Coming off of a huge road win against a division rival, the Cowboys have an opportunity to climb within just a single game of the NFC East lead in Week 11. They're a better team than the Browns, but we've seen the Cowboys play down to their competition in the past. Although a matchup with a struggling AFC club might not seem like a big one, we'll learn a whole lot about the future of the 2012 Cowboys by how they approach this game.
38.2: Percentage of Browns' runs that have increased their chances of scoring.
The Browns may seem like a run-first team, but only four teams in the NFL have run less often than Cleveland. When the Browns do run, they aren't particularly efficient. Success rate has proven to be the most predictive of all rushing stats because it tells you how often an offense is improving their ability to score on a given drive. With just a 38.2 percent success rate, the Browns rank 25th in the NFL, even behind the Cowboys at 38.7 percent. Cleveland's lack of rushing efficiency is one reason they've been able to convert only half of their plays on third- and fourth-and-1 for a first down, well below the league average of 64.0 percent.
41.9: Percentage of Browns' passes that have increased their chances of scoring.
With rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden's struggles, the Browns rank just 30th in the NFL in passing success rate. In comparison, the Cowboys check in at fourth with a 53.5 percent success rate. With poor efficiency in both the running and passing games, it's no wonder the Browns rank 27th for points in 2012. By the way, only four teams in the NFL have a higher rate of success on runs than passes: the Eagles, Redskins, 49ers and Bills.
5.1: Overall yards per play for Cleveland.
The Browns rank 26th in the NFL in net yards per attempt (5.7) and 21st in yards per carry (3.9). They're one of only five teams in the league to total fewer than 10 passing touchdowns. Their passing touchdown total and overall yards per play are especially poor since the Browns have dropped back to pass on 63.1 percent of their offensive plays this year, nearly the exact same rate as the Cowboys.
25.6: Cleveland's offensive yards per drive.
It's hard not to be harsh on the Browns' offense. They rank 30th in yards per drive, 28th in points per drive, 29th in touchdown rate, 30th in punt rate, and 29th in interception rate. If the Cowboys play even average defensive football, the Browns won't score more than 17 points.
4.0: Percentage of Browns' dropbacks that have resulted in a sack.
If there's one thing the Browns do well on offense, it's protect the quarterback. Weeden isn't an overly athletic passer, yet Cleveland has allowed a lower sack rate than all but three teams. Every Browns offensive lineman other than right tackle Mitchell Schwartz – left tackle Joe Thomas and interior linemen Jason Pinkston, John Greco and Alex Mack – all have allowed pressure on fewer than 2.2 percent of snaps in pass protection, which is remarkable. In comparison, Doug Free has allowed pressure on 7.9 percent of snaps, nearly four times the rate of Thomas. The Cowboys may need to send more than four rushers if they want to reach Weeden with consistency.
56.4: Weeden'spasser ratingagainst the blitz.
In addition to the Browns' stout offensive line, the Cowboys may also want to blitz Weeden simply because the rookie has struggled badly against it this year. Defenses have sent extra rushers after Weeden on 29.7 percent of his dropbacks. Weeden has compiled a 49.0 completion percentage, 5.4 yards per attempt (YPA), and just a 1-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio against the blitz. Rob Ryan has been unusually conservative to start the season, but look for him to dial up more blitzes in Week 11.
11.9: Percentage of Weeden's passes to the left side of the field.
Most quarterbacks prefer to throw to the right side of the field (assuming they're right-handed), but Weeden's attempts to the left side are remarkably low. His passer rating when throwing to the left is only 60.2, so it's no wonder he doesn't look there often. Still, 11.9 percent is such a low number that it could very well change how the Cowboys attack Weeden. In comparison, Tony Romo has thrown 24.1 percent of his passes to the left. Elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady check in at anywhere between 19.3 percent 26.8 percent, with an average of 22.9 percent of their passes going to the left. Thus, don't be surprised to see the Cowboys blitz Weeden from the left side of their defense, attacking struggling right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, to force Weeden to move toward an area of the field where he clearly doesn't like to throw. If Weeden wants to force throws cross the field while moving to his left, Ryan will be a happy defensive coordinator.
6.2: Net YPA allowed by Browns' defense.
The Browns aren't nearly as poor on defense as they are on offense. They rank 15th in pass defense efficiency and 19th in run defense efficiency. Cleveland is tied for sixth in the NFL with 10 interceptions, although that rank should be expected to drop considering they're only 21st in the league in sack rate. Remember, takeaway rates are strongly correlated with defensive pressure, and the Browns sit in the middle of the pack in total pressures.
6.0: Percentage of pass-rush snaps on which defensive end Jabaal Sheard has pressured the passer.
Sheard is Cleveland's top pass-rusher in terms of total pressure. The Cowboys have four pass-rushers –DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher and Victor Butler – with a greater pressure rate than Sheard. Thus, the Browns could end up blitzing Romo often if they can't initially get pressure on him.
59.9: Passer rating allowed by cornerback Sheldon Brown.
The Browns' top cornerback is Joe Haden, but their top defensive player at the moment may very well be 33-year-old cornerback Sheldon Brown. Brown has been targeted 43 times in 2012, allowing just a 53.5 completion percentage and only 5.51 YPA. He hasn't given up a touchdown all season. Brown's superb play could be the result of being demoted out of the starting lineup in September, although he obviously reclaimed his starting job once Haden was suspended. Haden has allowed 8.55 YPA and three touchdowns. It isn't like the Cowboys should specifically look to target Haden, but they need to be aware that Brown is really playing good football.
6.4: Tackle rate by Browns safety T.J. Ward.
One of the Browns' elite defensive players is safety T.J. Ward. Ranked fifth among safeties in tackle rate, Ward has also been outstanding in coverage; he's allowed only 5.05 YPA and a passer rating of 77.3 on passes thrown his way.