The Cleveland Browns made offseason waves by signing free-agent TE Austin Hooper to a lucrative contract.
He is the third highest paid TE in the league, behind George Kittle and Travis Kelce.
Three games into the season, fans may be questioning if Hooper should be utilized more.
Statistics drive the discussion, and based on them, I would suggest his utilization has been correct so far.
Hooper has only had 10 targets in 3 games.
He caught 7 passes for 62 yards.
Consider that 2 of those catches for 15 yards were in the Baltimore beatdown.
That game got away from the Browns almost from the onset.
So really, it’s the last 2 games that should be evaluated, against the Cincinnati Bengals and The Washington Football Team.
Let’s also note that both of those wins were largely driven by successful execution of the running game by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
But even though he isn’t catching the ball as much during these wins, he is playing a vital role.
Just heard a great point on Cleveland Browns Daily. Austin Hooper has been lights out. It’s not his stats that are jumping out, but his dominance in blocking has made the difference in key plays… #lookatthefilm
— Robert Fenbers (@Robert_Fenbers) September 28, 2020
The Bengals defense has given up 545 rushing yards in its first 3 games.
Against the run, the Bengals defense is second-worst in the NFL (surpassed only by the Houston Texans).
The Washington Football Team
Washington’s defense has given up 375 rushing yards in the first 3 games.
This stat makes them the 12th worst in the NFL against the run.
What this means is that the Cleveland Browns had the right game plan against these two opponents.
Running the ball, controlling the line of scrimmage, and having long possessions to kill the clock were the right strategies against these opponents.
So Austin Hooper was not as critical in these games.
Of course, the strategy changes with each opponent.
This Week’s Opponent: The Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are 11th worst in the NFL against the run, giving up 383 yards in the first 3 games.
Once again, running the ball will be the strategy.
Because the Browns are at their best when the run game is working.
How Does The Browns Defense Rank?
If you are wondering how the Browns are doing against the run, so far so good would be the assessment.
They have given up 282 yards on the ground in the first 3 games.
However, the Browns defense has Ezekiel Elliot this week so that will be the test.
Hooper Will Become More Important Very Soon.
Following the Dallas game, the Browns play the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Both defenses are highly effective against the run, ranked 1st and 4th respectively.
Those two games will necessitate Coach Stefanski to go with his multiple TE schemes to extend the drives and keep defenses honest and not exclusively focused on the run game.
And Hooper will be ready.
#Browns Austin Hooper wide open (via Cleveland Browns) pic.twitter.com/ffPrWn99Ij
— BrownsWave \: (@BrownsByBrad) August 23, 2020
Of course, if the statistics don’t interest you, wins and losses may.
The Cleveland Browns are 2-1 so far.
Offensive play-calling and execution has been exceptional the past two weeks.
The Harrison Bryant Factor
One other factor is that rookie TE Harrison Bryant is also on this team.
He has 3 receptions for 22 yards and 1 TD.
Again, multiple TE schemes may mean that Hooper isn’t getting all the balls.
But that’s okay so long as the Browns keep winning.
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