Way-too-early Conclusions about the 2013 Cleveland Browns

Matt Sullivan

After watching the Cleveland Browns' first preseason game, I've got some guesses about what the Cleveland Browns will look like in 2013.

While the national media were busy hammering Bernie Kosar for his preseason humor during the Cleveland Browns' first preseason game against the St. Louis Rams, I was actually watching the game.

Obviously, it is way too soon to come to any real conclusions about the strengths and weaknesses of the 2013 Clevleand Browns. But after getting to see the Browns in some "real" game action I have some ideas about what we might see during the regular season.

Offense

  • A quicker Brandon Weeden. He relapsed into a few old bad habits (poor trajectory on short passes, a few decisions that should have been quicker) but his feet are already better in year 2. A lot of coaches believe that the most important part of a QB's mechanics is footwork. Brandon had better feet and rhythm than we saw last year, and at least some of that should carry over into the regular season.
  • Pre-snap motion. This happened a lot in Chud's offense with the Carolina Panthers, and I expect it to continue. Why the TE? The alignment of the TE usually determines what the "passing strength" of an offensive formation.
    • TE motion is sort of like taking a machine apart to explore how it works. We will move the TE early and gather information about how defenders respond, then we'll look to exploit the defense via the information that we find.
  • Similar plays as our last offense, only with a different emphasis. We saw a completion to Josh Gordon (12:40ish left in 1st quarter) on a dig route, which was seemingly deeper than we threw the ball most of last year. BUT, this was a West Coast Offense (and Pat Shurmur) staple play: "Mesh." Under Chud we made the defense respect the deeper route over the top of the mesh, and voila: a "vertical" offense with efficient underneath options.
  • Much more zone blocking than I anticipated. I fully expected us to utilize a "Power O" based blocking scheme. Instead, we ran a lot of zone blocked plays. They didn't look like the trademark zone schemes of Houston, Washington, and previously Denver, but we were zone blocking quite a bit.
  • Lots of shotgun, lots of 12 or 11 personnel. There was a marked increase in the times that we saw Weeden in the shotgun vs. last year, especially outside of "passing situations." I am predicting that we'll use a 2nd TE as often or more often than we use a fullback, and I would guess we'll use a 3rd wide receiver often as well.
    • In shotgun, the offense wasn't 1-dimensional, as we saw a nice draw play to Dion Lewis for a first down, and several runs of differing success. The goal is to be able to do what we like to do from the formations we like.
  • More constraint. We saw the defense truly have to play honest both within the passing game (vertical and underneath options both being more viable) and between types of plays (pass/draw/screen, and run/play action). This is a fantastic sign going forward.
  • TEs a weakness. We'll use a lot of them, but Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge both have their issues. Neither is a great blocker, and when we did try to run Power O, Barnidge got worked. Cameron showcased some speed, but also some inconsistency. We NEED a TE who is a threat in both the run and pass games.
  • Weeden with an option pass. Almost Brandon Weeden's entire offense at Oklahoma State had him choosing what to do based on one defender's action after the snap. We saw an NFL version of this style of play when Weeden killed a run play and threw a 1-step quick pass to Josh Gordon with about 4:32 left in the 1st quarter. This is our version of the read option.


Defense

  • We are who we thought we were. We will blitz and show blitz frequently, trying to make the offense unsure how many rushers we will bring and where they will come from. This is who Ray Horton is.
    • We used a combination of 2-gap and 1-gap techniques up front, but I don't have a better analysis than that without the endzone film and more tape. We will be a "hybrid" team who uses Crennel/Mangini-esque 3-4 principles as well as traditional 4-3 principles.
  • Trevin Wade showing some usefulness. I don't think he will see the field vs 2 WR sets or maybe even 3 WR sets, but Wade made some good plays against 1st-teamers and showed he could be trusted in DB-heavy packages during the regular season.
  • I don't expect us to give away much during the preseason, but when we went to a nickel package it was a 4-2-5 with Buster Skrine on the outside, Wade in the slot, D'Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson as the linebackers, Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger as defensive ends, Phil Taylor as a nose/1-technique tackle, and Desmond Bryant as the 3-technique tackle. And we didn't have to blitz to get pressure.
    • We did show a blitz look where Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, and Sheard, were all in the game in an amoeba defense with Phil Taylor at the nose. We brought all four players on a blitz, plus Craig Robertson and Johnson Bademosi for good measure.
  • 2nd team run D needs some work. The Rams had much too easy of a time running it up the middle of our 2nd team defense. Billy Winn was still showing good power and quickness but I remain concerned about John Hughes and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen. Our linebackers did a decent job of filling running lanes and Barkevious Mingo was showing impressive speed. But none of that will matter if our line can't keep offensive linemen occupied and clog up the running lanes. If Hughes and Kitchen see any meaningful snaps this year, they will need to do a better job.
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