DraftBrowns.com Editor: Brendan Leister
With more and more NFL teams implementing innovative concepts and philosophies on offense (especially from the college and high school ranks), it is important that teams do not fall behind. With this in mind, a few plays caught my eye while watching the Cleveland Browns defeat the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals the past two weeks. Although each may have looked like just another simple play in a quick viewing of the live broadcast, there was a forward-thinking approach to the design of each of the plays.
Inside Zone Read vs MIN
On the Inside Zone Read, the offensive line blocks as if they’re running a normal inside zone run play, but they must leave the back side defensive end unblocked. The running back crosses the quarterback’s face as if he’s going to take the handoff on the inside zone run. The quarterback’s job is to read the unblocked back side defensive end. If the defensive end pursues the Inside Zone run to the inside, the quarterback pulls the ball out and runs to the vacated space to the outside. If the defensive end stays at home and honors the quarterback’s running ability, the quarterback hands off to the back on the inside zone run. By counting the number of defenders in the box (six) and comparing that number with the number of offensive players in the box (eight), you can see that the Browns have a “plus two” advantage. If this run is executed correctly, it should result in a decent gain.
It is difficult to see in the still shot, but the defensive end takes a few steps down the line of scrimmage in the direction of the running back. This means that the quarterback should pull the ball out and run to the vacated area to the outside.
Note: I would like to see the quarterback stick the ball out further into the running back’s gut to really sell the fake. Making the defensive end believe that the ball is going inside and forcing him to crash hard in that direction is crucial to the quarterback gaining positive yardage to the outside on the run.
As you can see, the defensive end has his eyes on the quarterback and he never fully committed to the running back. The quarterback begins to run to the outside.
The defensive end chases down the quarterback and tackles him in the backfield for a loss of two yards. Although the play was drawn up perfectly, the execution was not good enough, and subsequently resulted in a loss of yardage. I believe that if the quarterback had done a better job of selling the fake to the running back, the play could have resulted in a gain of at least a few yards.
For further recommended reading on Zone Read plays, Click Here.
Packaged Play vs MIN
On this play, the Browns come out in Trips to the right with Josh Gordon lined up as the #3 receiver, Davone Bess as the #2 receiver, and Greg Little on the outside as the #1 receiver. This packaged play combines an Inside Zone run with a “Pop” by the #3 receiver, a Bubble by the #2 receiver, and a Hitch by the #1 receiver. Brian Hoyer (the quarterback) must read the outside linebacker to the Trips side of the formation (circled). If the outside linebacker drops back in coverage to defend the #3 receiver, Hoyer’s job is to hand off to the running back. If the outside linebacker pursues to the inside, the quarterback must look outside and decide which matchup he likes the best.
At the snap of the ball, the linebacker pursues to the inside as Hoyer sticks the ball in the running back’s gut. Because the defense looks to be in Cover-1 (man to man with a free safety in the deep middle of the field), none of the receivers should be wide open at the snap of the ball. It is Hoyer’s responsibility to find the best possible matchup and make an accurate throw.
This still shot from the end zone angle shows the outside linebacker closing in on the running back as Hoyer reads the defense.
Because Josh Gordon has gained inside position on the defensive back, Hoyer chooses to throw it in his direction. Gordon’s combination of size, speed, and strong hands make him a very dangerous target once he gains inside leverage.
Hoyer throws an accurate pass, but the defensive back makes a great play by reaching out with his inside hand and disrupting the catch point.
The play may have resulted in an incomplete pass, but it was also further proof that the Browns have a forward-thinking coaching staff that is embracing new concepts and ways of thinking about the game of football.
Packaged Play vs CIN
In Sunday’s win over the 17-6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns ran the exact same packaged play when they got down in the red zone in the first quarter. However, the Bengals defense matched up differently against the formation than the Vikings did.
The Bengals have dropped a safety down into the box (#26) and look as though they are going to play some form of Cover 3 due to the alignment of the cornerbacks and the single-high safety in the middle of the field (see previous image for cornerback alignments). Because the Bengals moved the safety into the box, both teams have seven in the box (excluding the quarterback). This means that even if the offensive line perfectly executes their blocks, there will still be a defender unaccounted for in the run game.
At the snap of the ball, Hoyer sees the outside linebacker to the Trips side (black circle) drop back to cover the #3 receiver and he hands off to the running back on the Inside Zone run. Due to the numbers being even in the box, the linebacker that I pointed out in the previous image (white circle) looks as though he’s going to come through the line unblocked.
The end zone angle gives a better look at the unblocked defender.
The linebacker closes in and brings down the running back after a gain of one yard.
Hoyer read the linebacker correctly and the offensive line executed their blocks effectively, but the defense matched up perfectly and made the play.
For further recommended reading on Packaged Plays, Click Here.
Inverted Veer out of Wildcat vs CIN
This time, the Browns come out in a Wildcat formation with rookie tight end MarQueis Gray (played quarterback in college at the University of Minnesota) at quarterback. The Browns run an Inverted Veer run play. On the Inverted Veer, the quarterback reads the front side defensive end. If the defensive end stays at home and respects the running back’s path toward the outside, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs it straight up through the vacated area in the defense. If the defensive end crashes down inside toward to quarterback, the quarterback hands it off to the running back on what is essentially a sweep.
The defensive end does not crash down hard toward the quarterback, but he does take a couple of steps down inside. This tells the quarterback that he needs to hand the ball off to the running back. As you can see, the Browns have a four on three advantage to the outside (including the running back). The defensive end does not count in the numbers game because he should take himself out of the play if the quarterback makes the correct read.
The end zone angle gives a better look at why the quarterback should hand off to the running back. The defensive end is far enough inside that if the quarterback were to keep the ball, he would have the opportunity to make an easy tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
Although the quarterback made the correct read by handing off to the running back, the defensive end did a great job of staying in a position where he could still have a chance to chase down the running back once the ball was handed off.
Due to the pursuit and missed blocks by wide receivers on the outside, the running back was forced to cut the run back up to the inside.
The running back was eventually brought down after a three-yard gain. The play was very well-designed, but the defense executed to perfection.
Although the Browns did not gain many yards on the plays broken down in this piece, it should be noted that the coaching staff is embracing change and making good use of new concepts and play designs. It will be very interesting to see what other innovative wrinkles the Browns unveil going forward.
Three extra notes on the Cleveland Browns offense through four games in 2013:
1) The Browns have used the pistol formation from time to time this year. Although they have not used it with much regularity, they have installed the formation and used it in each game.
I wrote this piece about why the Browns should implement the pistol formation back in July. (Even after the trade of Trent Richardson and the demotion of Brandon Weeden, the points made in regard to balancing out tendencies with the pistol still apply.)
2) The Browns are currently third in fewest seconds per play in 2013. The Philadelphia Eagles are first at 22.4 seconds per play, the Buffalo Bills are second at 23.1 seconds per play, and the Browns are third at 25 seconds per play. (via @NFLN_Playbook)
3) The Browns are currently on pace to run 1,120 plays in 2013. They are in the top five in most plays run with 295 through four games. (via @NFLN_Playbook)