All posts by Paul Duncan

Crash Course in Analytics

With the Browns filling there office with “analytics” guys like Sashi Brown and Jonah Hills’ character in Moneyball Paul Depodesta I feel many Browns fans are wondering what football analytics is and how it could help the Browns win. For one I consider myself somewhat of an expert on these stats as I have been reading books about sports stats and advanced measures ever since my tutor gave me the Bill James baseball abstracts from the mid 80s back when I was freshman in high school six years ago. From those books I learned how to answer questions about sports with stats and figures and learned the pros and cons of using certain stats to answer questions. For example, example you wouldn’t say that Carlos Santana is better baseball player than Jason Kipnis because Santana has hit more RBIs because RBI chance vary for different players in different lineup. Instead you would want to use multiple other stats or stats that are adjusted so that they aren’t affected by teammates performance.

To understand football analytics the first thing that you should understand is that all yards aren’t created equal. Odds are you already understand this as getting 5 yards on a 3rd and 4 helps the team more than getting those 5 yards when it’s 3rd and 11. The only issue is when looking at the boxscore you can only tell the total yardage and not when those yards occurred or what the value of them are. A better way of looking at plays is not just looking at the yardage but looking at how the play affected the teams chances of scoring on the drive and how the play impacted the the teams odds of winning the game.

The first stat that is critical to understanding football analytics is expected points added. Expected points added is based off the research and models of former navy pilot Brian Burke. Burke went back and looked play by play data going back years and determined how many points on average the value in points of any down and distances at any part of the field. In Burke’s own words:

“For example, if we look at all 1st and 10s from an offense’ own 20-yard line, the team on offense will score next slightly more often than its opponent. If we add up all the ‘next points’ scored for and against the offense’s team, whether on the current drive or subsequent drives, we can estimate the net point advantage an offense can expect for any football situation. For a 1st and 10 at an offense’s own 20, it’s +0.4 net points, and at the opponent’s 20, it’s +4.0 net points. These net point values are called Expected Points (EP), and every down-distance-field position situation has a corresponding EP value.”

With this model you can calculate how many expected points a player made by looking at the teams expected points before and comparing it with the expected points after. This difference is what determines the players value. The good thing about this stat is that you can guess how many points within reason a players passing, rushing and receiving contribution is. The only issue with it is that it doesn’t take into account when the points were scored.

The next stat that I feel is essential to understanding football analytics is win probability added.

Browns Hope to Spoil the Steelers Season

 (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

While most 3-12 teams don’t have many reasons to play hard in week 17, the Browns have plenty of incentive to give their last game of the season everything they have.

First the Browns are going against their biggest rival in a game where they have the chance to keep them out of the playoffs. Second rumors are running rampant that Ray Farmer and or Mike Pettine could get fired, so players will go all out to help their coach, and put more good plays on tape for the potential new staff to look at.

There are some other factors that could keep this game close as the Steelers struggle on the road and they have a porous defense.

When the Browns have the ball:

The Browns are going to need to attack the Steelers through the air as they struggle in pass defense. One player to watch in the Steelers defensive backfield is corner Antwon Blake who is on pace to allow more receiving yards than any corner in Pro Football Focus’ records (since 2007). Odds are even Austin Davis can find ways to exploit this secondary. The Steelers run defense is better than average, so establishing the run could prove challenging. Overall, I feel that the Browns have enough firepower to put 20 or more points against the Steelers. After all Ryan Mallett, Buck Allen, and Kamar Aiken were able to.

When the Steelers have the ball:

The Browns need to get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger if they’re going to have any chance. Tramon Williams and Charles Gaines stand no chance against Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton  and Martavis Bryant if Big Ben has a clean pocket. Last time these two teams played the Browns did a good job limiting DeAngelo Williams to only 54 yards. Perhaps the Browns can duplicate those results.

Prediction:

Steelers look rusty again (as they normally do against lousy opponents) but the Browns give up some late touchdowns and lose in some typical Cleveland Brown-like way.

Steelers 26 Browns 24

All I want for Christmas: Browns Edition

It’s the holiday season and children everywhere where will be making lists of all the things they want for Christmas. Some of these lists are short and others are longer than a government document. The Browns list is far more like the latter as they have many holes now and could be losing some key players to free agency. So in theme of lists (I love lists!!!!!) here’s a look at what I believe to be what the Browns and their fans what put on their Christmas list.

1. Josh Gordon to return to 2013 form. Number one for me was an easy pick with Manziel showing enough signs of being a quarterback that can turn this team around. Having Josh Gordon back and focused gives the Browns a dynamic play-maker. Plus if we retain future free agent Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge stays healthy Johnny Manziel will have an arsenal capable of putting a chill down the spine of opposing defenses.

2. Our offensive line to be fixed for next year. One of the most perplexing things about this team is figuring out how good the Browns O-Line is. Pro Football Focus has been adamant that the Browns offensive line has been good and that been issues are with the rest of the team are responsible for the offenses shortcomings. Others look at our high sack rate and sky-high rate of being stuffed and put it more on the O-line. Regardless, Mitchell Schwartz will be a free agent after the season. Schwartz is one of the best pass protecting right tackle in the NFL and could command a 7-9 million dollar a year contract. Alex Mack if he wants to can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. He could get more on the open market than the 8 million that’d he’d get if he stays with the Browns. The Browns knew this and drafted a Cameron Erving, a versatile lineman who could replace either if they left. Sadly Erving has been playing terribly lately and is not giving the fans any reason to believe that he can replace them without a significant dip in production. The offensive line has more complex parts than Santa’s workshop, and the Browns really hope they can figure it out, because a poor offensive line can hold back and otherwise competent offense.

3. A clean bill of health for Joe Haden. It’s been a tough year for Joe Haden injury wise. He started out the year with a bum hamstring and only got worse when he broke his finger and had a rib contusion. Then against the Ravens he suffered a concussion and has not seen the field since. Having Joe Haden come back healthy is the first step in making the pass defense worthy of the nickname Lock-down at the Lake.

4. Our young defensive players to continue improving. Danny Shelton started out the year a little slow but has shown more recently. Xavier Cooper is showing promise as a rotational defensive lineman. Armonty Bryant has had some really good games and has shown flashes of being a good pass rusher. And finally Christian Kirksey has shown he can do many things at the linebacker position. If these players can develop in to quality starters our defense will be greatly improved for next year.

4 Reasons the Browns May Win

Throughout the season I have always done my best to remain positive and focus on the reasons the Browns could do well. Today I’m doing the same thing, but because no sane person would pick the Browns to beat the streaking Seahawks, I’m giving myself a little handicap. I’m looking for 4 reasons the Browns may win against the +14.5 spread.

1. The Seahawks don’t have a running back. After Thomas Rawls went down last week with a broken ankle the only remaining running backs on the roster are third down back Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, and the newly signed Christine Michael. One of the main strengths of the Seattle Offense has been their ability to move the ball on the ground but injuries may not allow them take advantage of the Browns poor run D. Plus it is very hard to run up the score and cover large spreads without a solid running game.

2. The Browns pass rush has stepped up immensely. Last week the Browns sacked 49er QB Blaine Gabbert 9 times and young players like Nate Orchard, Armonty Bryant, and Xavier Cooper accounted for half of them. These young players could give the Seattle O-Line, which has allowed the third most sacks, plenty of trouble. Russell Wilson has been performing great over the past 4 games mostly because he hasn’t been pressured. If Orchard and Bryant can generate pressure we can do what the Vikings and Ravens couldn’t, which is stay within 14 points.

3. Gary Barnidge presents problems Seattle hasn’t dealt with. Seattle’s defense is very solid and should be able to stifle our practically weaponless offense. Luckily for us though Seattle usually allows lots of receptions to TEs. Plus Kam Chancellor is questionable which could give Gary Barnidge more space to make plays.

4. Johnny Manziel presents unique challenges for any defense, Seattle is very good at hindering QBs but they haven’t gone against a QB with his mobility since Cam Newton put up . Manziel’s play-making could be the key to creating big plays to keep the game close. If all these things happen and the Browns play a clean game we can keep within 2 touchdowns of the mighty Seattle Seahawks.

 

What I'd Do With The Browns

The Browns are now 2-9 and officially done with the playoffs, many fans have thrown in the

Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns passes against the New York Jets during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on September 13, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets won 31-10. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns passes against the New York Jets during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on September 13, 2015 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets won 31-10. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)

towel and are hoping we tank for a number one pick. I for one think tanking for a better draft pick is disrespectful to the leaders and veterans on the team.

Plus a lot of the teams that look to be a top the draft board, (Tennessee, Dallas, San Diego, Baltimore) are not in the market for QBs. It seems very likely a QB like Paxton Lynch or Jared Goff could be available to us at the 3rd to 5th pick. So now with tanking out of the question here is my plan for the rest of the season.

1.  Start Duke Johnson at running back! Isaiah Crowell has been an absolute disaster as a RB. Right now he is last in the NFL among qualified runners in with 2.9 yards per attempt. The advanced stats do not treat him in any better as he last in the NFL in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and Defense-adjusted Value over Average (DVOA) stats from Football Outsiders. Johnson has done better than Crow in all ares and he deserves to keep moving forward as our starter.

2. Play Austin Davis now but do not be reluctant to hand the keys to Johnny Manziel. Manziel had the job and lost it by lying about his partying. As a twenty year old college kid I sympathize with him a bit. Partying, getting drunk, and listening to Future at the club is quite fun honestly. The only difference is I’m not getting paid 1.8 million dollars to lead a professional football team.

This is the reason that I’d keep Manziel on the bench until Davis shows that he is not the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win. And perhaps Davis is a good quarterback, he seems to have a great attitude and has starting experience with the Rams. Perhaps he can bud into a decent QB with us.

3. Fire Jim O’Neill! We have the highest paid defense in terms of percent of team salary, yet we are the worst at stopping the run and second worst at keeping teams out of the end-zone. After this I would try to get younger guys like Nate Orchard and Ibraheim Campbell into the rotation more to see what kind of value they’ll hold in the future.

In the off-season my main goal would be to figure out if the Browns have a chance to go to the playoffs with either Manziel, Davis, or even McCown. If I don’t think these guys are capable of doing that I’d take a QB in the first round.

It’s still too early to tell which QB would be worth taking as every top guy has some key weaknesses but I’m sure some one will emerge as a top 5 pick. If I feel that one of these guys can take me to the playoffs my number one target is Joey Bosa. Now keep in mind I am not an OSU fan by any means, but I know that Joey Bosa has the capability to boost our run defense and our pass rush. Other options include upgrading our secondary by taking CB/S Jalen Ramsey of FSU or CB Vernon Hargreaves out of Florida. If I don’t feel that Josh Gordon is focused on football Laquon Treadwell would be a great option to help bolster the receiving corps which has been our weakness since Braylon Edwards decided to stink.

 

Browns Hope To Beat Rival Steelers

It’s Steelers week, the one of the weeks each season we stop thinking about which quarterbacks we should

 Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers gets wrapped up by Donte Whitner #31 of the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 12, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers gets wrapped up by Donte Whitner #31 of the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 12, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

draft next year and pray the Browns can beat the Steelers and hurt their playoff odds. This year’s contest should be interesting because Ben Roethlisberger and Josh McCown are questionable for the game, which could lead to an unpredictable outcome.

When the Browns have the ball:

Pittsburgh’s defense has been declining in recent years, and this year is no different. They sometimes show the dominance of old like against the Cardinals, but often have major defensive meltdowns like last week when they gave up 35 points against a young but explosive Raider’s attack. Perhaps we can have somewhat similar success.  If McCown starts, the biggest thing the Browns need to do is keep him upright, which could prove difficult with the injury to stud left guard Joel Bitonio.

First round pick Cameron Erving will likely replace him though he didn’t look that great in the Bengals game.  If McCown is healthy he should have no problem slinging against a very poor secondary. Barnidge and Benjamin could have great days. If Manziel plays, as reports seem to indicate, the key is to get the running game going. The Robert Turbin experiment failed so I’m hoping that we can see more of Duke Johnson the runner, since we already have seen enough of the Crow. If we can establish the run we can let Johnny scramble a bit on play action rollouts. Hopefully Johnny can make exciting plays outside the pocket without taking humongous hits in the process. This is another big thing as we don’t want to see Manziel get hurt.

When the Steelers have the ball:

Like usual I expect the opposing team to be able to run all over us. DeAngelo Williams proved to me that he wasn’t washed up like I thought before the season began. He has actually been one of the most dynamic and consistent runners in the game when playing.

In passing situations Landry Jones has proven to be a competent quarterback and an excellent one when throwing to Antonio Brown. Joe Haden and Donte Whitner are still questionable but if they play they will be hungry to stop their longtime rival, Brown.  If Big Ben plays odds are it will only be worse for Cleveland, as Roethlisberger always finds a new way to gouge our defense.

Special Teams:

The Steelers seem to have finally found a kicker that they trust in Chris Boswell who has only missed one field goal all year-long. Like our own Travis Coons he is still untested on long field goals. The Browns do have an edge in punting as Andy Lee has proven himself to be a great punter despite last weeks performance. The Steelers coverage teams seem strong but when you have a good returner like Travis Benjamin anything could happen.

Prediction:

With all of the uncertainty regarding the injured QBs I decided to give four predictions for the price of one!

McCown vs Roethlisberger– 31-24 Steelers- Big Ben is too good to overcome.

McCown vs Landry Jones 27-21 Browns- Really our only shot of winning.

Manziel vs Roethlisberger 34-14 Steelers- I’m just not sold on Johnny being a legitimate starting QB. Especially with the lack of weapons on the offense.

Manziel vs Landry Jones 24- 17 Steelers-Landry Jones seems to have found his groove with Antonio Brown.

Browns Trying to Avoid a Disaster

I did my best, readers. In writing these previews I always tried to keep my head up and look at the positives, well I can’t anymore. I honestly feel this game could be the worst Browns game played since Bruce Gradkowki started for us.

When the Browns have the ball:

 Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns signals to the sidelines during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 1, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns signals to the sidelines during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 1, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

It is going to be really tough for Johnny Manziel to get anything going against this defense for a number of reasons. First, Manziel will be without receivers Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins. This leaves Manziel only Benjamin, Gabriel, and Dwayne Bowe to throw to. Second, the Bengals defense is quite good at playing defense, only allowing 18.9 points per game. And finally, I just don’t think Manziel is good enough to move the ball especially since the running game is anemic. The offensive line was struggling to protect McCown, who has been  doing nicely under pressure. Manziel on the other hand has yet to show he can make good decisions, and often turns the ball over under heat. This team will struggle to put up more than 14 points this Thursday night.

When the Bengals have the ball:

The Bengals should be able to torch our secondary that will be with out Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, and perhaps without Tashaun Gipson. Unlike previous years, Andy Dalton has all of weapons healthy and ready. A.J Green, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert will be able to force favorable match-ups and they all have big play ability. In addition to there passing attack the Bengals possess a two-headed rushing attack that could demolish the Browns league worst rushing defense. The Bengals should be able to score quickly and easily this Thursday.

Prediction:

In a performance that will make Mike Pettine’s and Ray Farmer’s seat a lot hotter, the Browns will lose to the Bengals 38-9 partly due to four

Manziel turnovers.

Browns Look to End their Losing Streak

The Cleveland Browns enter week 8 on a two game losing streak and their playoff chances are looking as bad as Jeb Bush’s debate performance last night. The Rams game looked like a textbook performance from those numerous Browns teams that have finished in the 4 to 5 win range. The mistake prone offense could not buy a big play while the defense wore down as the game went on. The schedule will only get harder as they welcome the current first place team in the NFC West.

The Arizona Cardinals escaped the Ravens’ furious 4th quarter comeback to come away with another of their one-possession wins that has become a trademark of Bruce Arians’ coaching reign since 2012. Speaking of the Coach Who Wears That Funny Hat at Press Conferences, here’s a trivia question: who was the Brown’s defensive coordinator the last time they made the playoffs? That’s right. It’s the immortal Foge Fazio. He has absolutely nothing to do with this article. He just has a super cool alliterative name. Bruce Arians on the other hand, was the offensive architect of that one non-embarrassing Browns year. His Air-Coryell style passing strategy coupled with an unspectacular single-back rushing attack (remember William Green) have been trademarks of his offenses for two decades. He helped Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb look like decent quarterbacks at times. True to form today, the key for the Browns will be how they will stop the top rated Cards passing attack. The biggest matchup will be how the suddenly healthy secondary matches up to the three-headed receiver monster of John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, and Michael Floyd. Will K’Waun Williams follow the much larger Fitzgerald in his new slot position or stick to the much smaller John Brown no matter where he lines up? The Browns do match up very well against the Cardinals offense and the defense has had two much better performances in a row. With Haden, Robertson and Gipson looking to return to the starting lineup, the D is trending upward.

The offense on the other hand, is going in the opposite direction. Defenses have figured out the McCown enigma, cracking the code with heavy blitzes. This makes perfect sense as McCown is one of the league leaders in holding onto balls for too long (insert Liberace joke here). The Cardinals love to send the house as well, leaving their talented and versatile secondary led by the Honey Badger (who doesn’t care) to make plays. Anyway, it will be rough treading for the aerial attack. Is this the week that Robert Turbin becomes the number one back in terms of carries and Crowell sees his role drastically reduced? I see a low scoring affair that is decided by the last defensive team to create a turnover.

Final Score: Cardinals 18, Browns 16

Note: Thanks to my good friend Luke Ackerman for writing this piece. I had a finance exam to study for so I thought it would fun to let my old blogging partner write a preview for me this week! Hope you enjoyed it!

Browns Look for Consistency vs. the Rams

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 18, 2015: Quarterback Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns throws a pass during a game against the Denver Broncos on October 18, 2015 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – OCTOBER 18, 2015: Quarterback Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns throws a pass during a game against the Denver Broncos on October 18, 2015 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Josh McCown came back to earth last week against Denver and failed to take advantage of all the turnovers created by Cleveland’s defense. This week the Browns take on the Rams coming off their bye week.

When the Browns have the ball:

The Browns number one threat to moving the ball against St. Louis is the Rams insane defensive line. This defensive line excels at generating pressure and stopping the run. As of late of offensive line has shown some improvement as a unit in pass protection and knowing which man to pick up (besides that Shaquil Barrett strip sack last week, that was really bad) but they will be challenged to keep McCown’s jersey clean.

Luckily for us, the rest of the Rams passing defense is not nearly as good, so we could be able to move the ball with a quick passing game. Running the ball will be very difficult against this defense. For some reason the Browns offensive line is not executing their zone running attack like last year.

This year they have been stuffed on 24% percent of their runs which is the 5th highest rate in the NFL. (Football Outsiders) I can only antipate this number to be higher going against Aaron Donald who has used his insane quickness become an elite run stopper.

When the Rams have the ball:

I have no idea how this team is going to stop Todd Gurley. None whatsoever. The Browns have been struggling stopping poor running attacks like the Broncos and the Ravens.

On the flip side Gurley has been having success against two of the better defenses in both Arizona and Green Bay. What the Browns will probably do is pit 8 men in the box on every play and try to force Nick Foles and his no-name group of receivers to beat them.

Special Teams:

Browns probably have the edge at kicker due Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein inconsistency but coach Pettine’s lack of trust in Travis Coons leg strength is troubling.

Johnny Hekker is a very good punter but more than half of his punts have had a return including one touchdown.

Perhaps Travis Benjamin will have the chance to break open the game on special teams. The Rams also have a dangerous punt returner in Tavon Austin but Andy Lee is one of the best punters in the NFL at limiting punt returns.

Prediction:

Browns look lost defending the run but their offense will keep things interesting. I’ll say Rams 25-23 in some type of heart breaker.

Browns Prepare For A Tough Battle In Baltimore

Last week was one of the most frustrating losses I have ever witnessed in my young life. It was just shocked and angered me that the Browns just could not get pressure on the Chargers depleted offensive line. It just hurt my heart seeing the Browns completely unable to cover the Chargers two healthy receivers. Luckily for us the Ravens have a whole bunch of issues that will allow us to stay competitive in this game.

1. The Browns are so lucky that after one week of failing to take advantage of the Charger’s weak injury

Linebacker Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders sacks and forces quarterback Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns to fumble during a game . (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
Linebacker Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders sacks and forces quarterback Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns to fumble during a game . (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

ravaged O-Line we get the opportunity to redeem our selves by playing against the Ravens no name group of receivers. After the Steve Smith and Michael Campanaro injuries the only remaining healthy receivers the Ravens have are Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, recently acquired Chris Givens, and rookie Darren Waller. Joe Flacco struggled moving the ball through the air last Thursday against the Steelers poor pass defense so they could also struggle against Browns pass defense despite how awful they have been looking recently.

2. With the Ravens having practically no weapons at wide receiver the Ravens will look to throw the ball more to their tight ends and running backs. Their usual starting tight end Crockett Gilmore is questionable with a calf injury and if he can’t go rookies Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle will try make plays. Luckily for us we have Karlos Dansby one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL to neutralize them.

3. Perhaps an even more tantalizing option in the passing game for the Ravens could be running back Justin Forsett. Many people expected Forsett to catch tons of ball in the Marc Trestman offense that allowed Matt Forte 100 receptions a year ago. It hasn’t quite been like that so far this year as he is only averaging 3 catches a game so far this year. But injuries can change game-plans, and I would not be surprised if Forsett gets seven or more catches to go with 15-20 carries.

4. It will be really important to get off to a fast start against the Ravens. As of now it seems Josh McCown has most of his success in garbage time playing catch up. If he truly wants to silence his critics he’s going to need to get off to a fast start and win some games. He’ll have the opportunity to do so against a struggling Ravens defense allowing 26 points a game.

5. Duke Johnson had a great game last week against the Chargers. If Johnson could continue his success it will give the offense the versatile weapon it has been lacking for years. If he can develop into a Forte-style running back it could give the offense hope for an exciting future.

Prediction: The Browns will keep it close and cover the 6 point spread but fail to get the victory in some weird heartbreaking manner.

Ravens 26 Browns 24