As the Cleveland Browns prepare to take on the Buffalo Bills in Detroit (still very weird to put those three cities together in a sentence), an interesting conversation has started about the NFL as a whole.
For well over a decade, the league has been all about the passing offense. Rules have been changed to make it easier for wide open spaces and harder for defenses to do much of anything to stop it.
In response, teams have started focusing on drafting smaller players to keep up with defenders. Gone are the days of 260-pound linebackers and multiple 320-plus-pound interior defensive linemen. In are the days of nickel defense, pass rushers and coverage linebackers.
As discussed in length here via ESPN, teams might be making adjustments on offense in response to those lighter defenders:
While I may have joked about it in response to Mina Kimes' tweet, the data shows that the narrative of power run offenses coming back in style is accurate:
For the Browns, running the ball has been a staple under HC Kevin Stefanski. With their great offensive line and the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Cleveland has been very successful as a rushing team. What is interesting is that they aren’t just successful running zone-scheme but have been quite diverse:
Total rush EPA by run concept (via PFF) pic.twitter.com/VfG0GTEt74— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) November 17, 2022
Even if it is hard to discern the specific details in the above picture, you can see that the Browns have similar success in a variety of concepts. Perhaps most surprising is how effective Jacoby Brissett has been scrambling on top of his quality QB sneaks.
As Andrew Hawkins discussed in the above clip, kids are being trained around speed and agility much more now and have been for about two decades now. It may take time for defenses to adjust and start valuing larger, stronger players at important interior positions. Cleveland GM Andrew Berry, for one, has not placed value there during his time in charge.
One draft scout noted the differences he’s seen recently:
For the last decade, personnel departments have lowered the value on old school 2 gap, run stuffing DT's. I think that's going to change in upcoming draft. So many teams playing shell coverage (light box counts) to limit explosive plays. That skill set has value once again.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 17, 2022
Will we see the trend of power and counter run games being successful over the next few years continue? If so, how quickly will defenses be able to adapt and are there enough large, strong players in the pipeline for it to happen?
‘When you zig, I zag.’ The NFL has always had a cyclical nature. Are we starting the trend back to more power-style offenses despite league rules attempting to regulate physicality? Something to watch. Thankfully, at least on offense, the Browns are ahead of the game in that respect but now need the defense to catch up as well.