• Under Hue Jackson, the Browns underachieved based on turnover margin in the 1H of 2018
  • Kitchen’s effective use of 12 personnel was a dramatic shift from early in 2018
  • The Browns Vegas win total is in line with projections

The 2018 season for the Cleveland Browns was a tale of two seasons. Under Hue Jackson, the Browns somehow only went 2-5-1 while sporting the No. 1 turnover margin in the NFL at 11, or plus-1.4 per game. Since 1990, there have been 42 teams with a turnover margin of at least 1.4 per game in the first eight weeks of a season and the 2018 Browns under Jackson are the only team to be under .500.

In aggregate, these teams won 75% of their games in the first eight of the season. Not only did the Browns start the season under .500 they were 3 games under .500. In Week 1, the Browns tied the Steelers even though they had a plus-5 turnover advantage. Since 1990, teams with a plus-5 margin won 97% of these games (205-7-1). In addition, in Week 7 the Browns had a plus-3 turnover margin over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and lost in overtime.

Over the last 10 years, NFL teams have a 95% win percentage while winning the turnover battle by at least 3, like the Browns. After Hue was fired, the Browns ended the season with a minus-3 turnover margin but went 5-3. Hue Jackson was next level incompetent when you consider just these stats alone. 

In the first seven weeks under Hue Jackson, the Browns struggled on offense, ranked 27th and 30th in run and success rates. The Browns were equally as bad specifically on early downs. However, once Hue was fired, the Browns offense increased its efficiency and explosiveness by leaps and bounds. From Week 8 on, the Browns ranked eighth in run success rate and fifth in pass success rate while having the sixth most explosive plays in the NFL. On early downs, with Freddie Kitchens running the offense, the Browns ranked sixth and fourth in run and success rates.

2018 Browns Ranks

StatUnder HuePost Hue
Run Success Rate278
Pass Success Rate305
Total Explosive Plays106
Early Down Runs276
Early Down Pass314

The good news for the Browns is new offensive Todd Monken shares in the aggressive nature of Kitchens. As the OC for the Buccaneers last season, Tampa ranked fifth in explosive plays in the NFL.

The Browns offensive personnel groupings changed substantially once Kitchens took over the offense. The biggest changes came in the way of much less 11 personnel (1 TE, 1 RB, 3 WR) as well as more 12 (2 TE, 1 RB, 2 WR) and 10 (0 TE, 1 RB, 4 WR) personnel groupings. In most any personnel group, Freddie’s offense was much more efficient and productive.

But where the Browns saw the biggest change was the usage and success of the 12 personnel post Hue and Todd Haley. Kitchens used 12 personnel 18% of the time and the Browns ranked first in success rate. Under Jackson and Haley, the Browns were dead last in success rate in 12 personnel. This drastic change in production was a big factor in the Browns’ offensive success in the second half of 2018.

In 12 groupings, the Browns threw the ball 46% of the time and Baker Mayfield had tremendous success. He completed 31-of-39 attempts for 9.6 yards per attempt, 3 TDs and 1 INT with a 121 QB rating. The Browns were great running the ball out of 12 personnel as well with running backs gaining 6.6 yards per carry on 45 carries.

As Warren Sharp has noted here during the preseason, the Browns have used 12 personnel only 12% of the time and 11 85% of the time. Now with Odell Beckham in the fold, it will be interesting to see how often Kitchens uses 12 versus more spread out 4 WR sets. 

Interesting Stats/Nuggets:

This is an ode to the most underrated wide receiver in the NFL. Not only does Rashard Higgins rank highest in EPA (expected points added) in 2018 among current Browns receivers but Higgins ranked an astonishing ninth among all NFL WRs on a per-target basis.

Higgins played in 13 games, but got only 37 snaps per game which ranked 81st among all WRs. If you extrapolate his per snap numbers last year and he played as many snaps as Jarvis Landry did, his numbers would have been to 77-1133-8. Compare that to Landry’s actual numbers of 81-976-4.

Even further, Higgins truly excelled the most on early downs, where starting ahead of the chains is most important. He ranked tied for sixth in the NFL in success rate on early down overall. In games just with Baker Mayfield, Higgins caught 24 of 28 targets for 352 yards, 12.5 yds/target and 3 TDs on early downs. 

From Week 3 on, Higgins ranked first in the NFL among WRs in success rate on first down. Higgins has carried that excellent play into training camp and preseason this year and it shouldn’t shock anyone if he becomes the Browns second-best receiving option when 2019 is all said and done.

EPA RankWREPA/PlaySuccess RateSR RankTargets

With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Browns will be the only team in the NFL to have two RBs who rank in the top 20 in both EPA and success rate last season. Hunt was also the No. 1 running back in the NFL in receiving EPA.  

The upgrade from Eli Manning to Baker Mayfield is quite obvious for Odell Beckham Jr. Just in targets to OBJ vs other Giants receivers, Eli’s yards per attempt skyrockets from 6.5 to 8.8 and his TD% goes from 4% to 7%. Mayfield’s 93.7 QB rating last season as a rookie was already higher than in any single Eli season since OBJ came into the NFL. 

Eli Manning to Odell Beckham


Eli Manning to anyone else


The biggest strength for the Browns on defense will be on the defensive line. Anchored by Myles Garrett, the Browns have pass rushers galore along the front and with the acquisitions of Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon. I know it is only preseason but the Browns defense sacked Jameis Winston five times in the first half alone in the third preseason game.

In three seasons with the Giants, Vernon produced 22 sacks in 39 games (0.56 sacks/game) and did so without much help on that line. Outside of Jason Pierre-Paul in 2016 and 2017, no other defensive lineman on the Giants recorded more than 5.5 sacks in a season. No Giants player recorded double digit sacks during Vernon’s tenure.

Garrett is by far the best defensive lineman Vernon has played with since his rookie season with Cameron Wake in Miami. The Browns defensive line will be licking their chops as they face the Titans in Week 1 without star LT Taylor Lewan due to suspension. Between Tennessee, Seattle and Miami, the Browns will face three of the bottom four teams in sack rate allowed last season at home. Buffalo also ranked in the bottom 10 last year in sacks and will have to travel to Cleveland.

The Browns will face a home schedule of opposing offenses that ranks fourth in the NFL this season in terms of the most amount of sacks allowed. That Browns DL should feast this season at home.

2019 Schedule Analysis

  • 2018 Schedule: 10th toughest
  • 2019 Schedule based on win totals: 4th easiest
  • 2019 Road Schedule Strength: 9th easiest

The Browns should be favored at home in every single game outside of, potentially, the Rams on SNF in Week 3. Outside of this game, however, Cleveland should be favorites of 5-plus points against Tennessee, Buffalo, Miami, and Cincinnati.

On the road, the Browns play the ninth easiest schedule in the NFL based on current win total projections. Outside of being an underdog at New England, the Browns will encounter 6-7-coin flip games on the road. The good news is that prior to the Patriots game, the Browns will be on a bye and New England will be coming off a short week after playing on MNF in New York against the Jets.

If the Browns win this game, the following week at Denver could very well be a letdown spot. Probably the biggest disadvantaged travel spots all season for the Browns will come Week 5 at San Francisco on MNF after facing the Rams at home on SNF and playing division rival Baltimore on the road in Week 4. San Francisco will also be coming off their bye waiting for the Browns, which makes this potentially a dangerous game for Cleveland.

Overall the Browns will face the fourth easiest schedule based on current Vegas win totals after facing the 10th toughest schedule last season, when they went 6-2 against sub .500 teams. The Browns play four games against teams that rank in the bottom five in terms of lowest projected win totals this season in Miami, Arizona, and Cincinnati twice; all have win totals of 6 wins or less. 

In the table below, I did my best to project spreads for all 16 Browns games this season based on my personal ratings. Each spread equates to a win probability to the right of the table. When you add up each individual game’s win probability you get a projected win total of 9.3 for the Browns. The current win total at 5Dimes sits at over 9 (-105) and you can also take over 9.5 at (+141). 

Browns projected lines

OpponentSpreadWin Prob

Browns Win Total: 9.3

The Browns certainly have the talent and schedule to win up to 12-13 games. What would the win total have been if the Browns had won 75% of their first eight games like history says they should have based on their turnover margin?

In reality, the Browns should have won 9-10 games and potentially perception for the 2019 season would be different. When you consider the impact of Jackson no longer infecting this team, the acquisitions of high level starters like OBJ, Sheldon Richardson, Kareem Hunt and Olivier Vernon and the fact that the Browns will go from playing a top 10 difficult schedule in 2018 to a more manageable potentially top-5 easiest schedule, the potential of the Browns winning double-digit games seems more realistic.