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Midseason Report: the Cleveland Browns' Offense

So far this season, our offense has scored 58 total points, for an average of 8.3 points/game.  That simply isn't going to get the job done in the NFL.

At times, I have wanted to throw my TV out of my third floor window.  At others, I have wanted to lace up my cleats to see if I can run a seam route better than Robert Royal.

Why exactly are we so bad?  Where do we need to improve?  Is there anything positive to take away from our offensive performance amidst the sea of ineffectiveness?

I finally got my hands on some game film, so I decided to take a look at this past Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.  I will break down three plays that didn't work here, handing out blame to the guilty parties.  Look for a breakdown of some plays we ran effectively to be posted Saturday night.

Play 1

This is a play we ran very effectively last year (check out my comment with screenshots).  If all goes as planned, Josh Cribbs goes in motion and blocks down on a defender on the line of scrimmage, then LT Joe Thomas pulls around Cribbs, lead blocking along with FB Lawrence Vickers.

I love this play, as it suits our strengths.  It allows Cribbs (a tough, physical player for his size who isn't afraid of contact) to catch someone off-guard and light them up.  It allows Joe Thomas (a ridiculously athletic man for his size) get out into space and engulf a smaller defender.  It allows Vickers (an above-average athlete at FB) to lead block in space, and it runs away from one of our offensive weaknesses; the right side of the line.

The problem with this play starts with the fact that we have RB Jamal Lewis in the game over RB Jerome Harrison.  Harrison is much faster than Lewis.  Sure, the defense might know we like to run outside with Harrison, but who cares what they know if they can't stop us?

The second problem is that for whatever reason, Cribbs isn't exactly sure who to block:



You can see him ready to block but not taking anyone on above.  It was a bit of a weird front, as Green Bay had moved the FS Nick Collins up to the line of scrimmage bewteen ROLB Clay Matthews and RDE Cullen Jenkins.  I have a feeling that Cribbs thought he was to block the SS, who TE Greg Estandia took on immediately after the snap.

In this situation, it is better for Cribbs to block the "wrong" guy, but to be wrong decisively.  Instead he waits and waits, and even lets RILB A.J. Hawk run right by him...



...and make the tackle.


Who's at fault?

  • QB: hard to blame Anderson on this play, as it was a solid play call, and could have resulted in a solid gain if DA did everything exactly as he did above.
  • WRs: Cribbs needs to block someone.  Even if he gets the "wrong guy", Vickers or Thomas can adjust an pick up whoever Cribbs lets through.
  • OL: every lineman pretty much did their job.  The play could have resulted in a solid gain even if they did everything the same as above.
  • RB: I can't put the blame on Lewis for this play.  A faster/better back could have gotten more yards, but when you are getting hit behind the line of scrimmage as a RB, someone else messed up.
  • Coaching: I know that if the coaches always used Lewis to run inside and Harrison outside we'd be predictable.  But is this alternative any better?  We simply don't have uber-versatile players right now, so why not put the players we do have in position to succeed?  Harrison is good at running outside.  Lewis is not.  Put Harrison in for this play, and then if teams start catching on, throw the changeup.

Play 2

Early in the second quarter, we ran another play that epitomized what is wrong with our offense.

I like that our coaching staff tried something different, lining Hank Fraley up at Tight End.  The problem with the personnel package we used, however, is that it failed to create the mismatches we wanted.  Fraley does one thing as a TE, and that is block.

Green Bay knows the pass is less of a threat--especially to the bottom of the screen--with Fraley at TE.  Because of this, they are able to walk their SS up to put 8 men in the box:


Against an eight man front, we only have seven blockers available (5 OL, 1 TE, 1 FB), which means the defense will have an unblocked player available to make the tackle even if we are able to make and sustain all our blocks.  This is why Bernie Kosar always advocates throwing the ball against an 8 man front when he is the color man during our preseason broadcasts.

DA can reasonably suspect that Green Bay is in man coverage because CBs Charles Woodson and Al Harris are lined up directly over WRs Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi.  Facing man coverage and an 8 man front, we should be in great position to pass the ball. DA can guess with some confidence that Green Bay is playing Cover-1, facing anywhere from a 4-6 man rush.  So, DA checks to a pass:


Because of our substitution of Fraley at TE, we aren't in much better position to pass the ball.  Green Bay is able to send 6 rushers while still playing man-to-man on all of our receiving options and having deep "centerfield" safety help.

After the snap, rookie WRs Massaquoi and Robiskie struggle to get off the line of scrimmage against press coverage.  Further exacerbating the delay in getting open, both WR are running relatively slow developing routes.  We are running the "switch" concept (see WRs X and Y, ignore the others):



When DA hits the back of his drop, the WRs are no where close to where they need to be.  Instead of looking them off and checking down to FB Lawrence Vickers, who is open and could probably pick up a solid gain, Anderson continues to stare down the WRs.

Compounding the problem is the fact that DA doesn't have another player running a route because RB Jamal Lewis is pass blocking and our other eligible receiver is OL Hank Fraley, who isn't ever a threat to catch a pass.

After hesitating, DA fires a dangerous pass almost right to LB Nick Barnett.  He was lucky this wasn't a pick 6.


Who's at fault?

  • QB:  DA can not throw this high risk, low reward pass--at worst it should have been a throwaway over Vickers' head and out of bounds.  He also probably shouldn't be checking to a pass with 6 OL in the game.  Lastly, when he saw our WRs struggle to get open, he should have looked them off and checked down much sooner.  Additionally; why is this a 5-step drop and not a 7- or even 9-step drop for such long-developing routes?  If he knows the blitz is coming and that he has to get rid of the ball quickly, why is it not a 3-step drop with quicker developing routes?
  • RB: Lewis may have whiffed on his block.  I can't tell if he was supposed to chip and then release in to the flat or not.  Either way, he could have slowed the pass rush more.
  • WR: They need to get off the press.  It doesn't look as bad real-time as it does in the stills, but they could still help Anderson out.
  • OL: they picked up the 6 man pressure fairly well.  
  • Coaching staff: Why simply sub Fraley in the game at TE?  It's a pretty clear signal that we are going to run.  Furthermore, it's not at all versatile (something that the coaches want our offense to be) because Fraley is only in there to block.  It takes our offense from 5 receivers down to 4.  Why not go with an unbalanced line instead, leaving a TE on the field?  Why not go with another TE instead of 2 WR, creating a mismatch (our power vs. their speed)?  Why is there not a better "hot" route on this play, with the blitz looming?


We come out in a singleback shotgun formation with WR Mohammed Massaquoi at the top of the screen, and WRs Brian Robiskie and Chansi Stuckey, along with TE Greg Estandia in a trips formation at the bottom of the screen.


DA sends Estandia in motion across C Alex Mack, and then back to his original place in the formation:


This isn't just motion for the sake of motion; it is designed to tell us something about the coverage.  Green Bay shows that they are playing man coverage on Estandia because LB Brandon Chillar follows Estandia in motion.  This implies that the Packers are also playing man coverage on our other receivers.

Off the snap, Estandia stays in to block, but our protection scheme is such that he has to cross paths with RT John St. Clair to pick up the blitzing LB Chillar (who was trying to deceive us and is actually blitzing, not covering Estandia).  Initially, I thought Mack blew our pass protection because he wasn't blocking anyone off the snap...3_20copy_medium

but Mack actually knew exactly what was coming, as Green Bay's rushers stunted.  Anderson, knowing he has Massaquoi basically one-on-one, stares him down.  Massaquoi has a step, but Stuckey seems to be getting open behind S Atari Bigby.


I have to blame the play design here.  Against Cover-1, there is usually a LB or S playing a short zone in the middle of the field (a "robber").  To me, it's clear that if Stuckey were running an out or a corner route here, he would be open for the 1st down, as there is no help in those areas of the field.

In 2007 when DA was at his best, he was trying to fit balls in to tight spaces, and he was throwing some jump balls (high risk), but he was also taking shots downfield (high reward).  He goes that route again here, but he makes a really weak effort.  At this point, he has held on to the ball long enough that he knows he is probably going to get hit.  Instead of stepping up into the pocket and taking that hit ("like a man"), he tries to avoid the contact...


...and because he doesn't step into his throw, he ends up grossly underthrowing Massaquoi...


...right off of Al Harris' foot.  I don't need to talk about how bad of a throw that is, but it should be especially embarrassing because he wouldn't just take a hit for the benefit of the team.


Who's at fault?

  • QB: DA's arm is supposed to be his strengh.  He needs to suck it up, step up, and take this hit.
  • WR: Stuckey is open, and Massaquoi has a step and a half on Al Harris.  I can't see Robiskie's route after it's stem.  A WR can always be more open.
  • RB: Jerome Harrison actually picks up a blitzing linebacker fairly well for a 210lb. man.  He could have done a better job, but this play isn't on him.
  • OL:  They could have done a better job, particularly RT John St. Clair.  He does have to switch places with Estandia, making it tough to recover.
  • Coaching staff: I don't know if Estandia was supposed to stop his motion in the backfield and be lined up more like an H-back, but a switch like what happened shouldn't happen, especially on the right side where we are having enough problems pass blocking. K.I.S.S.  Why is Stuckey running a square in/post?  Here is another example of not putting our players in position to succeed; Harrison is the worst pass protecting back on our roster.  Clearly, Green Bay was not worried about him catching the ball, so why put him in the game, only to have him do what he isn't good at doing?  Why not have Lewis or Vickers in there to pass block?


Here is where I place the blame, from least blame to most blame:

  1. OL: At least in the Green Bay game, the pass protection wasn't bad.  Maybe St. Clair really wanted DA to be the quarterback, because he didn't play anywhere near as bad as he used to with Quinn under center (see: Broncos game).  He isn't the long-term answer, but I expect the line to continue to improve because of Mack and (hopefully) a healthy Rex Hadnot.
  2. RB: Lewis certainly isn't what he used to be, but Harrison has shown he can be dangerous.  Still, both our RB's weaknesses are being highlighted far too often, with their strengths being ignored or underutilized.  I would love to be finding out what James Davis could do right now.
  3. WR: Both Robi and MoMass will improve with time, and if they are going to excel in the NFL, they probably don't do so consistently this year.  We lack a WR who can consistently get open against straight man or man-free coverage.
  4. QB: He isn't getting much help from his wideouts or the play calling/play design, but DA looks like he is a step slow in reading the defense, he is forcing short throws that he shouldn't make, and he isn't utilizing his own strengths.
  5. Coaching staff: Our players look undisciplined, confused, and out of position.  Daboll looks like a jack of all trades but a master of none, his offense lacks any sort of coherence, and he looks like he is out-smarting himself.  In my opinion, we should simplify our offense. 

We should work three or four runs that we can run out of any formation and master them.  We should take three or four passing concepts/route combinations and master those.  Ideally, a few of the runs compliment a few of the passes (play actions with the same blocking patterns, etc,) and they'd compliment each other.  Once we have the simple things down, then we can put in the wrinkles and the tricky pass protections and the counter punches.  As it stands now, we have nothing to counter off of.