Game Overview ::
By hilow >>
- This one carries a fairly wide range of potential outcomes, primarily due to Deshaun Watson and how poor he looked last week.
- The Bengals have shifted their defensive scheme over the previous month of play, moving away from increased man coverage rates and towards a defense based primarily from zone coverages.
- Joe Mixon started the practice week as a full participant coming off his concussion.
- Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst has already been labeled as doubtful with a calf injury by head coach Zac Taylor.
How cleveland Will Try To Win ::
There are a few different ways to look at the Browns performance in Deshaun Watson’s first game as the starting quarterback. For one, the Browns controlled the game with their defense against a far inferior opponent in the Texans, which allowed them to ride their run game for most of the game (22 Watson pass attempts to 38 combined team rush attempts). Watson looked as rusty as one might expect in his first NFL game action in almost two calendar years, making errant throws appear part of his job title. When you complete just four of nine passes to Amari Cooper, who could not be a better route runner, it tells of just how poorly you played (Watson was throwing five-yard in-routes and slants into Cooper’s feet). Another notable piece is that the Browns defense generated four turnovers and scored three defensive touchdowns, which is highly unlikely to be the case against one of the top offenses in the league. Finally, the team was without a primary piece of the offense in David Njoku yet they still called an offensive game with multiple instances of pre-snap motions, jet sweeps, and guided misdirection via the threat of a mobile quarterback. As in, there is upside from this offense once Watson settles into the speed of the NFL game again. Finally, the return of Demetric Felton to the lineup allowed the team to return to a unit based out of 21-personnel, which allowed them to move Felton all over the formation and adds to the dynamism of the offense (Felton’s increased snap rate was also amplified by the in-game injuries to rookie wide receiver David Bell and WR4 Anthony Schwartz, who suffered a concussion and was placed on IR; more on this below). I would expect this team to operate primarily from heavy personnel alignments as the season draws to an end, with increased 21-personnel usage and moderate 12-personnel usage with the return of David Njoku. For all the perceived struggles this team has had this season, they currently find themselves in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC. As in, expect them to be fighting tooth and nail against their division rivals here.
Lead back Nick Chubb has just two games all season with more than a 55% snap rate (59% in Week 12 and 63% in Week 3), which is further highlighted by the return of Demetric Felton, whom the team can move all over the formation when on the field. Felton is a running back by trade, but the team has been able to flex him to the slot and out wide, adding a layer of uniqueness to the offense. Felton’s ultimate snap rate this week is likely tied directly to the health of David Bell who was listed as limited on the team’s Wednesday injury report. While Chubb has five games with more than 20 running back opportunities, his pass game involvement is low, and the Browns just played in the top matchup for running backs in the league and still only fed him 17 carries in a game they were able to run about league average offensive plays (63). Basically, Chubb should continue having to “get there” through efficiency and multiple touchdowns, which is a tough bet at his current price tag ($7,800). Kareem Hunt should continue as the primary change of pace and clear passing down option in the backfield, with the previous discussion on Demetric Felton in consideration as well. The pure rushing matchup yields a slightly above average 4.47 net-adjusted line yard metric against a Bengals defense holding opposing backs to just 4.12 yards per carry this season.
As noted previously, the departure of David Bell after just three offensive snaps last week put this team in a bind, forcing running back Demetric Felton into increased wide receiver snaps, which is notable considering now injured Anthony Schwartz had operated as the team’s WR4. The Browns are expecting lead tight end David Njoku back this week, which is likely going to lead to increased heavy personnel alignments. Njoku has been in and out of the lineup since Week 7, but he played 80% or more of the offensive snaps in each of the first six games of the season as a true all-around tight end. Both Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones are the clear top wide receivers, with Cooper’s role transitioning back to a short-to-intermediate one in Week 13 with Watson at quarterback. I would tentatively expect that micro trend to continue as Watson works his way back to game speed, with Cooper and Njoku the likeliest to see the most volume for the foreseeable future as the two players most capable of winning within the first five yards of the line of scrimmage. Finally, after the Bengals started the season running man coverages at an above league average rate in six of their first eight games, they have been below league average in each of the previous four weeks. Amari Cooper has long been regarded as one of the top wide receivers in the league against man coverage but has been around league average in reception grades against zone over the previous three seasons. All of that to say, the combination of personnel available, matchup, and individual skillsets sets up well for David Njoku to see increased involvement this week, and the numbers support that notion as Njoku is the top-rated pass-catcher on this offense against zone coverages this season.