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Talking Cleveland Browns With Football Outsiders, Part 2 - Cornerbacks & The Running Game

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday night, we posted Part 1 of our interview with Robert Weintraub of Football Outsiders. Now, it is time for Part 2, which focuses on the Browns' secondary and the running back position. Don't forget to check out the 2014 Football Outsiders Almanac too.

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DBN: "Joe Haden has been perceived by Browns fans as an elite cornerback, leading to the Browns signing him to a contract extension over the offseason. Does his production match the amount of money the Browns spent on him?"

Robert: "Not according to our Cian Fahey, who did a deep film dive on Haden and found him very good, not great, and certainly not in the realm of Peterson or Sherman quality or cash (check it out here). On the other hand, if you are gong to overpay someone a bit, you could do far worse than Haden."

Specifically, Fahey says that Haden is "hardly elite, especially in the areas of technique and footwork," continuing on that "explosive, sharp-cutting receivers ate him up" and that Haden is probably best suited to a Cover-2 zone scheme. Haden did have some inconsistencies, but I have no regrets about the extension he was given.

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DBN: "Can Buster Skrine be a legitimate force for the Browns? Is he better in the slot or outside?"

Robert: "'Legitimate force' might be strong, but Skrine is a decent option as a depth corner.  In an ideal world he becomes the 4th corner behind Haden and the two rooks (there is a reason the team went after a pair of corners so high in the draft).  His struggles come mainly in short-area and red zone coverage (he surrendered an NFL-most eight TDs inside the 20), so keeping him out of those situations would make him a better corner.  He doesn't possess the tools to be a top boundary corner, and his lack of quick feet mean he struggles in the slot."

Adding on to the above, here is what Robert said about Buster Skrine in the Almanac: "His charting stats came out pretty strong, but Skrine was horrific in short-area coverage, allowing a league-leading eight touchdowns in the red zone. Our charters noted a particular problem with falling for play-action fakes, though they also noted that Skrine shows extra hustle to try to get back into position after he realizes his mistake."

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DBN: "With presumably improved offensive line play, the additions of running backs Ben Tate and Terrance West, and the zone-blocking scheme of Kyle Shanahan, what can we realistically expect from the Browns' ground game this season? Are there any stats that support a historical propensity for Shanahan to run or pass on certain downs / spots of the field / situation?"

Robert: "I'm afraid we have to punt on the Shanahan question, though it is a good one--we just don't have the time or manpower at present to run those historical numbers.  Also, keep in mind that RG3's presence altered those numbers some, even beyond what Manziel is likely to do.  Just looking at the Washington stats from the last two seasons, in '12 the attack was unsurprisingly extra-committed to the run (top-five in running plays on first down, while behind the 2nd half, and on 2nd and long), while those numbers dropped off to the middle of the pack last season.  Depending on when and if Johnny takes over as starter, expect something in the middle between those two poles.

As for the Browns rushing attack overall, it will be the focal point of the offense, certainly, and both Tate and West can expect a heavy workload in a system that should fit their talents well.  We had them as the 22nd-most efficient run game last year, a ranking that will improve only if the Browns can sort out it's offensive line beyond Joe Thomas and Alex Mack.  Improvement from Mitchell Schwartz, a solid rookie campaign from Joel Bitonio, and contribution from whoever emerges from the competition at the other guard spot are mandatory if the team is to move it consistently on the ground when other teams are stacking for it."

The results that we should expect from the running game this year are impossible to predict. I don't even think we can use the preseason as something to get hour hopes up; we'll have to find out how the system works once the regular season hits.

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Thanks again to Robert and Football Outsiders for their time.