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Cardinals Opponent Outlook: Cleveland Browns Offense

A dive into the top rushing offense in the league and the difficulties that poses for the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cardinals have faced multiple top-tier running backs this season, but this week will be the first matchup with a team that has two: Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Arizona goes on the road to face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, a team with a clear-cut identity and an effective one at that.

"Obviously, they (Cleveland) have a really good offensive line and two good backs and a coaching staff that believes in establishing the run game," Cardinals nose tackle Corey Peters said this week. 

Browns Numbers 

BrownsNumberLeague Rank

Points per Game

28.4

6

Rushes

175

1

Rushing Yards per Carry

5.4

1

Rush DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average)

16.5%

1

Pass Attempts

145

27

Passing DVOA

20%

14

The Browns have the top rushing offense in the NFL in yards, average and DVOA.

The two backs have different styles of play, giving Cleveland a chance to be multidimensional just within their rushing attack. 

"With Chubb, he's a guy who's steady, breaks tackles, this guy makes every cut, he makes every run read correctly and that's tough to conquer because if you make a mistake he's going to find it," Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. 

"Then you add Hunt to the mix, he's a receiver out of the backfield, he makes the same cuts that Chubb makes and they both can make big plays."

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Chubb is slightly bigger and is tied for fourth in the league in broken tackles. But, both backs are difficult to bring down. They are No. 1 and No. 2 in the NFL in yards after contact with Chubb in the top spot.

The Browns have found most of their running success between the tackles.

"Two backs who are extremely talented, can make the runs, can break the tackles, can see the holes, have great vision," Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt said on Thursday. "We've faced some great running backs here already. And there's two more on the docket right here."

Hunt also leads the team in receptions, as Cleveland utilizes a lot of screens and throws to the flat. 

Cleveland runs 13-personnel (three tight ends) more than any other team in the league by a wide margin. Not only is this for blocking, but Cleveland's tight ends have been heavily involved as pass-catchers. 

David Njoku and Austin Hooper are second and fourth on the team in receptions, and Njoku leads in receiving yards with 260. 

Quarterback Baker Mayfield is not among the league leaders statistically, but he has been accurate with a 67% completion percentage and has been mindful of turnovers.

He has the ninth-lowest interception rate among qualified quarterbacks. 

Here is his Week 5 chart from Next Gen Stats:

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pass-chart_MAY483453_2021-REG-5_1633929649995

He passed for 305 yards against the Chargers, but 195 came after the catch as 14 throws were within five yards. 

The offense has moved with him as more of a game manager-type this year. 

"If you don't respect the guy as a passer, he can hurt you," Joseph said. "He's fairly athletic, moving around pretty good. He's being smart with the ball, not giving the ball away and that's critical. All quarterbacks in the league should be somewhat of a game manager because the ball is so important."

The Browns have abundant playmakers, and a big part of their offense is feeding those weapons in space. Specifically, Cleveland's screen game has been tremendous. 

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The Cardinals have done well against power runs this year and have one of the highest stuff rates in the NFL at 22%. 

The issues have been gap discipline and limiting the runs that keep the chains moving. 

Arizona allowed the second-most yards per rush at 5.4 over the first five weeks, and it has surrendered the fourth-most first-down runs. 

A healthy Browns team is a natural matchup issue for the Cardinals. But, Peters and Watt are confident that the unit is making strides in run defense.

"It's a work in progress and we still got to continue to work hard to get where we need to be, but I think we're moving in the right direction," Peters said. 

Cleveland is 3-2 this year and has scored 29 points or more three times. 

However, there have been some shortcomings late in games. Against the Vikings in Week 4, Cleveland scored three second-half points, but the defense held on for a 14-7 win. 

Mayfield struggled mightily down the field in that game. 

Last week the Browns had 15 fourth-quarter points, but could not score in the two-minute drill while trailing on the final possession. The Chargers beat them 47-42.

The Cardinals know their objective. The Browns are an easier team to game-plan for because of their clear offensive objectives. 

But planning and execution are different, and this game will test the Cardinals discipline and tackling ability perhaps more than earlier games. 

But . . .

A wrinkle thrown into this week's matchup is injuries. 

Chubb and Hunt missed the first two days of practice for the week with calf and wrist/knee injuries, respectively. Three starting offensive linemen also missed Thursday's practice: center J.C. Tretter and tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr.