Tennessee Titans @ Cleveland Browns – NFL Week 1 Statistical Preview
Using the numbers from 2018, what should we be looking out for when football hits our screens Sunday on Sky Sports Sunday 6pm?
In case you have been living in a bubble; the NFL is back! Sunday at 6pm will mark the first time the NFL has been on our screens at that time since Divisional weekend last year.
This season we here at the touchdown want to help you understand more about what you can expect or are seeing if you choose to watch the full game on Sky as opposed to Red Zone. You can check out the superb piece by Tyler Arthur about how to see what the QB is seeing from your couch here. Each week I will be taking a look at the stats from this season and last, and helping you understand what to expect on Sunday.
Using these numbers we will try and get a feel for how the teams might attack each other. What elements will be crucial in deciding the outcome, and what might be a bluff? Additionally, each week we will look at those all-important third down and Red Zone numbers. Along with turnovers they are the most crucial statistics in the game of football. Prolong drives and score touchdowns when you get inside the 20 and you stand a good chance of winning. Settle for punting and kicking field goals and you are fighting an uphill battle.
Let’s take a look at our Week 1 6pm contest as the Tennessee Titans head into Cleveland to take on the Browns.
Can the Browns find more consistency on offense?
Last year was a bit of a mess for the Browns. They eventually moved on from Hue Jackson and Todd Haley after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 28th. That essentially splits their season into two halves. The first half with Jackson and Haley calling the shots, and the second half with now head coach Freddie Kitchens in charge of the offense.
In total the Browns threw for 4007 yards last season, 1720 of those in the first half, and the remaining 2287 in the second. Over the course of the season they threw for over 300 yards four times, three of those were with Kitchens calling the plays. They also threw for under 200 yards five times in 2018, but four of those were under the Jackson regime. While the yardage improved the mistakes did not under Kitchens. 13 of their 24 turnovers came after the coaching switch, with four of their six multi turnover games coming in the second half. Their passing game will go up against a Titan defense which ranked eighth in defensive net passing yards per attempt, and third in touchdowns.
For the Browns offense to click they will want better performances from their receivers. Last season, Baker Mayfield had the fourth highest average depth of target (aDOT) among quarterbacks but suffered the highest drop rate of any QB in the league. Mayfield’s elusiveness may also prove crucial. The Browns offensive line was weakened this past offseason, and Mayfield was blitzed the third most of any quarterback last season, but his ability to move and create space meant he was the 29th most hit QB, despite being hurried the fourth most.
The Browns will also want to get that run game going with consistency, and perhaps even improve on their 11th ranking in rushing yards per attempt from last season. The Titans defense was farily middle of the road against the run, so the Browns may look to attack with the run in order to open up the pass.
How can the Titans attack that Browns defense?
One thing that stood out when the Browns were on the field in the preseason was that defense. In Week 3 of the preseason they caused havoc for Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers offensive line. They come into this season having ranked third in touchdowns allowed, fifth in interceptions, second in turnovers, first in fumbles and 10th in net yards per attempt. For a Titans offense that ranked 29th in passing yard and 28th in passing touchdowns that is a concern.
However, the Titans may look to continue their strategy from last year and utilise the run game. In 2018 they had the eight most rushing attempts, and against a Browns team who ranked 24th in net yards per rush attempt and 31st in rushing touchdowns. However, the Titans will need to be more efficient running the ball, after ranking just 16th in net rushing yards per attempt in 2019. Against a defensive line with this kind of ability, the Titans will need to run the ball well to tire them out and slow down the pass rush.
While Derrick Henry will be the star of the running game, Dion Lewis is a player to watch. Last season he ranked 14th in the league with an average of 8.1 yards after the catch. Look for him to get the ball a lot on swing passes and screens, as his aDOT was 1.3 yards behind the line of scrimmage last year. Marcus Mariota likes his short passes, finishing 22nd last season aDOT, so look for a lot of Adam Humphries and Delanie Walker on short routes.
Tackling, Tackling, Tackling
There may be no bigger element this week than the defenses wrapping up and completing tackles. This game sees two of the best running backs in the league when it comes to breaking tackles. No one in the league was better at breaking tackles than Henry. In total he broke 34 tackles, four more than closest challenger Saquon Barkley, and averaged 6.3 attempts per broken tackle. He finished the season joint second in yards after contact per attempt, tied with none other than Nick Chubb.
Chubb also finished top-four in broken tackles, as well as seventh in attempts per broken tackle (8.7). Part of the reason they both needed to break as many tackles as they did was their offenses lines did not do a great job opening holes for them. Chubb finished 28th in the league with an average of 2.1 yard before contact, and Henry could only manage a 36th best mark of 1.9 yards.
It may seem obvious to say, but tackling could easily be the difference in this game. The team that tackles the opposing runner the best is going to have a great opportunity to impose their will on this game. That is especially the case for Tennessee, because if Chubb breaks a tackle, he could go the length of the field very quickly. Henry is not quite the same speedster, but if the Browns let him churn through them, they could find themselves tiring very quickly.
Third Down and Red Zone
This final section will be a weekly regular, because third down and Red Zone performance is a huge part of winning football games. Stating the obvious again here, but force your opponents to kick field goals or punt the ball and you have a significantly improved chance of winning.
There are some fairly stark differences in the numbers this week, with the Browns ranking just 27th on offensive third down conversions. They converted on just 35.1% of third down attempts in 2018, finishing with the fourth lowest average number of plays per drive. However, they should have a chance this week against a team that struggled to get off the field last season, as the Titans ranked 26th when it came to average plays per drive for opposing offenses.
Where this game could be won or lost is when the Browns offense get into the Red Zone. The Browns scored touchdowns on 66.7% of their Red Zone trips last season, the sixth highest conversion rate in the league. However, the Titans defense was also stout in the Red Zone. Teams could only score a touchdown on 44.7% of their Red Zone trips last season, good enough for second among defenses.
Look for the Titans defense to potentially play a bend but don’t break style, allowing the Browns to move the ball, but keeping them out of the end zone. If they can be stout in the Red Zone and pound the ball with Henry, they may just be able to sneak out of Cleveland with a win.
Image credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports & Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports