Friday, October 16, 2015

Do these figures lie?

A football statistics quiz in two parts. First, the offense.

Which National Football League team would you rather have based on the following five-game offensive stats?

Team A: 111 points, 94 first downs, a .480 percentage on third-down conversions, 1,887 total yards, 442 rushing yards, 1,557 passing yards, a quarterback who completes 67.8% of his passes with six touchdowns and one interception, an offensive line that has allowed 18 sacks and an offense that has produced 11 touchdowns.

 Or . . .

Team B: 92 points, 89 first downs, a .322 percentage on third-down conversions, 1.513 total yards, 358 rushing yards, 1.234 passing yards, a quarterback who completes 63.5% of his passes with six touchdowns and seven interceptions, an offensive line that has permitted 12 sacks and an offense that has produced eight touchdowns.

Which offense would you put your money on?

At first blush, it’s a no-brainer. Team A has more points, first downs, total yards, rushing yards, passing yards, is significantly better on third down, has a much more efficient quarterback and has scored more touchdowns. The only negative is in the sack department. 

Before the answer, let’s take a look at the same two teams, this time from a defensive standpoint.

Team A: 132 points allowed, 103 first downs, .412 third-down success rate, 2,002 total yards, 747 yards on the ground, 1,318 through the air, a 59% completion rate, one interception, 10 sacks and 16 touchdowns allowed.

Or . . .

Team B: 79 points allowed, 92 first downs, .296 on third down, 1,390 total yards, 426 on the ground, 1,108 through the air, a 64.8% completion rate, seven interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 22 sacks and seven touchdowns allowed.

Which defense would you prefer?

Another no-brainer. Team B is clearly the better team with the exception of the completion rate of opposing quarterbacks, a minor difference considering the other category stats. One team stat not factored in: Team A is minus-3 in turnover ratio; Team B is plus-6.

Now put them all together, let the numbers ramble around in your brain and arrive at the bottom line. Do all those figures add up to a better Team A or Team B? Time to choose.

If you chose Team A, congratulations, you are truly a Cleveland Browns fan. And if chose Team B, say hello to the Denver Broncos, whom the Browns welcome to town Sunday.

That’s the unbeaten Denver Broncos, the most unassuming, least deserving undefeated team in the NFL. All of which points out the only thing keeping the Browns from at least contending in the AFC North is a solid defense.

The 2-3 Browns are right there with the 5-0 Broncos on offense and, in many cases, are better. Right now, Josh McCown is definitely a better quarterback statistically than Denver’s Peyton Manning, whose regression is sounding alarms in the Mile High City.

The venerable Manning, who threw 131 touchdowns passes in his first three seasons in Denver, is perceptibly slowing down. The 39-year-old future Hall of Famer has thrown more interceptions (seven) than touchdown passes (six) this season, three of those scoring passes coming in one game, and has been picked four times in the last two games.

Putting that in perspective, he threw five touchdown passes in the Broncos’ season opener last season.

His arm isn’t what is used to be. The deep passing game for the Broncos is merely a memory right now. Manning no longer has the arm to stretch the field and force opposing defenses to play honestly.

(Now factor in a porous Cleveland secondary that has intercepted only one pass this season and that was promptly lost when Tashaun Gipson fumbled it right back.)

Statistically speaking, Manning is at his worst this season when blitzed. His relative immobility is his only negative. It will be interesting to see whether Cleveland defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil recognizes that and dials up more blitzes than he did against Joe Flacco last Sunday or shows him respect and backs off.

Manning, who has won all five career starts against the Browns, hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since connecting with tight end Owen Daniels early in the third quarter of a 23-20 victory over Minnesota in week four. That’s nearly six quarters ago.

The Broncos have been winning mainly because of a stifling, aggressive defense that has bailed out the offense time and again all season. It has also put up three scores (a couple of pick 6s and a fumble return). That’s half as many touchdowns as Manning scoring passes.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who was the team’s head coach in 1993 and 1994, returned this season after a couple of seasons in Houston and has molded one of the NFL’s top defenses.

Last season, the Broncos gave up 354 points while winning the AFC West. This season, they are on pace to surrender just 253. On offense, however, the Broncos scored 482 points last season. This season, they are on pace to score just 362. That’s a difference of almost eights points a game.

(At this point, a statistical oddity: The Broncos’ offense has scored just three touchdowns in the second half this season. So has their defense.)

All this proves, at least in this case, is solid defense does, indeed, translate into winning football. The Browns’ brass at the beginning of the season believed they had cobbled together the kind of defense that would elevate the team into at least a competitive mode.

That, of course, has not been the case. Far from it, in fact. If anything, the offense has been most responsible for the record thus far. And in the Broncos, they will face the toughest defense since the season opener against the New York Jets.

In that one, you’ll recall, the Cleveland offense jumped out to a 10-3 second quarter lead, but was blanked the rest of the way in a 31-10 loss.

The Browns will face problems on two fronts Sunday.

Manning is way, way overdue to have a good game. He’s got big receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Cody Latimer and the smallish Cleveland secondary has all kinds of difficulties with tall receivers. However, he is hampered because running backs Ronnie Hillman and C. J. Anderson average only 85 yards a game. (Remember the Browns can’t stop the run.)

On defense, the Broncos are as opportunistic as any team in the NFL. They have created 14 turnovers (seven picks, seven fumble recoveries), the three defensive touchdowns, two blocked kicks and the 22 sacks. Those sacks are distributed among 11 players with outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller totaling 7½.

There isn’t a better pair of cornerbacks in the NFL than Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., both of whom have a pick six.  Former Ohio State defensive back Bradley Roby is solid as the nickel back. Safeties Darian Stewart and ex-Brown T. J. Ward are strong against the run game.

Miller, who will be offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz’s responsibility, is one of the best pass rushers in the league. The Browns do catch a break, though, with Ware sidelined with a bad back.

This has not exactly been a storied series even though the Broncos won a couple of iconic playoff games in the late 1980s. Remember the Drive? The Fumble? Deeply buried memories for Browns fans. Heavily treasured memories for Broncos fans.

The Browns actually won three of the first four games in this 27-game series, but have emerged victorious only twice in the last 23 meetings. The Broncos, who have won the last 10 in a row in the series, last lost to the Browns in early October 1990 in Denver. The resurrected Browns are 0-6 against Denver.

The Browns, of course, are coming off a high with their 33-30 overtime victory last Sunday in Baltimore. McCown, banged up with ankle and throwing hand miseries, will attempt to register his fourth straight 300-yard game.

There will be a 300-yard game, but it won’t belong to the Cleveland quarterback. Manning will have all afternoon to throw the ball against a feeble Browns pass rush and torch the secondary for 323 yards and scoring passes to Bryant, Sanders and tight end Virgil Green. Hillman will run for 111 yards and a touchdown.

This will be one afternoon when the Denver offense doesn’t have to rely on the defense to get the job done. The Browns might score a couple of touchdowns late when the Denver defense slips into coast mode. Make it:

Broncos 34, Browns 14


  1. Browns may indeed lose, but the score will be closer than that. Broncos have to travel across time zones and Manning is on the downside of his career while the Browns are coming off a big win against a division opponent.

    For Denver, this has all the elements of a trap game.

  2. Maybe so. I hope you are right, but I fear the Broncos are too overdue for a strong offensive game and the Browns have just the kind of defense that can provide that.

    McCown is due for a bad game. And defense rarely takes a day off. Offense does, not defense. Denver's D is one of the best in the NFL.

    Nice to have you aboard.

  3. Pettine sure does like to make trouble for himself. Like going for two points against the NFL's #1 defense, thus depriving the Browns a chance to win the game at the end of regulation.

  4. That's purely in the nature of a second guess. The book calls for a two-point attempt at that point. If successful, it would have made it a six-point game. I have no quarrel with that.

    There are more important things to blame Pettine for. Like a defense that is awful, especially the pass rush and run defense, and an offense that can't run block or pass protect.