The Panthers come into the game on a four-game losing streak and fresh off the firing of defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary coach Jeff Imamura.
The game may not be as favorable as it appears on first blush, however, as the Browns have seen their run defense take a downward turn, especially over the course of the past five weeks.
Starting with the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8, the Browns have reverted to the bad old days when it comes to stopping the run. Cleveland has given up more than 125 rushing yards four times in the past five games, and also allowed an average of 4.8 yards per carry or higher four times.
The ugly breakdown:
- Pittsburgh in Week 8: 168 rushing yards and 5.4 yards per carry
- Kansas City in Week 9: 139 rushing yards and 5.8 yards per carry
- Cincinnati in Week 12: 129 rushing yards and 6.4 yards per carry
- Houston in Week 13: 187 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per carry
The only team the Browns have contained on the ground during that stretch came at home against the Atlanta Falcons, who gained just 71 yards and averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.
That has dropped the Browns to 28th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (136.4), 23rd in yards per carry (4.8) and 30th in rushing touchdowns allowed (15).
With a defense that is struggling to stop the run, the Panthers may be the worst team for the Browns to be facing right now, as Pro Football Focus points out:
The #Browns defense has allowed 17.8% of opponents’ rushes to go for 10+ yards, the worst rate in the league.— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) December 4, 2018
The #KeepPounding offense has rushed for 10+ yards on 19% of their rush attempts, the best rate in the league.
Carolina comes into this week’s game as the league’s second-best running attack at 140.8 yards per game, tops in the league in yards per carry with 5.5, and tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns with 13. Christian McCaffrey is carrying the water on the ground for the Panthers, having rushing for 863 yards and 5.3 yards per carry, while quarterback Cam Newton has chipped in 450 rush yards and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
The Panthers took it to another level the past two weeks as they averaged 194 rushing yards and 8.45 yards per carry in their games against the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Those numbers come with a caveat, however, as despite the big numbers the Panthers lost both games. (H/T to Patrick Veverka)
The Panthers have averaged 8+ yards per carry the last two games and lost. Not that worried about the run.— ian is a browns fan (@tunaxgravy) December 4, 2018
The Browns may be in for a long day on the ground against the Panthers this Sunday.
But it could be the Panthers who are disappointed by what the scoreboard reveals at the end of the game.