Rob Chudzinski and other coaches are relying more on non-traditional analysis.
CLEVELAND - Browns CEO Joe Banner chuckled in recalling reactions of Philadelphia Eagles coaches years ago as the club introduced advanced statistics into offices where decisions traditionally had been made based on film study, experience and gut instincts.
Some probably conjured images of Dr. Sheldon Cooper - the superhero-worshiping professor from the Big Bang Theory - writing mathematical equations on a grease board to explain the optimal time to onside kick.
"Reaction was varied to be honest," said Banner, who spent 19 years with the Eagles. "Some were embracing it, some thought it was nonsense. It's like anything that's new. Some coaches were wondering, 'What the hell are you doing?'
"... Numbers to some people are like technology to some people. They feel foreign, they feel scary."
Under Banner, the Browns will crunch numbers in the scouting department the way they do stomachs in the gym. The franchise is joining a growing number of NFL teams utilizing analytics to evaluate everything from game-day situations to draft- and free-agent prospects to coaching candidates.
New Browns president Alec Scheiner is spending the weekend in Boston serving as a panelist at the seventh annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. He is a former Dallas Cowboys general counsel who also oversaw the organization's analytics department. Scheiner will develop a similar model in Berea, Banner said, with newly-hired Ken Kovash as his senior stats man.
Banner said Browns fans should not worry that coach Rob Chudzinski and his staff will acquiesce to numbers nerds in every key situation.
"Look, it's an element," Banner said. "Some of the statisticians think it should dictate what you do and that would be a terrible mistake, but if you integrate it as another piece of information it can be very valuable."
The Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens added an analytics director last fall. The runner-up San Francisco 49ers were among the first teams to use advance stats more than a decade ago. In a league that revels in its Cold War mentality, some NFL teams don't publicize their new math or show its work for fear of forfeiting an edge.
Banner has divulged little, other than to say they already have incorporated analytics in making decisions on coaching hires. He told reporters last week at the scouting combine that advanced stats affirmed the Browns defense was not as good as some had portrayed it the past two seasons.
Banner said a key number in the hiring of Ray Horton as defensive coordinator is 32.9 - the percentage at which Arizona Cardinals' opponents converted third downs, the league's second-lowest total last season.
It seems clear years later Banner won't meet much resistance in asking coaches to consider the empirical data along with what they see on film. The subject was broached during the recent hiring process, and the Browns executive said Chudzinski is amenable to it.
"We are going to have a set of beliefs and everything is going to be consistent with them," Banner said. "Time will prove whether we are right or wrong. ... This is what we believe in and we are going to bring in people who are comfortable with it or are comfortable implementing that kind of stuff into how we do things."
With its affinity for numbers and abundant one-on-one matchups, baseball was a fertile ground for the birth of advanced stats in the '90s. Its patriarch, Bill James, is revered. Sabermetrics is glorified in a 2011 movie, "Moneyball."
The NBA followed. The league's website recently including additional stats that once only could be found on fan blogs. While baseball and basketball accepted help from outsiders, the NFL was in many cases more insular.
In 2007, the Washing-ton Redskins hired Jeff Dominitz, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, to conduct statistical research without first consulting the coaching staff.
"I lasted seven weeks," he said.
Dominitz, a Redskins' fan, accepted a similar job with the Eagles from 2008-11 during which time he researched, among other things, the best approaches to the new overtime format.
Should the club getting the ball first in OT go for it on fourth down rather than kick a long field goal knowing the opponent could win on the next series with a touchdown? Dominitz probed such scenarios and contributed draft assessments.
"I'm proud of the work I did and I know it helped," said Dominitz, a director of a Los Angeles-based economics consulting firm.
Aaron Schatz, founder of the website Football Outsiders, is another fan whose passion for the game and knowledge of analytics caught the NFL's attention. He's consulted for several teams, but never accepted a full-time job for one.
His 10-year-old site assigns values and rankings to players, units and teams. It also attempts to debunk myths. Schatz finds no correlation, for example, between establishing the run early in games and winning. He does, however, contend rushing on third-and-1 is 36 percent more likely to earn a first down than passing.
The site's rankings sometimes can vary greatly from traditional metrics. Browns hal*ack Trent Richardson finished last season 18th in rushing yards and tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns, yet Football Outsiders ranked him in the mid-30s among NFL backs. Schatz admits football is tougher to analyze statistically than baseball because the success of so many positions like linemen is dependent on teammates.
"There is nothing like OPS (on-base plus slugging average) in football," he said.
Kovash, 35, fits the outsiders' profile. He holds degrees in economics, financing and marketing, and was working for the software giant, Mozilla, before the Cowboys offered him a position in 2010. A year earlier, Kovash co-authored a paper on baseball and football, one that examined 125,000 play calls in the NFL from 2001-05.
Banner marvels at how times have changed since quality control coaches provided rudimentary analysis starting in 1990.
"Remember when you use to see the coach holding the piece of paper that told him when to go for two (points)?" Banner said. "This is multiple layers of sophisticated analysis beyond that."
The Browns, preparing for free agency and the draft, are looking for an edge rusher as it transitions to a 3-4 defensive front. They have metrics to determine best fits, Banner said, but coaches will watch film and conduct interviews before being plied with data.
Given their legacy of losing, some Browns fans are searching for more inspiring sights than statisticians plugging data into computers. But Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff believes teams investing in analytics are swimming with the tides of change.
"It's a supplement," Dimitroff said, "and it goes back to making sure you have all the tools necessary, and hopefully, you have a little bit of an edge over somebody else because you have a different approach."