We’ve already broken down the Browns’ first offensive series (a three-and-out) and their second offensive series (50-yard touchdown) this past Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons. For our final look at the offense, we’re going to skip over the third series and go to the fourth series, which ended with a 29-yard touchdown pass to TE Gary Barnidge.
4th Offensive Series
SUMMARY: Flow of scoring drive very similar to the previous, ending in a 29-yard touchdown pass.
Play 1 (1st-and-10 @CLE 38): 22-yard bootleg by RG III
The first two series we reviewed, Dan France was in at left tackle. This series, Spencer Drango is manning that position.
In terms of personnel, the Browns line up with three receivers — Taylor Gabriel is split wide left, Terrelle Pryor wide right, and Marlon Moore slot right. The tight end on the right is Gary Barnidge. Barnidge blocks the defensive end. RG John Greco and RT Austin Pasztor block the defensive tackle, and then Pasztor releases to the second level. LG Joel Bitonio is pulling to the right side. Drango lets the defensive end on his side come free so that he can immediately block at the second level.
This is where the read-option or the quarterback-run threat comes into play. That defensive end that you let free (in cyan) has to choose to either go for the backside pursuit on the running back, or stay with a running quarterback. This often has to be on instinct — a defender doesn’t have time to wait, see who gets the ball, and then pick who he wants to go after.
The Falcons crash hard on RB Isaiah Crowell, and QB Robert Griffin III has his eyes on the edge rusher. When he sees the rusher coming down the line, he pulls the ball out and takes off to the left, where you see a wide open lane. If this were a Josh McCown running this, he’d get some yards, but probably not a first down.
Griffin has the speed to turn this into a 22-yard gain in a flash before sliding safely to the ground, unharmed. This threat sets up so many of the plays in Hue Jackson’s offense.
Play 2 (1st-and-10 @ATL 40): 6-yard run by Isaiah Crowell
On the next play, Cleveland lines up with the same formation and personnel, except that RB Isaiah Crowell is now to the right of QB Robert Griffin III.
The concept is similar to the first play, but flipped a little. We have TE Gary Barnidge immediately going to the second level to block, and the defender in cyan on that side now has to make a decision.
This time, the edge defender stays put as more of a spy on Griffin. The blocking up front is solid for the Browns, allowing Crowell to crash forward for a gain of six yards.
Play 3 (2nd-and-4 @ATL 34): 2-yard run by Isaiah Crowell
The Browns hurried to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball quick to run the same exact play. This time, the edge defender comes crashing down the line of scrimmage. QB Robert Griffin III looked committed to handing the ball off to RB Isaiah Crowell the whole way on this one. Crowell could still crash up the middle for a few yards, but with the left tackle’s man taking a wide rush, he tries to bounce this to the outside.
C Cameron Erving’s defender gets a hand on Crowell, but Erving still engages with him, which prevents this from being no gain. The contact and other pursuing defenders limits this to a 2-yard gain, but positive run plays at a consistent rate are such a relief after our disastrous run-game communication a year ago.
Play 4 (3rd-and-2 @ATL 32): Incomplete pass to Duke Johnson
Facing a 3rd-and-2, the Browns line up with five-wide. WR Taylor Gabriel is wide left, RB Duke Johnson slot left, TE Gary Barnidge tight right, WR Marlon Moore slot right, and WR Terrelle Pryor wide right. The Falcons are in man-to-man coverage.
Johnson does a slight hesitation at the first-down line before cutting to the inside, but as you’ll see, the defender does an excellent job staying glued to him.
Here is another shot of the play. The protection is good, but QB Robert Griffin III still wants to get it out in a hurry.
Because the defender didn’t lose any ground on Johnson’s fake, he’s able to make a play on the football and bat it away — this was not a drop by Johnson. If I were to nitpick, the throw could be a hair more out in front or a tad lower, but in the end, I just give kudos to the defender. More times than not, I’d expect Johnson to have a little more separation to allow this to be an easy completion.
Play 5 (4th-and-2 @ATL 32): 3-yard run by Duke Johnson
Facing a fourth down, the Browns decide to go for it. They return to the read-option type of play where LT Spencer Drango will go to the second level and let the edge defender go. LG Joel Bitonio will pull over to the right side to take care of anyone trying to crash the line from that side. In the middle, instead of either RT John Greco or RT Austin Pasztor trying to go to the second level, they double team the defensive tackle to get a better push up front. All they are looking for here is a little bit of power to grind out a first down.
The edge defender has to stay honest with QB Robert Griffin III. If he crashed, Griffin would just keep it and run for a first down easily. Johnson has enough of a hole to pick up three yards before he’s met by a linebacker.
Play 6 (1st-and-10 @ATL 29): 29-yard TD pass to Gary Barnidge
With a fresh set of downs, the Browns put RB Isaiah Crowell back into the game. He starts off in the backfield but then motions out to the slot right. WR Terrelle Pryor is wide right with TE Gary Barnidge next to the right tackle. Wide left, we again have WR Taylor Gabriel, with WR Marlon Moore in the slot. Barnidge is going to run a fade, and Pryor runs toward the middle to help keep the single-high safety (not pictured) in the middle.
The Falcons bring a five-man rush with man-to-man blocking. The Falcons don’t really aim for a stunt here, but it’s almost simulated because C Cameron Erving is going to be picked off by LG Joel Bitonio when he tries to stay with No. 95.
Below, you can see Erving being picked and No. 95 getting free. However, QB Robert Griffin III already likes what he sees and is planted and ready to throw with nobody disrupting his pocket yet.
The throw is released and Griffin was in no danger. With that said, when the regular season comes along, the Browns will need to be prepared with when teams run stunts. It’s something the team struggled with last season, but I’m more optimistic about 2016 due to some of the conceptual changes and chemistry I’ve seen in run blocking.
The throw is perfect, and we know that Barnidge has great concentration hauling in passes like this. Not only does he make the fingertip catch, but he stays in bounds and gets into the end zone for the score.
The touchdown gives the Browns a 13-7 lead. K Travis Coons missed the extra point.