Remember the good old days of Giants football where the run game ruled supreme and the passing game filled in the blanks? That’s the kind of football the Browns offense has played this year.
The Browns have put up 83 points in their last two games, the best stretch over that period in the league.
Cleveland has leaned heavily on its one-two rushing attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt this year, similar to how the Giants used to rely heavily on the duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. The Browns have run the ball 416 times for 2,031 yards (third in the league, 4.9 yards/carry) and have passed the ball just 389 times this season for 2,923 yards.
The main man in the rotation is Chubb (150 carries for 879 yards, 9 touchdowns). Chubb returned to the lineup in Week 10 after missing Weeks 5-9 with a knee injury and looked no worse for the wear, recording three of his five 100-yard performances since returning.
Chubb is a hard runner who typically picks up the bulk of his yards after the initial contact, where he’s averaging 4.09 yards/carry, the fifth-best average in the NFL. His 5.9 yards per rushing attempt is fourth-best in the league.
Hunt is a solid No. 2 running back who is more of the combo guy—the runner and receiving threat from the backfield. He’s averaging 4.4 yards per rushing attempt and has 41 first downs and 27 runs of 10+ yards. As a receiver, Hunt leads the backs with 252 receiving yards and has a 75.6% reception rate to go with 17 first downs, 17 broken tackles, and five touchdown receptions.
Speaking of the running game, Cleveland has a solid offensive coached by Bill Callahan, arguably the business's best offensive line coach. Center J.C. Tretter and left guard Joel Bittonio rank in the top 10 of PFF’s offensive linemen who have taken at least 80% of their team’s snaps in terms of pressures allowed.
Speaking of which, left tackle Jedrick Wills, their first-round draft pick has the fewest pressures allowed out of the six eligible tackles who have played in 80% of the snaps.
This unit isn’t just good in run-blocking; it’s been a solid group in pass protection. The starters and reserves have allowed just 66 total quarterback pressures this year. To put that into perspective, Giants rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas has allowed 51 alone, and the Giants offensive line as a unit 168.
The pass protection is good news for quarterback Baker Mayfield. Statistically speaking, Mayfield isn’t having his best season statistically speaking. Still, the reliance n the run game has led to a sharp reduction in times he’s had to throw the ball, which has resulted in more efficient play.
In his first two seasons, Mayfield attempted 486 and 534 passes, no doubt a result of the Browns often being behind. This year, he’s attempted just 374, and that has allowed his touchdown percentage (6.1%) to rise and his interception percentage (2.1%) to drop significantly from his first two years' totals.
However, if there is a flaw to Mayfield’s game, he’ll sometimes try to force balls into windows that aren’t there.
Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has done an excellent job this year of designing schemes that have confused potential MVP candidates like Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. So it’s certainly fair to think that if the Giants can fluster Mayfield, who at times lacks patience, into making a mistake.
Mayfield’s top receiver has been Jarvis Landry, who has played 53.1% of his receiving snaps from the slot, where he’ll likely see a lot of rookie Xavier McKinney assuming Darnay Holmes doesn’t play again this weekend.
The Browns have made use of Landry on trick plays at least once over the last several weeks, be it an end-around, a flea-flicker, and screens. Landry is four of four for 74 yards this season with one touchdown, so the Giants will need to be on their toes this weekend for a possible trick play.
The other receivers in the wheel are Rashard Higgins, who has caught 31 balls on 41 pass targets for 468 yards and four touchdowns, and deep threat rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones, who has 10 receptions for 238 yards and two scores. Higgins and Peoples-Jones stand 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2 respectively and are very physical types who are not easy to jam.
Rounding out the Browns offensive attack are the tight ends, including Austin Hooper, David Njoku, and rookie Harrison Bryant. Hooper leads the tight ends in receptions with 30 for 286 yards, followed by Bryant, but for the most part, the tight ends aren’t featured in the Browns’ passing game.