3TFO: Redskins @ Browns: Week 15
Two months ago, you never would have imagined the week 15 game between the Redskins and Browns of being a battle between two of the hottest teams in the league. Turns out, that is exactly what it is.
After being left for dead by everyone, including their own head coach Washington has rattled off four consecutive wins and is right in the heart of the NFC East race. A dramatic come-from-behind victory last week against the Ravens, kept Washington just one game behind the division-leading Giants with three games to play. The win was quite costly though, as superstar rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III had to leave with a sprained knee ligament. Early indications are that Griffin will be able to play this week, but how effective can he be?
Cleveland continues to improve on nearly a weekly basis and has turned into the team that absolutely nobody wants to play. If not for a few losses in games they easily could have won, this could be a playoff team. Winners of three in a row themselves, one of these teams will see a winning streak snapped. But, whom? These match ups will go a long way in answering that question.
Washington Rush Offense vs. Cleveland Run Defense
Whether or not Griffin can play only dictates the style of running the Redskins will do, not the importance of how well they do it. Even if Griffin does play there will be a larger emphasis placed on fellow rookie Alfred Morris to carry the load. Morris has been extremely effective all season, ranking third in the NFL in our Elusive Rating for running backs. On 253 carries Morris has caused 42 missed tackles and averages 3.12 yards after contact, both of which place him in the Top 4 in the league. Having success running the ball is the key to the entire Redskins offense, they use play action on a league high 38.1 percent of their passes, making the threat of a running attack that more pivotal.
Trying to contain the NFL’s first-ranked rushing attack will be the front seven for Cleveland. They will need to stay disciplined and win their individual battles to stop Washington’s option. Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson will need to be better than his 7.9 Run Stop Percentage, which currently ranks him 25th among inside linebackers. Defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker will be paramount in stopping the option attack and need to set a strong edge. That bodes well for the Browns because both players have excelled in run defense this season, ranking 10th and 12th respectively among defense ends in Run Stop Percentage.
Trent Richardson vs. Washington Inside Linebackers
Just as the Redskins’ offense is predicated on the ground game, so is the Browns. Cleveland also features a rookie running back, and Trent Richardson will have an opportunity to run against a defense that allows 4.2 yards per carry. Richardson is seventh in the league in Elusive Rating and has forced the third most missed tackles. Cleveland will also look to utilize Richardson in the passing game when matched up with linebackers as he has forced a league-leading 18 missed tackles after catches.
The onus to stop Richardson is on inside linebackers London Fletcher and Perry Riley, neither of whom has been reliable this season. Riley hasn’t missed a tackle since Week 9 but still ranks 26th among inside linebackers in Run Stopping Percentage. Fletcher is finally showing the signs of his age and is 33rd on that same list, which is second to last among qualifying players. On 379 running snaps Fletcher has just 36 tackles and has logged just one positively-graded game from PFF all season. These two will need to play significantly better than they have all season in order to stop Richardson and the Cleveland running game.
Cleveland Wide Receivers vs. Washington Cornerbacks
Quite possibly the most improved Browns player this season is wide receiver Josh Gordon. In his last three games he has logged a PFF grade of +1.0 or better, after having only one game at +1.0 the previous 11 weeks. Gordon has developed into quarterback Brandon Weeden’s favorite target and Weeden’s QB rating when targeting Gordon is 98.4, by far the highest among Browns receivers. On the other side, Cleveland needs more consistency out of Greg Little. Little has shown flashes, but drops continue to be a major issue. On 45 catchable passes, Little has six drops, a drop rate that ranks him 78th in the NFL.
The good news for Cleveland is that the Washington corners aren’t exactly of the shutdown variety. Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall have had their issues in coverage most of the season. Wilson has been the most consistent corner the Redskins have ranking 28th in the league, allowing a reception every 11.7 snaps he is in coverage for. Hall is interesting and wildly inconsistent. He has had grades ranging from +4.1 to -5.2 and everywhere in between. Hall also ranks 96th in the league giving up a reception every 8.3 times he is in coverage and has allowed the ninth-most Yards Per Snap in Coverage, at 1.73. Washington will need them to win the battle against the young Browns receivers to come away victorious.
Follow John on Twitter: @PFF_Castellane