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Browns defense: Man vs zone coverage numbers might surprise you

The Browns are very good in zone coverage

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

For some fans, all that matters is that the Cleveland Browns are 5-8 and all but eliminated from the NFL playoffs. For those fans, the last month of the season will be spent only bemoaning what could have been, should have been and wondering what changes will be made.

For other fans, understanding the specifics about the team will stay important despite the record.

The Browns defense has been the biggest talking point most of the season. The team didn’t make it better with DB coach Jeff Howard’s ridiculous statement on Thursday.

One of the bigger talking points around the defense has been the coverages that they use. While overly simplified, zone vs man has become the new “3-4 vs 4-3 defense” discussion. Many fans believe that man defense, getting up in the receiver’s face and taking one on one responsibility is both the best way to play defense and the best for Cleveland’s defensive backs.

Whether it is because of the preference of DC Joe Woods or what the analytic data says, the Browns have been playing much more zone defense than man. While that may not be surprising, what might be is how much better the team is in zone:

Cleveland is a top-10 passing defense, at least in yards per attempt (an important stat), playing zone defense and tied for the sixth-worst defense in yards per attempt while playing man coverage. There may be explanations for the defense but it is interesting to see how few teams play man coverage even 40% of the time with only one team playing it half of the time.

Based on the data, Woods is smart to have his team in zone coverage two-thirds of the time despite narratives that players like CB Denzel Ward would be better in more man looks.

Are you surprised by the above zone/man data for the Browns and the NFL as a whole?