It is the final home game of the 2019 season for the Arizona Cardinals and it is a big ol' reunion.
Thanks to Chris and good luck to the Browns tomorrow... Not too much though.
1. How have the Browns utilized Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt together?
First, it’s important to note that it’s not like the team is only using Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt together on a handful of plays; it is happening with enough regularity that you’re probably going to see it every series outside of the two-minute drill. Case in point: last week against the Bengals, Nick Chubb played 70% of the snaps while Kareem Hunt played 63% of the snaps. There is definitely a lot of overlap there. Cleveland mixes up how they’re using it.
The most common usage seems to be a misdirection, where both backs are in the backfield, and after the snap, one goes one way while the other gets the ball. However, there can be playaction fakes built off of that to then throw it to one of the backs, or draw the defense up enough to hit a receiver in the seam. That extra running back is causing a hair of hesitation or commitment from defenses, which is enough to create those windows of space for an offense to gain an advantage. Besides that, fans no longer have to complain when Chubb is taken out of the game, like they were earlier this season when backup running back Dontrell Hilliard was getting snaps. If Chubb goes out, we know that Hunt will come in and be just as effective. It is a unique luxury that should really pay off in 2020 too.
2. With Myles Garrett out, who has picked up the slack in the pass rush?
In the grand scheme of things, nobody is. Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon were responsible for the Browns’ pass rush, and both have been gone for awhile now (Garrett due to suspension and Vernon due to a knee injury). Sheldon Richardson, who had mostly been playing defensive tackle all season, has now become a versatile player up front and has really stepped up his game the past several weeks, as Pro Football Focus indicates.
Chad Thomas, a third-round pick from 2018 who was kind of written off after not doing much as a rookie, as showed some potential, which is encouraging. Other than that, though, we’re basically talking about players like Bryan Cox and Porter Gustin who were signed off the street to contribute. Also, as one of our beat writers pointed out, the Browns have seven sacks in the past three games, compared to 30 in the previous 10 games. In the process, Cleveland has dropped 20 spots in Pro Football Focus’ pass rush rankings, going from a 78.6 grade (5th best) to a 59.3 grade (25th in the NFL).
3. How would you grade Steve Wilks first season as DC?
It’s hard to assess. The Browns rank 16th in the NFL defensively, and are third in the NFL in getting stops on third down. They are 7th in the NFL in interception rate, and 9th in sacks per attempt. It’s one of those things where I’m not really impressed with how the defense looks in the flow of a game, the secondary is underachieving, there is seldom a defensive push in short yardage situations, and yet statistically, they are right at league average.
I guess Wilks deserves some credit for that, but I wasn’t a big fan of his 4-2-5 defensive approach earlier this season. I liked the idea if Cleveland had a special defensive talent to be that fifth defensive back -- someone who could cover and be a force in the run -- but instead, he threw no-name players in that spot and it ended up being a liability. I don’t really love or hate him as a fan; he’s just kind of “there,” which is a much different emotion than when the team had Gregg Williams, lol.
4. An unknown on offense and defense the Arizona Cardinals need to watch?
On offense, Cleveland has an abundance of known talent, so I will go with a recent change: veteran Kendall Lamm starting at right tackle. He did it last week due to an injury to starter Chris Hubbard, and head coach Freddie Kitchens said it was the best game the offensive line played all season. Considering Hubbard had been struggling all season, that was taken as a vote of confidence for Lamm to keep the job for the rest of the season.
On defense, I have been going with rookie linebacker Mack Wilson for these types of questions. Wilson was thrown into the fire earlier this season when starter Christian Kirksey suffered an injury, and week-by-week, Wilson is a player whose instincts are improving, making plays both in coverage and behind the line of scrimmage.
5. Do you look at this season as a success or failure for the Browns?
Overall, I think it can be looked at as more of a failure -- but in this case, my definition of failure is indicative of a missed opportunity to make the playoffs, not as a failure for the future of the team. Cleveland has such talented weapons on offense, and yet it took forever for Baker Mayfield to get on the same page with them (and it still really isn’t there with Odell Beckham Jr). Myles Garrett did the dumb helmet swing, which was a self-inflicted wound that removed the team’s best defensive player (and he was sorely missed in the re-match that the team lost to Pittsburgh). Even with just one more win this season (prior to Week 15), things could be a lot different with the hopes of making the postseason. Instead, we’re busy looking at crazy “win out, and hope Pittsburgh and Tennessee/Houston lose two of their final three games” scenarios, which is only about a 4% likelihood of happening.