Who would have guessed at this point in the season the Cleveland Browns would be carried by Jacoby Brissett instead of what looked like a stellar defense on paper? That is where we are as the Browns are currently converting third and fourth downs at an extraordinary rate, and fall in the top-ten in nearly every offensive efficiency metric.
To summarize into one sentence, the Browns are operating an offense that is in the same tier as the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, and Miami Dolphins. As the Browns prepare for the Atlanta Falcons, we take a deep analytical dive into the Cleveland offense and the success Brissett has been able to find under center through three weeks.
The Jacoby Brissett-led Browns are third in the NFL in offensive EPA.
Only Miami and KC are ahead.
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) September 26, 2022
Diving into the numbers of Jacoby Brissett
Cleveland Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7). Brownssteelers 4
The Cleveland Browns could not have envisioned much of a better start from Jacoby Brissett through three games. Thus far, Brissett has racked up 596 yards and four touchdowns, completing over 66 percent of his passes for the Cleveland offense.
Most importantly, Brissett is not turning the football over. Through three games, he has given the football away just once. And this came with 11 seconds left when he was forced to will the Browns into field goal range against the Jets.
Play efficient football and do not give away possessions. This is the blueprint for success with Brissett at the helm, and through three games, the Cleveland Browns are following it like a treasure map.
According to Football Outsiders, Brissett is ranked in the top-10 of both efficiency metrics DYAR and DVOA (definitions can be found here). He also falls in at the 9th spot in QBR as well. Brissett also falls in the top-10 in total Expected Points Added (EPA) and EPA per dropback.
EPA per dropback on early downs versus late downs through week 3.
The Ravens & Jaguars are killing people on their early-down pass plays. The Bears are….not pic.twitter.com/xcmh5L3V65
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 27, 2022
Brissett is not lighting the world on fire, nor is he going to provide explosive plays down the field with great frequency, but he has been efficient and is doing his job just as it is asked of him. All-in-all, Brissett is leading the Browns to the tune of the third-highest offensive EPA in the NFL.
It has only been three weeks, and there is definite reason to expect some regression from the career journeyman backup quarterback. But at this point there is no reason to squash the excitement of what he has been able to do.
Yeah, but what about the defenses he has played?
Cleveland Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7). Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
All things considered, and again the sample sizes are small this early in the season, the teams the Browns have played have put up at least average numbers defensively.
Well, except for the New York Jets. The Jets are at the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency, ranking 32nd in defensive DVOA; they also rank dead last in passing DVOA.
Looking at the Carolina Panthers, however, they fall 14th in overall defensive DVOA. The Panthers rank around the middle of the league against the pass as they fall 17th against the pass. The Pittsburgh Steelers are by far the best passing defense the Browns have seen this season, as they currently rank 12th in passing DVOA.
Generally speaking, yards per game and points per game are not the greatest metric to use to evaluate defensive success. But giving a fuller scope we can throw those in here too. All three teams the Browns have played to this point also fall in or around the middle of the pack defensively in yards per game and points per game.
So while the Browns have not exactly played a top-10 defense to this point, they are putting up top-five numbers in terms of efficiency against middle-of-the-road defenses. And the Jets.
A look ahead for Brissett and the Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7). Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Up next for the Browns are the Atlanta Falcons, who fall 25th in pass DVOA and even lower against the run. This should be a game where head coach Kevin Stefanski can continue to cook up a balanced attack that keeps the opposition on their heels as he has done all season.
As long as the Browns once again stay within themselves offensively (stay ahead of the sticks on early downs, churn the clock, be safe with the football), then there is a real chance they can come away with a record of 3-1 after their Week 4 matchup.
Peeking ahead a bit further as well, the Browns then play the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots in Week 5 and 6 respectively. Both of those teams also fall middle-of-the-road against the pass, with the Patriots falling in the bottom-five against the run. These games are much more winnable than imaginable at the beginning of the season (especially given the health of both of their starting quarterbacks).
As the numbers fall through three weeks, the Browns do not face a team in the top-10 of defensive DVOA until they play the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8. Sure, teams like the Chargers and Baltimore Ravens are going to be extremely difficult to go shot-for-shot with, but the Browns are in a position to make each and every game a close one.
While the focus is on Atlanta this week, the Browns’ schedule may just be lined up for this potent rushing attack to continue to rack up big numbers, and for Brissett to continue his hot streak.