As the Browns enter a pivotal week 3 matchup against the New York Jets, they are under a lot of pressure to finally deliver a win. Here are three key questions they will need to answer if they want to achieve a victory.
1. Can the Browns continue to force turnovers at this rate?
So far the Browns are +6 in turnover margin, one of the stats that correlates the strongest to winning football games at any level. With 3 INTs and 5 fumbles recovered, the Browns are really generating turnovers so far. In fact, those 8 takeaways lead the NFL.
That’s a great sign from a Gregg Williams defense, as an aggressive style will bleed big plays from time to time, but will need to generate big plays to make up for it. With 14.46 Expected Points Added by the defense so far (good for 5th in the NFL) it seems that the high-risk, high-reward style is paying off.
Through two games the Browns defense has forced an INT on 3.9% of opponents’ dropbacks. If the Browns’ opponents were a quarterback, they would be tied with Ryan Tannehill for the 8th highest INT% on the year. That’s great, and it seems relatively sustainable. When teams don’t gameplan around Myles Garrett, he gets to the quarterback. And when they do, Larry Ogunjobi has picked up the slack so far. Add the improved secondary to that mix and the Browns seem to have the talent and the formula to make life hard for quarterbacks.
The Browns’ other source of turnovers—fumble recoveries—does not seem nearly as sustainable. Historically, the fumbling team recovers a fumble just north of 50% of the time, meaning defenses who recover more than 50% of available fumbles usually fall back to earth. So far, the Browns have forced 5 fumbles and recovered all of them. And as impressively on the other side of the ball, the Browns have fumbled 4 times and recovered all of them. That’s right, every time the ball has been fumbled in a Browns game this year, the Browns have come away with it. While impressive, that is likely not sustainable.
Many Browns fans know about Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold’s fumbling issues in college, and anyone who jumped into the comments section around draft time probably read about his turnover issues in some form. Long story short; in his 27 games at USC Darnold fumbled the ball 21 times and threw 22 INTs.
So far in the NFL Darnold has been just as prone to throwing interceptions, as he has thrown 3 INTs through two games or a pick on every 4.8% of his dropbacks. That’s the 3rd worst percentage in the NFL. Darnold has only fumbled the ball once so far, so maybe he has fixed his issues there or maybe it’s just a small sample size. Either way it seems like the opportunities are there for the Browns defense tonight.
2. Is this the week the Browns passing game clicks?
The Browns’ offense so far has been underwhelming. Tyrod Taylor hasn’t lit the world on fire, but he played fairly well in week 2 after playing in a downpour in week 1. His 6.3 yards per passing attempt are only good for 28th in the league, which will need to improve if he wants to keep rookie Baker Mayfield on the bench.
Still, throwing the ball (when we aren’t playing in monsoon-like conditions) might be the Browns’ best option. Or, at least dropping back to pass might be. Leading rusher Carlos Hyde is averaging a paltry 2.8 yards per carry so far, which is the result of facing a lot of stacked boxes where he has no real chance to succeed. Even when adding in a “passing premium” for the additional risks of throwing the ball, the Browns are more efficient through the air. And as an added bonus, Tyrod Taylor is averaging a team-high 8.6 yards per carry when he takes off to run.
This is the perfect week to turn the passing game loose, as the Jets don’t have any great edge rushers, and their secondary gets worse as more DBs get on the field. Will the Browns be able to capitalize?
3. Can the Browns finally match up on special teams?
I touched on our special teams issues from week 1 here, and they were more subtle. Last week against the Saints the 4 missed kicks were glaring. If we thought former ST Coordinator Chris Tabor was bad, the first two weeks of this season have proved that it can always get worse.
Even with the Browns dominating the turnover battle, we can still give back field position and points on special teams. If we can’t at least play the Jets even on ST, there will be that much more pressure on the offense to pick up the slack in this game, and look for GM John Dorsey to potentially make some moves at the bottom of the roster to add talent to special teams in the coming weeks.
What key questions do you think the Browns need to answer tonight? Let’s discuss below.