After being completely exposed in the playoffs, the Cleveland Browns offense has focused on creating better spacing and forcing defenses to cover far more ground on every play.
When the Cleveland Browns lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, the biggest takeaway on offense was an overwhelming lack of speed and an inability to beat man coverage. The Browns have made efforts to improve the situation beyond simply getting a healthy Odell Beckham back from a knee injury and Donovan Peoples-Jones continuing to develop as a second year receiver.
The Chiefs were able to play a significant amount of man free, which featured a single high safety over the top while their corners were pressed up across the formation, daring the Browns to throw on them. Everyone else was focused on stifling the Browns running game. The gameplan worked and if not for Baker Mayfield displaying pinpoint accuracy throughout the game, the Browns would have been completely neutered on that side of the ball.\
In the end, David Njoku and Rashard Higgins ended up being the Browns most effective receiving threats in the game. Heading into 2021, Njoku along with Austin Hooper, who had a couple big plays in the playoff game, should continue to be an effective way to move the ball against the Chiefs. They don't really have the manpower to defend them with any consistency.
The Browns added Anthony Schwartz in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft with legitimate track speed. It remains to be seen just how ready he is to contribute, but even if it's only five snaps, it could create an opportunity for the offense.
The Chiefs have not done much to change their defense, focusing much of their energy on rebuilding their offensive line. They have made a few notable moves, replacing corner Breshaud Breeland with Mike Hughes, adding second round rookie Nick Bolton at linebacker and adding Alex Okafor as an additional edge rusher.
Their featured players remain the same. Chris Jones is as good as anyone on the defensive line and was dominant against the Browns in the playoffs. Tyrann Mathieu, who picked off a bad decision by Mayfield is still patrolling the back end of the defense at free safety. Derrick Nnadi is an excellent run stuffer inside and corner L'Jarius Snead, who was an impressive rookie, might be even better in his second year.
Although the Browns were down to their third string left tackle in Blake Hance, that wasn't the problem it might have been up front. Jones, lined up over Wyatt Teller, made a number of impact plays.
With all hands on deck, the Browns should feel confident about their offensive line. Jedrick Wills has added strength and is far more comfortable at left tackle. However, if Chris Jones lines up across from Wills, the Browns may need to line up a tight end next to him to help him.
The biggest difference this year is the Chiefs shouldn't be able to defend the Browns the same way. They aren't going to simply play Beckham man to man with a single safety over the top. He's simply too good. Even if the Chiefs are forced to play two high more consistently with an eye towards helping with Beckham, it's one less players for Chubb to see in the box, which could create running lanes for him and open up their play-action passing game.
Extra attention on Beckham now risks allowing the Browns tight ends or players like Higgins or Jones or Kareem Hunt to find more space to operate. Jones has made significant strides as a receiver and his combination of size and speed could be problematic for opponents. In the divisional round, he was the only Browns receiver with the ability to go vertical and he was a rookie.
One dynamic the Browns should take more advantage of this year is utilizing Kareem Hunt as more of a space player. With the emergence of D'Ernest Johnson as a traditional tailback that can spell Chubb, putting Hunt out in space can create significant matchup problems. Get him the ball and force defensive backs to try to tackle him. In every game the Browns did this, Hunt produced. That doesn't mean Hunt can't play as a tailback, but forcing the defense to be cognizant of where he lines up every play adds stress and could lead to a mistake.
Nothing the Browns are doing should feel new to them even if it might be for everyone else. Everyone they have on the team, save for rookies Schwartz and Demetric Felton, has been there at least a year. It's simply a matter of being healthy and executing like a veteran group. That would improve their chances significantly. Force the Chiefs and every other defense they face to account for a significantly larger percentage of the field and exploit the space.