Nearing the final stretch of the regular season, the Browns are sitting at 9-3 and are in strong possession of the top AFC Wild Card spot. With the Steelers’ loss on Monday, even a division title is not entirely out of the question. This Browns’ team has shown they have the ability to make the plays necessary to win games against quality opponents even when not playing their best football for four quarters. Still, this Browns team is far from perfect. There are clear gaps in the depth chart that, when filled, could be the difference between good and great for this team in the future.
The Browns offense is stacked with star power; they have one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks averaging over 150 yards per game behind a very strong offensive line. Both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are Pro-Bowl level players and are undoubtedly the lifeblood of this Cleveland team. Even with Odell Beckham Jr. out for the season, the Browns receiving corp has remained solid with WR Jarvis Landry, WR Rashard Higgins and even WR Donovan Peoples-Jones proving to be reliable targets for Baker, each with playmaking ability of their own. Moving forward, GM Andrew Berry could seek to add depth at the position, but it is by no means a crucial need at this point. At tight end, both Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant have made big catches, especially in short-yardage and red-zone situations. The biggest question for the Browns offense thus far has been the quarterback position; Baker Mayfield has been all but consistent but has played well enough to get the team where they are now. With back-to-back quality starts against Jacksonville and Tennessee, though, Mayfield seems to be stepping up as the leader fans expect him to be. Overall, the Browns offense is great on paper and has shown the ability to light up opposing defenses when running on all cylinders. The majority of their needs lie on defense, where the unit is largely inexperienced and struggles to play a complete game of football.
The Browns allow almost 27 points per game and are one of the only teams in the league with a positive record despite having a negative point differential. Their strength is without a doubt their defensive line. DE Myles Garrett is tied for third in sacks (10.5) and others like DT Sheldon Richardson, DT Larry Ogonjobi and DE Olivier Vernon being a force against the run. At linebacker, though, the Browns are very inexperienced. B.J. Goodson and Mack Wilson are by no means bad players, but the Browns defense is in need of a strong middle linebacker to bring aggression and strength to the unit as a whole.
The secondary is another glaring need, especially at the safety position. CB Denzel Ward has proven to be one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, but he has struggled with injury issues. Ward’s recent injury as well as the loss of safety Ronnie Harrison have greatly weakened the pass defense, which was already thin from preseason injuries to CB Grant Delpit and CB Greedy Williams. FS Andrew Sendejo, while a solid tackler, is a liability in pass coverage and should not be looked at as more than a reserve player in the long run. S Karl Joseph and CB Terrence Mitchell are okay players but haven’t shown the ability to be more than that. A ball-hawking safety would greatly aid this unit moving forward, a role that can hopefully be filled by Delpit next season as well as being further strengthened through the draft.
Despite these deficits, though, the Browns defense has shown the ability to step up to the challenge when needed and has played a major role in their 9-3 record so far. As a unit, they are tied for third in turnovers with seven and were able to hold RB Derrick Henry to just 60 yards in Sunday’s win. Their struggles have mostly come in the second half of games as they tend to soften and allow teams to come within reach in games that should be blowouts. They lack identity and tend to rely too much on the “bend but not break” philosophy, a quality which could certainly hurt the team come time for the playoffs if not changed soon.
All of this being said, all that matters at the end of the day is wins and losses. In a league where the gap between the good and bad teams continues to grow, the Browns find themselves on pace to finish with their best record since returning in 1999 and will likely clinch their first playoff berth since the 2002 season. HC Kevin Stefanski should absolutely be in the Coach of the Year conversation showing great leadership and play-calling ability. They have shown many signs of greatness through the first three-quarters of the season and could truly establish themselves as one of the NFL’s best teams in the coming weeks with crucial divisional games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh left to be played. This is undoubtedly the strongest team the Browns have had in decades and as fans, we should all prepare for a wild ride as the 2020 regular season nears its end and the sight of the playoffs grows larger on the horizon.
(All statistics from ESPN.)
(Photo via Cleveland Browns.)