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Film Study: Browns’ 1st offensive series vs. Falcons is a three-and-out

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For the preseason, I am going to pilot test doing a couple of posts to highlight each play of a certain series of the game, either on offense or defense. I’ll start with the Cleveland Browns’ first offensive series against the Atlanta Falcons, and then follow-up on Sunday with their scoring drives and perhaps a defensive series. Note: All-22 footage is not available for preseason games.

1st Offensive Series

SUMMARY: Browns go three-and-out despite a good first play.

Play 1 (1st-and-10): 8-yard run by Isaiah Crowell

The Browns start the game with FB Malcolm Johnson in the backfield and RB Isaiah Crowell behind him in the I-formation. WR Taylor Gabriel is at the top of the screen as the only wide receiver on the play. Initially, the Browns lined up with two tight ends on the right side, but TE Gary Barnidge came in motion to the right side of the formation. Dan France started at left tackle for Joe Thomas, but the player to France’s left in this formation is rookie Spencer Drango. We’ve heard that Drango has been used as a blocking tight end/sixth lineman in camp, and here’s an example right off the bat of it.

Everyone packs it inside, and Crowell sees this and makes a quick cut to his left. Notice that Drango is doing a good job pushing the edge defender out of the play. The middle linebacker and safety both react to Crowell going to the outside, and Crowell then reacts again by stepping back inside.

Here is the step inside, and Crowell has a burst of speed to pick up eight yards. Crowell made this play happen with his quick decision-making, and nobody on the offensive line made a big blunder.

Play 2 (2nd-and-2): Incomplete Screen Pass to Terrelle Pryor

On the WEWS feed, they were introducing the offense so they cut to this play late. Until I reviewed it on NFL Game Pass, I didn’t realize that we had spread the offensive linemen wide (Dan France at the bottom and Austin Pasztor at the top). The Falcons only line up one defender at the top of the screen; along with Pasztor, TE Gary Barnidge is on the outside to block and WR Terrelle Pryor is behind the line as a receiving option. QB Robert Griffin III makes the right move to fire it over to the side with little coverage.

CB Desmond Trufant gets a great read on the play and blows right by Barnidge. Trufant hits Pryor right as the ball gets to him, leading to an incomplete pass. I like the play call, and part of me says this is just great execution by Trufant. In the coaches room, they’ll tell Barnidge he needs to get in Trufant’s way a little more — and maybe Pasztor could’ve helped by showing a chip before going back inside (assuming Pryor had caught the pass).

NFL teams in the regular season would probably defend this better (pre-snap), but if a team did give this look, I’d be very interested in seeing Barnidge just take off on a go route. Trufant’s going to have to pick someone, and Griffin could just throw it to the other guy.

Play 3 (3rd-and-2): 1-yard run by Isaiah Crowell

I loved the Browns pulling their lineman at the end of last season, so this third down play is a concept I am definitely going to be a fan of this season. Facing a 3rd-and-2, LT Dan France and LG Joel Bitonio are going to pull to the right side of the formation. C Cameron Erving is going to get over to his left to chip a guy enough so he can’t chase RB Isaiah Crowell down from behind. WR Marlon Moore, lined up behind France, is going to deliver a cut block to the defensive end. RG John Greco and RT Austin Pasztor are going to double team the defensive tackle, while TE Gary Barnidge will try to block the defensive end to the inside.

So far, the play seems to be developing pretty well. Barnidge is shielding his guy to the inside, and the pulling linemen should be man-to-man on the two defenders on the right. If the blocks are hit, Crowell should have enough of a seam to burst through and pick up a first down.

As Crowell gets ready to hit the hole, though, Barnidge loses leverage of his defender, which has now closed the gap and created too much congestion. Crowell tries to bury his head and plow through, but he’s only able to get one yard.

After the play was over, WR Terrelle Pryor was given a 15-yard penalty, presumably for saying something he shouldn’t have to CB Desmond Trufant in front of the official. The Browns punted on 4th-and-16. Their next couple of series were better, which we’ll get to on Sunday.