Statistics Reveal Browns To Be A Dangerous But Confusing Team

Statistics often provide valid information. It's fact-based.

Fact: Cleveland surrenders less passing yards per game than every team in the NFL except Pittsburgh.

Taken on its own, one might fear the Browns defense. However, one must also look for further evidence to provide context behind that statistic.

Another fact: Cleveland has allowed more rushing attempts than every team in the league except Indianapolis.

Chicken, meet egg. Which of you came first? Is Cleveland's statistically stingy pass defense due to their inability to stop the run, or do teams run the ball against them because their pass defense is dominant?

In perhaps the most bizarre stat in this season's offensive explosion is the fact the league's bottom three teams in scoring defense, Indianapolis (27.4), Minnesota (28.8) and Tampa Bay (29.9), all of them allow less yards a game than Green Bay (400.7) and New England (412.1), the current No. 1 seeds in each conference.

Clearly, this shows scoring defense is more important, which isn't exactly breaking news. What may weird you out, though, is the fact Cleveland has the league's sixth-ranked scoring defense, allowing 19.1 points a game.

The Browns allow 330 yards a game, 10th lowest in the league. They aren't penalized often (80 this year, 23rd in the league) and they have a decent third down conversion rate (39.3 percent, 13th in the NFL). They've got a donut in turnover differential, which isn't great, but isn't terrible, either.

So what is it?

The Cleveland Browns are proof that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Their offense has scored 20 touchdowns this season, third-lowest in the league, tied with Jacksonville and ahead of Kansas City (17) and St. Louis (13). Their 29:49 in time of possession is 23rd in the league.

What's dangerous about a team like Cleveland is, statistically, one turnover more than their opponent could be enough for a win. In 15 games this year, eight have been decided by a touchdown or less. Cleveland is 3-5 in those games. In their current five-game losing streak, they're allowing 20 points a game, which is a shade above their regular season total, but they're scoring just under 13 points a game, which is a full point per game lower than their season average.

One extra possession could make the difference in a must-win game for the Steelers, if they wish to compete for the AFC's top seed - a spot the Steelers could still get.

So how does Cleveland's popgun offense come up with that one extra possession? For one thing, it helps they're playing a team with a -12 turnover differential. The Steelers aren't particularly inclined to take the ball away from their opponent unless a kick is involved. Perhaps more than that, the Browns can approach the game like that annoying friend in Madden who refuses to punt even though the situation clearly calls for one (4th-and-12 from his 23-yard line). It's tough to game-plan for insanity.

St. Louis ran a great punt fake last week, and Steelers Pro Bowl KR Antonio Brown had to make a great tackle to prevent the first down. Their punter ran for 24 yards before he was tackled. St. Louis also had nothing to lose. Perhaps Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur is going to simply go unorthodox on the Steelers, and run nothing but gadget plays. When they only allow 20 points a game, but can only score 12, triple reverses and halfback passes along with two-point conversions very well could be in the cards.

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