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The Cleveland Browns' Offense: Tendencies and Rufio's Notes

When work hasn't gotten in the way this week, I've been re-watching the Cleveland Browns' game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Normally when I look to chart plays I am scratching plays into scraps of paper and notebooks, but I decided to take a different approach this week and I am hoping I can keep doing it throughout the season. I have created a spreadsheet to keep track of down and distance, our personnel groupings, formations, a quick read of the defense, success of our offense (or lack thereof), and general notes on the plays.

I've uploaded the spreadsheet here if any of you want to look at what I've recorded, and I have just a bit of analysis after the jump.

On the spreadsheet:

  • I was re-watching the game via my (medium-speed) internet connection and I am fairly sure I missed Moore in the game at least once. I may have missed Norwood too. It's probably best to consider the small sample size of plays and my (admittedly present) margin of error when making any conclusions from this data.
  • I've never performed NFL-playbook-level rote memorization, and the football vocabulary I have is from widely varying systems. I've tried to describe the terminology I've used in the second tab but it is cobbled together from several systems/playbooks.
  • I based "success" loosely on Football Outsiders' definition. I looked for plays to gain 4 or more yards on 1st or 2nd down between the 20 yard lines, to get a 1st down on any down, or to get into the endzone.

On personnel:

  • We substituted WRs largely in groups. Robiskie and Massaquoi seemed to play together, while Cribbs and Little came into the game at the same time. Little also played the role of the 3rd receiver in 3WR sets, meaning he played the most snaps out of any WR.
  • Evan Moore was almost exclusively split out wide as a receiver when he was on the field. As PFF noticed, we threw it to him often when he was in the game.
  • We alternated Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins at RT on every other series. Both got dominated in pass protection at least once. I saw Hicks get beaten badly at least twice, with one of those times coming at the end of the game when we had to pass the ball.
  • Shurmur got RB Montario Hardesty a decent amount of snaps. I loved the use of Hillis and Hardesty on the field at the same time, as well as on play where we motioned Hardesty into the slot.
  • If we can get creative with versatile players such as Hillis, Hardesty, Ben Watson and Evan Moore, we can create favorable matchups in the passing game. But we can only do this if we also constrain the defense with the threat of the run.
  • RG Jason Pinkston looked able to play the part physically. But there were at least two times he made rookie mistakes that hurt the rest of the line and the offense. One was in pass pro (helping out Joe Thomas when he should have stayed inside) and one was in the running game (leaking up to the 2nd level too soon on a zone run).

On shooting ourselves in the foot:

  • We saw a glimpse of the offense I think we can be in the 2nd-3rd quarters. But in the first quarter, we were horrendous. A stat line from the CBS broadcast said it all: "McCoy 1st qtr: 15 yards, 0 TD, 2nd quarter 103 yards, 2TD"
  • One big reason for that first quarter was the situations we put ourselves in with penalties. Even with success here and there, you are never going to be able to sustain drives if you are in 3rd and long. Our first two 3rd down plays were 3rd and 16 and 3rd and 24. 
  • Our first success on 3rd down came on a 3rd and 7. It was our fourth 3rd down play of the game, with our third 3rd down play being another 3rd and 7.
  • Our 3rd down woes continued in the fourth quarter, where we failed on 3rd and 17, 15, 10, and 7. We succeeded on 3rd and 3 as well as 3rd and 7.
  • We had several (at least two) plays where either Owen Maceric or Peyton HIllis went the wrong way on running plays. Luckily, only one of these plays went for negative yardage.
  • We simply have to reduce the amount of running plays that go for <2 yards. If we can count on our running game to consistently get us yardage--even minimal yardage--we can put ourselves in better 3rd down situations.

On strategy in general:

  • I noticed this tendency with Shurmur in St. Louis, and it continues here: he will run one play and then run either the same exact play or a different look off of that original play on the very next down. An obvious example of this would be a run and then a play action pass off of that run on the next down. We will also run pass concepts that look like one another back to back.
  • I am openly an Owen Maceric defender. But he had one pretty awesome block down near the goal line. We were also running him deep repeatedly on a seam route after a lead draw play action fake. This was in large part to keep defenders in the middle of the field away from our WRs, but I expect us to try to hit him deep down the middle at some point.
  • When we are in singleback ("Ace") formations, our favorite run is the power O play. Look for a guard pulling to the playside of the run.
  • Cincinnati played Cover-5 (Cover 2 man under) very sparingly against us. The one time I noticed them playing 2 deep man under before our 2 minute drill, Colt McCoy was able to escape the pocket and scramble for a big 1st down. If he is able to limit opposing defenses' use of this defense with his legs that will be a big plus.
  • Cincinnati played a lot of MoFC (single high safety) coverages against us, often in Cover 1 Robber with tight man coverage underneath. They were trying to flood the underneath areas with 6 defenders (5 in man + 1 "robber" in zone) and I expect this trend to continue until we prove we can shake that tight man coverage for chunk plays through the air or burn aggressive defenders with play action more consistently.

That's all I have for now. Even if you don't want to try to decode my spreadsheet I hope you enjoyed my observations.