The Cleveland Browns entered the 2021 season with a few known quantities on offense.
A running game, headed by running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, that is the envy of the league? Check. An offensive line that, when healthy, is among the league’s best? Check. A receiving group highlighted by production (wide receiver Amari Cooper), breakout potential (tight end David Njoku) and a whole lot of hope? Check!
The only real question mark came in the form of quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who was tasked with holding things together while quarterback Deshaun Watson served his 11-game suspension for violating the league’s Personal Conduct Policy.
It has only been three weeks, but Brissett has more than held up his end of the bargain and, in turn, Cleveland’s offense has found its mojo.
The Browns are currently averaging 28.3 points per game, good for sixth best in the league, and that figure is even more impressive when you consider that outside of a late defensive touchdown in last week’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers it has been all offense when it comes to scoring.
If that per-game average were to hold up for the entire season, it would be the second-best mark for the Browns since they entered the NFL in 1950, trailing just the 1964 championship squad that averaged 29.6 points per game.
While the scoring average may not be sustainable, barring an injury to Chubb or Hunt the success the Browns have found in the running game is something they should be able to continue to bank on.
Cleveland tops the league in rushing yards (572), are sixth in yards per carry (5.0), second in rushing touchdowns (five), first in runs of more than 20 yards (six), and first in rushing for a first down (33).
The last time the Browns had that many rushing yards after the first three games of the season was in 1958 when the NFL was a very different game. And it is not so much that the Browns are piling up the rushing yards, it is that they are able to run the ball when they want to and break the opposing team’s defense.
Take the game against the Steelers when the Browns put together an 80-yard, 11-play touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that featured 10 runs, took six minutes and 35 seconds off the clock, extended the lead to nine points and showed the Steelers who was the boss, as Pittsburgh defensive tackle Cameron Heyward admitted after the game (quote via The Beacon Journal):
“We lost the damn game. I do not know what else is more demoralizing than that. They ran the ball, we got our ass kicked. Simple as that.”
None of that might matter, however, if Brissett was not doing his thing at quarterback.
So far Brissett has been as advertised in certain areas - he has only turned the ball over once and that came in desperation time against the Jets - but he has certainly exceeded expectations in other areas.
After a rocky season-opener against the Carolina Panthers, Brissett has grown more comfortable with the offense, which in turn has helped him complete 74 percent of his passes the past two games to go along with three touchdown passes.
Jacoby Brissett had a 92.5 PFF grade vs the Steelers.— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) September 23, 2022
That’s the highest for any offensive player in a single game this season pic.twitter.com/Gs7NDHV6wU
Brissett may never be among the league leaders in passing, but his current completion percentage of 66.1 is better than name players like Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers, Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals and Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens.
And similar to how it is important that the Browns be able to run the ball when they want to, having Brissett be able to complete that pass when it is needed the most is key.
Going back to the fourth-quarter drive against the Steelers, the lone pass play came on a third-and-one from the Cleveland 29-yard line. All Brissett did was hit Cooper for a 32-yard completion that took the Browns to the Pittsburgh 39-yard line. From there, Chubb and Hunt took over.
If Brissett does not hit that pass, the Browns are punting with a two-point lead and bad thoughts about what happened the week before against the New York Jets start to haunt everyone’s minds.
Instead, Brissett hit a key pass when needed to and the running game took over from there.
It has only been three weeks and the schedule will soon start to get tougher for the Browns, but they have found their stride on offense and if they can continue to count on the things they do well, they just might be able to survive the worse of what is come in fine fashion.