup using the advanced metrics available at Football Outsiders. In particular, I'll be making heavy use of Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) and Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR). Full explanations of those metrics are available at the FO website, but here's the short version: DVOA is an efficiency rating that corresponds to a percent above or below average, and DYAR is basically the same thing, but with number of plays taken into account. For example, two players could have the same DVOA, but if one has more total yards than the other, his DYAR will be higher. The important thing to keep in mind is that positive numbers always favor the offense, so a defense with a big negative DVOA is actually doing a good job. With that out of the way, let's get to it.
Since it's the first week of the regular season, we don't have any numbers for the current team. That means I'll be using last year's numbers, and in the case of the Browns, this means they should be considered in the context of coach, player, and scheme turnover. To start off, let's look at how the Dolphins and Browns stack up overall.
|Team||Total DVOA||Rank||Offense DVOA||Rank||Defense DVOA||Rank||S.T. DVOA||Rank|
Ok, so that looks pretty bleak. While the special teams units were fantastic, neither the offense or the defense was particularly close to average. We can take solace, however, in the fact that Miami wasn't leaps and bounds better. Their offense was nearly as bad as the Browns, and their defense and special teams were about as average as you can get. Of course, Miami is hoping the addition of Mike Wallace and a year of development from Ryan Tannehill will boost the offense while players like Dion Jordan will help take the defense to the next level. At the same time, Many Cleveland fans believe the team is in store for a big step forward under the new coaching regime and with improvement from Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson. So now that we know where the teams stand overall, let's break things down a little.
When Miami Has the Ball
Miami had a DVOA of -1.8% while throwing and -8.5% when running the ball, both good for 23rd in the league. However, they had a game-to-game variance of 13.5% making them the most inconsistent team in the league. They either torched the opposition or struggled to reach midfield. It's hard to say which version will show up this week, and it's made even more difficult by the fact that Miami has lost their starting running back from last season and added a new #1 wide receiver. Ryan Tannehill had 37 DYAR, good for just 25th in the league last season, but one would expect at least a small improvement given experience and more weapons in the passing game. With the focus on the passing game for both teams, the Browns shouldn't sleep on Lamar Miller, who had a DYAR of 35 last season and a DVOA of 7.5% which would have been good for tenth in all of football. However, that was in fewer than 100 carries, so it remains to be seen whether or not he can keep it up. Also, this may be hard to believe, but the Browns run defense was actually slightly above average last season at -4.7% DVOA.
Things don't look so encouraging in the passing game for our Brownies. Last season the Browns were above average against #1 receivers, thanks to Joe Haden, but against #2 and #3 receivers the Browns were terrible with DVOAs of 9.3% and 10.3% respectively. Look for that trend to continue with the Browns current lack of CB depth and any fantasy owners out there with Brian Hartline should consider giving him some thought as a starter this week. The Browns were much better against tight ends and running backs, putting up average numbers against both, so don't look for a big game out of Charles Clay (not that you ever should).
When Cleveland Has the Ball
The Cleveland offense was bad last year. I don't think I'm breaking any new ground there. Both the run game and passing game were well below average at -10.3% and -9.3% respectively. However, the Browns were also the fourth most variable offense last season, so maybe some better coaching can elevate the unit to league average or better. My remarks about Ryan Tannehill could probably be copied and pasted for Brandon Weeden. The area to look to for a big jump over last season is running back. FO basically has nothing good to say about Trent Richardson's rookie season. His DYAR was 37th in the league, his DVOA was 34th, and his success rate was 36th. Richardson has the talent to explode this season and be a top ten back, but he's got to prove it on the field. Hopefully Norv Turner can work some magic with him. That said, this week might not be the week he breaks through. Miami's run defense had a DVOA of -13.3% which was good for 9th in the league.
The Browns should have better luck through the air. Miami's defense ranked 17th against the pass, and while they were average against #1 receivers they struggled a bit against #2 wide-outs. Too bad Josh Gordon had to go and get suspended, or Greg Little might be about to have a break-out day. Don't look for much out of Jordan Cameron this week, as the Dolphins had a DVOA of -3.4% against tight ends, good for 13th in the league. The area where I believe the offense can make big plays is with passes to running backs. Trent Richardson is a beast coming out of the backfield with a DYAR of 71, good for 12th in the league, and only five of the guys ahead of him are starters while the rest are dedicated third down backs. The Dolphins had an absolutely abysmal DVOA of 22.9% against passes to running backs, putting them near the bottom of the league. Look for Richardson and Ogbonnaya to catch a lot of screens and swing passes. Norv Turner has also been known to send his backs deep from time to time.
On paper, the Dolphins look like a better team by the narrowest of margins, but it's hard to say anything for sure given the huge turnover the Browns saw in the offseason. This game will be a good measuring stick as Miami is as close to average as you can be across the board. A win could mean Cleveland is in for a fun year, while a loss could be an indicator of another rough season. This is a tough game to predict, but I think the offense will take advantage of their mismatches out of the backfield and Ray Horton's defense will do just enough to keep Tannehill off balance and the ball away from the Miami receivers.
My prediction: 24-21, Browns win.