The Cleveland Browns can quiet a ton of outside noise by stacking two straight performances down the stretch against the Washington Commanders and Pittsburgh Steelers. With highs around 60 in the nation’s capital this weekend the Browns and quarterback Deshaun Watson have an opportunity to finally break out offensively since his return from suspension.
Here we will take a look at the numbers on paper to see how this matchup of the Browns vs. Commanders stacks up. The two metrics used here are DVOA from Football Outsiders and EPA metrics. Can the Browns get back in the win column and stack a couple of games down the stretch of the season? Here is how they stack up against the Commanders as they travel to D.C.
Browns run offense vs. Commanders run defense
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) tries to break a tackle from Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Michael Thomas (31) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)
The Browns have their bread and butter in their rushing attack. Nick Chubb is not shutting it down and is third in the NFL in rushing with nearly 1,400 yards rushing.
The Commanders, however, are a fringe top-10 team against the run in 2022 though, sitting at 11th in rush DVOA. In EPA per play, however, the Commanders are thought much less of against the run as they slide in as the 25th-best run defense by this metric since Week 12. As the Browns sit eighth in offensive rush DVOA, however, their ground attack still has a slight advantage over the Commanders.
Since Week 12, however, the rushing attack of the Browns has flattened out near the average mark. The injury to starting center Ethan Pocic is a big reason for this, but the Browns have not been able to remain as dominant on the ground since Watson took over as quarterback.
Washington run offense vs. Browns run defense
Dec 4, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. (8) carries the ball during the second half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
The good news for the Commanders, the Browns consistently field the worst run defense in the entire NFL. While they have gotten better in recent weeks against the run, they are still the worst unit in the league by a wide margin.
The Commanders are not a good running team, however, so the Browns may just dodge a bullet here. Since Week 12, the Commanders are just the 17th most effective rushing team offensively, and that is an improvement from sitting 20th in that metric over the full 16 weeks thus far. According to DVOA, the Commanders are a bottom-five team on the ground, and running back Brian Robinson is 32nd in DVOA on the season.
Regardless, the Browns have been gashed by worse running teams, so they are never safe from getting trampled. Even by an average at best unit.
Browns passing offense vs. Washington passing defense
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) scrambles out of the pocket in the first quarter of the NFL Week 14 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022. The Bengals led 13-3 at halftime.
Cleveland Browns At Cincinnati Bengals Week 14
The Browns currently boast the 11th-best DVOA in terms of passing offense. However, they have taken drastic strides backward over the past four weeks. Sure, two of those games came in freezing temperatures, but without a doubt the passing game has been a disappointment since Watson took over under center.
Since Week 12, the Browns have had negative passing EPA per play, and Watson is not in the ideal quadrant you’d like for a quarterback to be in. This week, however, the Browns are going to be playing in near-60-degree weather and have no excuse not to find success through the air.
They will have their work cut out for them, however, as the Commanders boast a near-top-10 passing defense this season in dropback EPA per play. They fall 16th in DVOA as well. Realistically, the Commanders fall middle-of-the-road or slightly above that in their ability to defend the pass. This one is a toss-up on paper.
Washington passing offense vs. Browns passing defense
Dec 24, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz (11) throws a pass during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
Going back to Carson Wentz makes the Commanders’ passing attack more volatile but does not really move the needle much in either direction as opposed to Taylor Heinicke. And the Commanders’ passing attack has been putrid all season as they currently sit 26th in the league in dropback EPA per play. They fall in the exact same slot in passing DVOA as well.
The Browns have been volatile in coverage, mainly due to blown assignments. However, overall they sit at 15th in the NFL in DVOA in passing defense. They sit 12th in dropback EPA per play as well, solidifying themselves as a slightly above-average unit against the pass.
They have had a good deal of turnover luck as well, and given Wentz’s willingness to put the football in harm’s way, they could just capitalize again this week.
A look at special teams
Oct 23, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Cleveland Browns place kicker Cade York (3) kicks a first half field goal against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
The Browns have not been a great special teams squad this season, but have gotten significantly better down the stretch. Much of this comes from finding consistent return-men in Jerome Ford and Donovan Peoples-Jones, but there are still weaknesses to this unit. Rookie kicker Cade York has been volatile and has not found consistency in his first season.
On the season, the Browns fall 13th in special teams DVOA despite being second-to-last in field goal DVOA. the Browns should be able to win the field position battle in this game, but they better hope it does not come down to the leg of York or there is a reason for panic.
Washington fields a Pro Bowl punter in Tress Way, and sits as the sixth-best special teams squad in the NFL in DVOA. They are top ten in field goal efficiency, and kickoff coverage, and are the best punting team in the NFL. They do, however, struggle to return kicks and punts effectively.
Overall, if you’re trusting one unit over the other, nobody is picking Cleveland here.
Final thoughts on Browns vs. Commanders
Sep 27, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) scores a touchdown as Washington Football Team free safety Troy Apke (30) defends during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
This is a very winnable game for the Browns and one they should win. There is no reality where the Commanders should be able to score as many points as the Browns are capable of winning. Playing in moderate weather as well, this has the makings of a week Deshaun Watson could finally live up to the assets shipped off to trade for him.
Again, the Commanders are firm defensively, but the Browns have too many weapons offensively to remain stalled against an average unit. As far as for the Commanders’ offense, they are a below-average unit across the board. And now with Wentz back under center, the Browns should find a way to win the turnover battle in this game as well.
The Browns get back in the four-score territory and win this game 31-17 over Wentz and the Commanders.