Browns-Titans: Number Crunch

Doug Farrar from FootballOutsiders.com again brings his statistical wizardry to bear...

Well, that was … fun. The Cleveland Browns have now avoided the end zone for eight straight quarters, wasted an unusually productive performance by their defense against the Colts, lost their second Alleged Franchise Quarterback for the season in as many weeks, and only the Cincinnati Bengals provide padding at the bottom of the AFC North. Seemingly everyone on the coaching staff and in the front office is under various levels of fire, and a season filled with promise when it began has become a figurative dead parrot.

This, of course, would be a really, really bad time to head out on the road and visit a truly great team. So it stands to reason that the Browns would be readying themselves for a date at LP Field with the Tennessee Titans, the last team to lose a game in the 2008 season (they've lost just the one), and the prohibitive favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Browns will be taking this juggernaut with several positional uncertainties, and the least amount of offensive firepower they've had all season. So, is there a point in playing this game at all, or should we just apply the mercy rule now and watch old Martyball highlights instead?

That's why they play the games, and why we go inside the numbers. And awayyyyyy we go…

 

TEAM

TOTAL
DVOA

 

RANK

 

LAST
WEEK

OFFENSE
DVOA

OFF.
RANK

DEFENSE
DVOA

DEF.
RANK

S.T.
DVOA

S.T.
RANK

CLE

-10.4%

24

25

-7.7%

25

7.8%

18

5.1%

3

TEN

30.2%

4

3

9.5%

14

-19.3%

4

1.4%

13

Not unlike the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Bucs, the Titans are led by a conservative offense and a rabid defense. Veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, who fell in the Super Bowl to those Ravens, is on the other side this time. He currently ranks 14th in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards above Replacement) among quarterbacks with a relatively anonymous receiver corps. Then again, his leading receiver won't drop more footballs than the number on his jersey this season, so he's got that going for him. Still, the real threat for teams facing the Titans is the ground game.

Cleveland defense vs. Tennessee offense

 

TEAM

OFFENSE
DVOA

RANK

LAST WEEK

PASS
OFFENSE

PASS
RANK

RUSH
OFFENSE

RUSH
RANK

TEN

9.5%

14

12

15.8%

10

4.0%

11

TEAM

DEFENSE
DVOA

RANK

LAST

WEEK

PASS
DEFENSE

PASS
RANK

RUSH
DEFENSE

RUSH
RANK

CLE

7.8%

18

20

17.9%

21

-0.5%

19

Running backs LenDale White and Chris Johnson are "Slash and Dash", and Johnson's been the headache for every defense he's faced in his rookie year. His 4.24-40 Combine speed translates 100 percent to the field, he's got a taste for inside running uncommon for backs under six feet and 200 pounds, and he can run a screen upfield just as easily as he can blow past a linebacker. White, who made it through USC on a Burger King scholarship, is the goal-line threat (he's tied with Atlanta's Michael Turner for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with 13) with surprising speed – a bit like Jamal Lewis with a little extra padding. Tennessee's offensive line, conversant with as many different blocking schemes as you'd like, is the most underrated aspect of this team. The Titans have allowed eight sacks, tied with Denver for the league lead, and they rank first in Adjusted Sack Rate.

Cleveland defensive DVOA vs. receivers

 

TEAM

vs. #1 WR (Rank)

vs. #2 WR (Rank)

vs. Other WR (Rank)

vs. TE

(Rank)

vs. RB (Rank)

CLE

4.1%

20

39.6%

27

-21.1%

11

-6.4%

14

-19.2%

2

Johnson and tight end Bo Scaife are the Titans' leading receivers, which is good news for a Cleveland defense that does best against those positions. Brandon Jones leads the team in receptions and DYAR, though he has only 34 of the former and he ranks 41st in the latter.

Cleveland offense vs. Tennessee defense

TEAM

OFFENSE
DVOA

RANK

LAST

WEEK

PASS
OFFENSE

PASS
RANK

RUSH
OFFENSE

RUSH
RANK

CLE

-7.7

25

25

-13.2%

26

-1.7%

18

 

TEAM

DEFENSE
DVOA

RANK

LAST

WEEK

PASS
DEFENSE

PASS
RANK

RUSH
DEFENSE

RUSH
RANK

 

TEN

-19.3

4

4

-27.3%

2

-9.4%

8

 

Here's where things get problematic. It will be up to Ken Dorsey to make the Titans play them honest, avoiding eight in the box. Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Jim Schwarz have a ridiculous number of elite weapons on this side of the ball. There's MVP candidate Albert Haynesworth, one of many elite AFC defensive tackles, though Haynesworth may command more blocking allotment than anyone else at his position. When the Titans beat the Vikings earlier this season, I saw three Vikings linemen holding Haynesworth up at the point. This makes like easier for tackle Tony Brown and ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse. With that front four and a dynamic group of linebackers focused on Jamal Lewis, and able to test Cleveland's offensive line, Dorsey will have to find a way to make them back off.


Tennessee defensive DVOA vs. receivers

 

TEAM

vs. #1 WR (Rank)

vs. #2 WR (Rank)

vs. Other WR (Rank)

vs. TE

(Rank)

vs. RB (Rank)

TEN

-33.8%

2

-18.6%

6

-27.6%

6

-6.8%

13

-13.1%

6


If Dorsey can put the Titans on their heels somehow, he'll have to navigate what might be the NFL's best secondary without his starting tight end (though Steve Heiden is just about as productive as the injured Kellen Winslow, according to our numbers), and the infinite mystery that is Braylon Edwards. In a word, yikes.


How will the game go?

Well, we know how the game SHOULD go, at least on paper. But how can the Browns win? Certainly they would need to take advantage of their ability to stop running backs and tight ends in the passing game, and the more they can funnel the run inside to Shaun Rogers, the better. Rogers, for his part, will need to get better push on Kevin Mawae than he did on surprising Colts center Jamey Richard last week. They must exploit their special teams advantage – field position will be key against that Tennessee defense. And the offensive line will have to block with more power than it's known for.

It's a difficult, but not impossible, task. After all, who expected this team to beat the Giants? Another team with great lines, a killer running game, and a solid quarterback fell to the Browns in Week 6. Then, it was a secondary that picked off three Eli Manning passes, Edwards making big plays, and an offense so efficient, the Browns didn't have to punt at all in a game for the first time since 1995. It was the highest DVOA game for the offense in passing (126.6%) and rushing (59.9%) offense by fairly wide margins. That leaves the Browns with the following forecast for Sunday's game: Difficult, but not impossible.



Doug Farrar is a Staff Writer for Football Outsiders, a Panelist for the Washington Post, and a contributor to the Seattle Times and Scout.com. Feel free to e-mail him here.


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