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Cleveland Browns vs. Baltimore Ravens: Statistical Preview

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Here's what the advanced metrics say about this week's matchup between Cleveland and Baltimore.

Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Hey there folks, now that we have a few weeks in the books I'm going to resurrect an old feature previously started by Ryan Kelsey and briefly brought back a couple years ago. 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 converted to yards and accounting for volume. For example, two running backs could have the same DVOA, but if one has more carries than the other, his DYAR will be higher. One important thing to keep in mind is that positive numbers are good for the offense, and negative numbers are good for the defense. With that out of the way, let's get to it.

Overall

Team Total DVOA Rank Offense DVOA Rank Defense DVOA Rank S.T. DVOA Rank
BAL 2.2% 14 -4.8% 19 -1.9% 12 5.0% 7
CLE -13.7% 24 -12.2% 25 13.7% 27 12.3% 2

Gross. At least there's special teams, right? Both teams enter the weekend with 1-3 records, but that doesn't really paint an accurate picture. The Browns have played well below average on both sides of the ball, while the Ravens numbers hint that they may be better than they've shown so far. Baltimore enters this week on a high note, coming off of an overtime victory over division rivals and all around terrible people, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns, on the other hand, suffered a last minute defeat against a depleted San Diego Chargers team. What doesn't show up here is the variance. Cleveland has been wildly inconsistent, with a weekly variance of 28.8%. Meanwhile, the Ravens have been almost identical week to week, with a variance of 1.5%. This means we pretty much know what we'll see out of Baltimore, so if the Browns get one of those top-end performances this week a victory is well within reach.

When Baltimore Has The Ball

The Baltimore offense is built on balance. They want to be able to run the ball with Justin Forsett and then let Joe Flacco loose on occasion. So far this season they've been forced to throw a little more than they might like though, and that has kept them from really getting the run game going. They have a pass DVOA of 1.1% and a rush DVOA of -4.7%. Neither number really jumps off of the page, which may seem like good news, but it also means they're less predictable and more adaptable. Luckily for the Browns, the pass defense has been much worse than the run defense, so that should make it easy to guess where the ball is going. For the season the Browns have a pass defense DVOA of 25.8% (remember, positive numbers are bad for defenses) and a rush defense DVOA of 0.8%. Breaking it down a bit further, Tramon Williams seems to be doing a good job against #2 receivers (-33.8%), and the rest of the team is getting absolutely roasted by 3rd-5th receivers (67.4%) and running backs (45.2%). This is good news if you own any Ravens players in a deep fantasy league and bad news if you have a soul. Justin Forsett in particular is set up to have a big game, he's the 8th ranked running back in football with 46 DYAR.

When Cleveland Has The Ball

If someone told you the Browns were built to run the ball after you looked at these stats, you'd probably have them committed. The Browns are the third worst rushing team in the league at -12.2%. The passing game is actually middle of the pack, at 9.8%, though both of these numbers come attached to one of the more variable offenses in football (5.8% variance, 20th in the league). This week might be a bad matchup for the Browns, as Baltimore's rush defense (-7.3%) outpaces their pass defense (2.0%), meaning Josh McCown will likely be forced to carry the offense again, and that's a risky proposition. He did it last week though, so who knows. Baltimore does a great job shutting down tight ends (-53.7%) and running backs (-6.6%). On the flip side, Travis Benjamin could continue his breakout year, as the Ravens struggle a little with #1 and #2 receivers (8.5% and 12.9% respectively). If the offense can get rolling early, that big play potential could open up a big lead that Baltimore can't fight back from.

Bonus Numbers

For the Browns the theme of the week should be "learn to finish." The Cleveland offense is 32nd in the NFL in the red zone at -76.1%. That's one of the worst DVOA numbers I've ever seen, and especially concerning since research shows winning the red zone battle is one of the best predictors of winning games, even better than things like turnovers. The defense isn't much better in the red zone, but instead I think they should focus on finishing a set of downs. The Browns defense is ninth in the league with a -7.3% DVOA on first down, but dead last on third and fourth down (48.3%) and second to last in third and long (159.8% (!!!)). Even a modest improvement here could be huge for the team as a whole.

Final Prediction

I'll be honest, I felt better about Cleveland's chances before I wrote this. The Browns defense is a mess right now, and Baltimore is a pretty good offensive team. The Browns want to run the ball, but Baltimore has a good rush defense. The recipe for winning this game looks like it includes Josh McCown having another career day, and while that's not impossible, I'd feel better if the margin for error was larger. That said, with a little luck the game is certainly in reach. I just wouldn't bet your house on it or anything.