CLEVELAND, Ohio — Coming into the season, there were concerns about the Browns’ secondary. Those concerns have only been compounded by the injuries suffered, including Greedy Williams, who hasn’t played a snap this season, and Kevin Johnson, who was out with a lacerated liver and is just now working his way back.
Dallas will test Cleveland’s secondary far more than in any of the three previous games. The Cowboys already have three receivers over 200 yards receiving. One not yet over 200 yards, Cedrick Wilson, caught five passes against Seattle last week for 107 yards.
The Cowboys are also a team which uses 11 personnel heavily, sending the one running back, one tight end, three receiver set out on 78 percent of offensive plays so far this season, according to Sharp Football Stats.
If the Browns are going to pull an upset this week, it’s going to start with their pass rush, but the secondary has to find a way to make plays, too. They came up with a bunch of footballs last week, but they also got a bunch of help from quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
The secondary going against Dallas’ weapons is one thing to watch on Sunday. Here are three more.
Which pass rusher can change the game?
This game is expected to be high scoring and it could hinge on which team forces a key turnover. So the focus will be on the two pass rushers who possess the ability to force said turnover, Myles Garrett and Aldon Smith.
Garrett has consecutive weeks with strip sacks and has three sacks to start the season. Smith has four sacks and hasn’t forced a fumble, but he has six in his career and all it takes is one hit to jar the ball loose.
Garrett is tied for the league lead in pressures with 19, according to Pro Football Focus, and Smith is tied for eighth with 13.
Which run defense will slow the ground game the most?
The Browns’ run defense this season has been pretty good. They are fifth in fewest rushing yards per game allowed, have the ninth-best run grade as a team on PFF, their defensive line ranks ninth in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards and their run defense is tenth in the site’s DVOA rankings.
Dallas, on the other hand, is 23rd in rushing yards per game, but are viewed slightly more favorably when looked at from an analytics slant, ranking 15th in rushing DVOA. Their line is 19th in adjusted line yards and PFF grades their run defense as the 13th best. Nothing spectacular, so the Browns should be able to move the ball on the ground.
The Browns’ bread-and-butter is the ground game and if they can exploit Dallas’ weaknesses in that area and simultaneously slow Ezekiel Elliott, it can allow them to control what could otherwise be an up-and-down affair.
Will the Browns open up the passing attack?
The Browns have had the luxury of leaning on the running game the last two weeks, even when they were trailing Washington in the fourth quarter. So far this season, the Browns have run the ball 99 times and Baker Mayfield has thrown it 85. Even if you add the four sacks of Mayfield to the passing game and take his six rushing attempts out of the running total, the ratio still favors the run.
Which is perfectly fine.
The offense so far has been about what we expected: run heavy and favoring bigger personnel. We’re going into Week 4 and the Browns still haven’t run a play with more than three wide receivers on the field.
Is Sunday the day the Browns open things up in the air a little more? The Cowboys’ pass defense is suspect, to say the least. There should be some opportunities in the air game for Kevin Stefanski and Co.
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