What Do Advanced Statistics Say About Cleveland Browns' Preseason?

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What Do Advanced Statistics Say About Cleveland Browns' Preseason?
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

The use of advanced analytics has revolutionized the game of baseball and was even the subject of a feature film. Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics were pioneers on the analytics frontier.

The Browns are not necessarily breaking barriers in the NFL, but their use of advanced analytics gives us a glimpse into some of the info that the front office uses when making decisions.

This March, Browns President Alec Scheiner was a panelist at the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. The team also hired Ken Kovash, who is a respected analytics director and worked under Scheiner in Dallas for three seasons. Even Michael Lombardi has been pegged as a “stat geek.”

So let’s dive into the advanced analytics of the Browns’ preseason and see exactly what it tells us. If we’re going to break down the stats, there is no better site to use than ProFootBallFocus.com (subscription required).

Note: ProFootballFocus.com grades each play for what happened AND if that play was a success or failure.

For example: If a defensive end makes a tackle, that is good. If he gets blown off the ball and makes that tackle seven yards down field, that is bad. They analyze every position on every play and come up with individual and total grades for each side of the football. Average is 0.0, negative scores are bad and positive scores are good.

Let’s start with overall grades.

Here is how the offense graded out through the preseason and where they ranked in the league.

Area of offense Overall Offense Pass Offense Rush Offense Pass Blocking Run Blocking Penalty
PFF Grade -9.6 12.4 -4.6 5.4 -24.7 1.9
League Ranking 12th 3rd 28th 14th 25th 22nd

As you can see, the Browns were one of the best in the league through the air. The Saints, Texans, Bengals, Rams and Cowboys, who are all expected to be near the top of the league in passing this season, also graded in the top 10 for passing offense in the preseason. While the pass-blocking grade was mediocre, it still scored in the positive.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The run game is where the concern lies. The Browns have not had a physically intimidating, run-blocking line in quite some time. Obviously, these grades are skewed by Trent Richardson playing so few plays, but the -24.7 run-blocking grade is troublesome.

The good news is that all but one team in the NFL had a negative run-blocking grade during the preseason. That means the dead weight of third and fourth stringers really brought the averages down.

Here is how the defense and special teams graded out through the preseason and where they ranked in the league.

Area of defense Overall defense Run defense Pass rush Pass coverage Penalty Special Teams
PFF Grade 48.5 31.5 8.7 2.2 6.1 12.8
League Ranking 2nd 6th 5th 8th 3rd 12th

Across the board these are phenomenal numbers. Six of the top 15 defensive teams from last season were also in this year's top 10 grades. That list includes Seattle, San Francisco, Baltimore, Green Bay, New York and Pittsburgh. The only defense that graded higher overall than the Browns was the Seahawks'.

For all the worry about the defensive secondary, the Browns were one of only 10 teams in the entire league who scored a positive pass-coverage grade.

Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

 

All those numbers are fun to look at, but they are also skewed by backups who play against other backups. How about first-team players who played against other actual NFL players?

Here are some notable Browns starters, their overall grades and league rankings.

Player name Brandon Weeden Josh Gordon Paul Kruger Quinton Groves Buster Skrine Craig Robertson
Position QB WR OLB OLB CB ILB
PFF Grade 2.7 3.0 5.4 3.3 3.7 3.1
League Ranking 15th 10th 1st 11th 9th 17th

As you can see there were some very good grades for Browns starters with the best being Paul Kruger's No. 1 overall ranking at outside linebacker. Buster Skrine and Craig Robertson were pleasant surprises with performances near the top of the league as well.

Josh Gordon was among some very elite company. Also in or around the top 10 preseason rankings were Andre Johnson, Dez Bryant, T.Y. Hilton, and Demaryius Thomas. Every time that Gordon makes a play, the two-game suspension becomes more frustrating.

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

 

Analytics can also expose the weaknesses within a player's game. While Jordan Cameron posted a staggering 1.4 grade in pass catching, which was sixth best in the NFL at tight end, he also posted the 94th best run-blocking grade at tight end, -2.5.

Why did certain players make the team and other players not? Lets look at undrafted rookie offensive tackle Martin Wallace's 4.3 grade which was 13th best in the league. It may not have won him a spot outright but certainly could have been used as a tiebreaker.

How about journeyman linebacker Tank Carder's 3.5 grade which was 10th best in the league. That too could have been a factor in him making the team.

The analytics can work the other way as well. I would imagine running back Brandon Jackson's -1.4 grade, which placed him 113th in the preseason, did not help his cause.

How about the kickers? Why did the Browns initially cut both Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay? Maybe it was the fact they graded 29th and 32nd, respectively, in the preseason. The bad news, however, is that the odds-on favorite to get the job is Billy Cundiff. He ranked 33rd, one spot behind Bogotay.

Aren't numbers fun?

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