Game Overview ::
By hilow >>
- The Commanders will turn back to Carson Wentz at quarterback after he suffered a thumb injury and was subsequently benched in favor of Taylor Heinicke.
- Washington currently clings to dear life in the seventh and final playoff spot out of the NFC, only half a game ahead of Seattle, Detroit, and Green Bay.
- The Browns have nothing to play for this week outside of spoilers and the potential for additional reps as they figure out where their franchise is headed in the future.
- A shift in defensive philosophy from the Commanders over the second half of the season should filter pass production to the areas of the field that the Browns are likeliest to attack which is the short-to-intermediate middle of the field. That sets up Amari Cooper and David Njoku well to continue in high volume roles.
- The likeliest scenario yields a muted game environment but there is an interesting angle that would open things up substantially.
- Antonio Gibson apparently emerged from Week 16’s loss with a sprained knee, causing him to miss practice on Wednesday.
How Cleveland Will Try To Win ::
The Browns have scored three offensive touchdowns across Deshaun Watson’s four starts with the franchise. Furthermore, they’ve scored on just 25% of their red zone trips with Watson at the helm. They have maintained an emphasis on the run as only one of four games have come with an above average pass rate over expectation (PROE), and that one just barely got there. They have struggled through a lack of downfield ability resulting in a one-dimensional offense that struggles with efficiency. Other than that, the $230,000,000 was well spent (kidding y’all, apologies to any Browns fans in the building). Somewhat anecdotally, their defense is likely to get more credit than they deserve over those four Watson starts, after scoring three defensive and special teams touchdowns against the Texans, holding the Bengals to 23 points on the road, beating the Ravens 13-3, and holding the Saints to 17 points. The context of those games includes a reeling Texans opponent; a Ravens team with Tyler Huntley at quarterback that inexplicably went away from the run while averaging 7.1 yards per tote; 6.9 yards per carry allowed to one of the least efficient backs in the league (looking at you, Joe Mixon); and hosting the Saints in the third coldest game in Browns history in Cleveland. All of that to say, this team is clearly still trying to figure things out offensively and their defense is not performing to the level that perception likely indicates. Expect the Browns to start with a slow pace of play (24th-ranked first half pace of play), elevated rush rates, and a passing game primarily confined to the short areas of the field until otherwise forced, ultimately coming down to how effective the Commanders can be with the change back to Carson Wentz at quarterback.
Nick Chubb has been kept between 50% and 63% of the offensive snaps in 12 of 15 games played this season, with the three outliers coming in a 38-15 blowout loss to the Patriots in Week 6 (44%), a 39-17 blowout loss to the Dolphins in Week 10 (48%), and a 13-3 victory over the Tyler Huntley-led Ravens in Week 15 (70%). Furthermore, Chubb managed more than 4.7 yards per carry in eight of his first nine games this season and has not gone over 4.7 yards per carry in any game since Week 10. Expect the classic 1A/1B snap rate split between Chubb and Kareem Hunt to end the season, with the former likelier to see additional opportunities in neutral to positive game scripts, and the latter likelier to see additional opportunities in negative game scripts. The matchup yields a well below average 4.22 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Washington defense holding opposing backfields to just 4.03 yards per carry this season (10th fewest in the league).
Deshaun Watson has had games of 4.4, 5.8, 6.0, and 6.6 yards per attempt across his four starts this season, highlighting how much the Browns have struggled to attack downfield with Watson under center. The inability to work downfield has translated to Watson relying on the pass catchers that win within the first few yards of the line of scrimmage, which helps to explain the high reliance on both Amari Cooper and David Njoku thus far. Expect that trend to continue this week against one of the more pass-funnel defenses in the league. The Commanders started the season with top 10 man coverage rates but have flipped the script over the second half of the season, running zone coverages at a top 10 rate. The shift in defensive alignments should theoretically serve to filter pass game production to the shorter areas of the field, which already aligns with how the Browns are likeliest to attack through the air. Consider Amari Cooper and David Njoku solid bets to lead the team in targets in what could develop into double-digit target volume. Most notably, Njoku has played 94% of the offensive snaps or more in each of his last three games as a true all-around tight end. Rookie wide receiver David Bell operates primarily from the slot and would be the player likeliest to see his snap rate and role influenced by game environment, with tight end Harrison Bryant likeliest to see variable usage, and Donovan Peoples-Jones operating in an every-down role on the perimeter.