Facing up against the Cleveland Browns, it’s easy to get caught up in their shiny things. Gunslinging commercial star Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr; they even have a receiver called Hollywood. Yet, this cannot distract from the irrefutable fact that, at their core, the Browns are a blue-collar rushing team. On Sunday, trench warfare awaits the Arizona Cardinals in Cleveland.
The battle up front will ultimately define the game for Arizona. Cleveland’s best players on either side of the ball, running back Nick Chubb and defensive end Myles Garrett, live and thrive at the line of scrimmage. Fresh off last week’s exhaustive meeting with the San Francisco 49ers, the Cardinals face the prospect of another physically demanding conflict in the Browns. Arizona’s war effort will have to be stout, unyielding, and well-staffed to take on arguably their most talented opponent yet in 2021.
Trench Warfare Awaits Arizona Cardinals In Week 6 Clash With Cleveland Browns
Chubb is Cleveland’s Vanguard
The success of Cleveland’s run game sits firmly on the shoulders of one of the NFL’s very best in Chubb. A second-round garnish to the Mayfield pick in 2018, Chubb has established himself as Cleveland’s most reliable offensive player. He is a complete back, well suited to the various facets of Cleveland’s multiple-run offensive scheme. He has the burst for the outside zone, the drive for the power game, but Chubb’s excellence shines best in Kevin Stefanski’s inside zone and counter game.
As with any successful running game, athletic and powerful blocking is the core of Cleveland’s rushing attack. Stefanski’s constant deployment of fullback Andy Janovich is a testament to how the Browns prioritize power upfront. Janovich will, however, be missing this week, sent to I.R. with a hamstring issue. Long-time practice squad understudy Johnny Stanton will step in.
One of Chubb’s most effective tendencies is the ability to work in perfect tandem with his blockers. He has exceptional patience, allowing the blocks in Stefanski’s dynamic scheme to develop ahead of him before using his athletic talent to navigate traffic at the line of scrimmage. He can run headfirst into a crowd, jink through and explode out of the other side. Chubb is undoubtedly Cleveland’s best weapon.
Chubb currently ranks second in the NFL’s rushing tables this season, behind only Derrick Henry. However, what is perhaps more telling of the efficiency of Cleveland’s run game is that backup Kareem Hunt sits sixteenth in that ranking. Backs of a similar archetype, the two are interchangeable in Cleveland’s offense. Chubb is the lead back, and deservedly so, but Hunt will always have a significant role to play as well.
Arizona’s Defensive Line Have To Continue Momentum From Week 5
Arizona’s reinforced defensive line had their best game of the year against the Niners last week. Multiple players, including J.J. Watt and Zach Allen, had their best showings in a Cardinals uniform. Facing yet another run-oriented team in the Browns gives the group the chance to reaffirm their excellent performances. In particular, Watt’s ability to disrupt Cleveland’s blocking schemes has the potential to derail their run game. Chandler Jones has also been sneaky productive against the run this year, but a Covid designation may rule him out this week, so others will have to step up.
Stefanski has a lot of moving pieces in his run game, with athletic linemen flying around everywhere. Discipline has to reign supreme upfront for Arizona. Cleveland’s linemen, pulling or otherwise, will lead Arizona’s defense to the ball. The key will be to see through the intricacy of the shifting line and win physically at the point of attack. The defensive line will have a monumental task on their hands, taking on this Cleveland run game, but after quashing the Niners, they have all the juice to do it.
Trench Warfare Awaits On Both Sides of The Ball
Garrett currently leads the NFL for sacks and has emerged as a potential front runner for Defensive Player of The Year. He is massive, fast, and technically proficient. On Sunday, he will be the priority for Arizona in protecting Kyler Murray from his one-time Texas A&M teammate.
The Browns run a 4-3 defense, with Garrett lining up as both the weak and strong-side defensive end. He is the focal point of Cleveland’s pass rush, and their alignments reflect such. They use a variety of defensive fronts in an attempt to scheme Garrett into favorable, isolation matchups. One on one with a lineman, Garrett can use the full range of tools in his arsenal; he’ll go round, he’ll go through, but he’s getting in behind.
Last week, San Francisco’s commitment to remaining wide caused issues; the 49ers contained Murray’s lateral escapability, and Arizona’s offense was worse off for it. Garrett is far too good of a pass rusher to plant on the outside and wait for Murray, but he has the athletic ability to bottle Murray up inside. It would not be a surprise to see the opposition try to replicate Sn Francisco’s contain against Arizona. However, with some time, Murray can learn to exploit it.
Wide alignments and rushes give up some inside space. Murray has to recognize when vertical lanes open up or risk spinning right into Garrett’s arms. Similarly, to negate the threat of Garrett and the rest of Cleveland’s pass rush, Arizona would be well-served to employ a bunch of screens. The Los Angeles Chargers used screens to good effect against Cleveland and, with players like Chase Edmonds and Rondale Moore, the Cardinals are well equipped to be successful.
Cleveland might well be the most talented team, on paper, that Arizona face this year. However, at their core, they are a physical football team with a forceful run game and a domineering attitude to football. Landing on the banks of Lake Erie on Sunday, trench warfare awaits the Arizona Cardinals in the Cleveland Browns.