Fans were getting pretty excited about the potential of the Browns’ offense this preseason, but it got off to a really ugly start in 2016 with three straight three-and-outs and then a failed fake punt. What went wrong? Was it all poor playcalling by Hue Jackson? Was it on Robert Griffin III’s decision-making? Dropped passes? Missed blocks? Good defense?
1st Offensive Series
SUMMARY: The Browns gained 5 yards on 3 plays, taking up 1:19 of clock.
Play 1 (1st-and-10 @CLE 25): Incomplete pass to Gary Barnidge
Pre-snap, the Browns sent TE Gary Barnidge in motion and nobody moved with him. The Eagles stacked the box with 8 defenders, making this a good play to run some playaction off of. WR Corey Coleman lined up wide left running a crossing route, and WR Terrelle Pryor was wide right running a deep comeback route.
The defender lined up over Barnidge goes right after QB Robert Griffin III after the playaction fake. If the defender hadn’t gone there and stuck with Barnidge, then Pryor was going to be wide open for a comeback route. Griffin can’t step much into a throw at this point, though, so he makes a good decision and throws it to Barnidge. Uncharacteristically, Barnidge drops the pass as he turned to run before catching it. This should have gone for a minimum gain of 4-5 yards.
Play 2 (2nd-and-10 @CLE 25): 1-yard run by Isaiah Crowell
On second down, the Browns see a stacked box again but are going to try running it. FB Malcolm Johnson will run to the gap between the tight end and right tackle to take on No. 95. RG John Greco will help RT Austin Pasztor block the defensive end before leaking to the second level to block No. 58. On the other side, it’s hard to tell what is going on between LG Joel Bitonio and C Cameron Erving, and that’s where this play breaks down. It would make sense that one of them will stay with the lineman and the other would leak to the second level.
After the snap, Bitonio kind of tucks up behind Erving and might even bump in to him, causing Erving to fall to his knees. No. 53 takes the angle drawn and gets clogged up with Erving, who is now on the ground. Bitonio doesn’t have much leverage now, so the lineman initially on Erving now gets the edge on Bitonio. On top of all that, Pasztor ends up losing No. 91 a bit...
...so RB Isaiah Crowell can only pick up 1 yard.
Play 3 (3rd-and-9 @CLE 26): 4-yard run by RG III
Now facing a 3rd-and-9, this is where I flat out hate the playcall by head coach Hue Jackson. As I’ve said before, I am a big fan and am excited for his innovative offense. However, I don’t think this is one of those plays that should be in the repertoire (and it won’t be with Josh McCown under center).
LG Joel Bitonio will pull to the other side of the field, where he’ll block the defensive end lined up between the right tackle and right guard. RB Duke Johnson is to the left of QB Robert Griffin III (from his perspective) and WR Andrew Hawkins is to his right. Hawkins runs laterally for a possible option run, while Johnson runs in front of Griffin for a fake shuffle pass.
If everything works out well, No. 33 will be focused on Hawkins, Bitonio will get the closest defensive lineman, TE Gary Barnidge will get No. 53, and Johnson will get No. 58 after the fake shuffle. That’s a lot to ask for, but maybe you can get a few yards out of it. Asking to get all nine yards seems a bit too much, and you’re putting Griffin at risk in a play where he’s not being asked to slide.
The defensive back (No. 27) actually ends up disrupting the play. He blitzes heavily at the snap between the right tackle and right guard.
No. 27 trips Johnson from behind, causing the running back to fall on his face and take him out of the play. Now, it’s just Griffin and Hawkins, and No. 58 has free pursuit toward Griffin.
Griffin gains half of what he needed, and then after the play, he complained emphatically that he was hit late out of bounds. I don’t think so.
2nd Offensive Series
SUMMARY: The Browns gained 3 yards on 3 plays, taking up 1:59 of clock.
Play 1 (1st-and-10 @CLE 20): 1-yard run by Isaiah Crowell
For the second consecutive play (but now on a new series), the Browns opted to run a trick play. QB Robert Griffin III (not pictured) is wide left, with WR Terrelle Pryor in Shotgun at quarterback. RB Isaiah Crowell is to his right, and Pryor is going to run the read-option. The player he is reading is the left defensive end (circled in cyan). LG Joel Bitonio pulls to block No. 53.
Pryor is watching No. 75, but commits too soon to handing the ball off to Crowell. If Pryor had kept it, he would’ve had the gap I outlined in magenta to take off and run. How far would he have gotten? Who knows — we saw what he once did against Pittsburgh, though. Crowell gets the ball and has to run backward to get around No. 75 and does what he can to pick up one yard.
Play 2 (2nd-and-9 @CLE 21): 2-yard completion to Isaiah Crowell
Now facing a 2nd-and-9, QB Robert Griffin III is in Shotgun with RB Isaiah Crowell to his left. WR Corey Coleman is wide left running a comeback route, and WR Terrelle Pryor is beside him in the slot doing a deeper hitch route. On the right side, TE Gary Barnidge will run up the right seam, and RB Duke Johnson takes off up the sideline.
The Eagles are in zone coverage. Right at the snap, RG John Greco and RT Austin Pasztor dive at the legs of the defensive linemen in front of them, the purpose of which I am unclear, because it sets a limit on how quick Griffin has to get rid of the ball now. Griffin first looks towards Johnson before quickly dumping the ball off to Crowell over the middle.
The linebacker is right on Crowell as he catches the ball, keeping this to a gain of just two yards.
Play 3 (3rd-and-7 @CLE 23): Completion to Duke Johnson for no gain
On third down, the Browns have WR Terrelle Pryor to the far right, running a route right at the sticks. TE Gary Barnidge runs a bit of an out route to the right. On the left hand side, WR Corey Coleman (wide) and WR Andrew Hawkins (slot) both run about six yards and turn around. RB Duke Johnson goes to the flat.
Griffin looks toward Pryor and Barnidge as soon as he gets the ball. After a second, he just checks the ball down to Johnson in the flat. The Eagles were in zone coverage and barely had time to even react to the other players’ routes, so two defenders key in on Johnson before he can even catch the pass. If Griffin had looked toward Johnson but held on to the ball an extra click, he would’ve had Pryor or Hawkins open for first down passes.
3rd Offensive Series
SUMMARY: The Browns lost 1 yard on 4 plays, taking up 1:03 of clock.
Play 1 (1st-and-10 @CLE 36): 6-yard completion to Malcolm Johnson
Who would’ve guessed -- the Browns’ best play of the first quarter was a screen pass to FB Malcolm Johnson. Cleveland continues pulling LG Joel Bitonio to the right side. This time, RG John Greco and C Cameron Erving are going to sneak out to the left, though, as lead blockers for a screen pass after a playaction fake to RB Isaiah Crowell.
The action works nicely. Greco stones his defender pretty well, and now it’s up to Erving to get in the way of the defensive back who has come off of his receiver. It’s a lot of ground for Erving to cover, and as he’s going for the block, the defensive back cuts inside the same time Johnson does.
Here is the shot of Erving missing the block. Johnson picks up six yards, but would’ve had a first down if Erving had been able to get a chip on the defensive back. After the play, Erving pounded his first into the ground, knowing he missed an opportunity.
Play 2 (2nd-and-4 @CLE 42): -1 yard run by Andrew Hawkins
On the final play of the first quarter, Hue Jackson went back to his bag of tricks with an end around to WR Andrew Hawkins and TE Randall Telfer pulling from the right side as a lead blocker.
The problem here is that nobody on Philadelphia buys the fake to RB Isaiah Crowell. This leaves Telfer to deal with two defenders, and the deep safety is darting in while Hawkins is trying to dodge defenders in the backfield.
I’m not sure if Erving was supposed to be part of the play or not, but he finds himself out in the open field. Instead of looking for someone to block, like maybe getting in the way of the safety, he is looking back toward Hawkins and is almost just...watching him? Hawkins cuts a few times to make sure that this is only a loss of 1 yard instead of something worse.
Play 3 (3rd-and-5 @CLE 41): Incomplete pass to Gary Barnidge
On third down, the Browns lined up with four receivers. TE Gary Barnidge was in isolation on the left side of the field. To the right were, from left to right, WR Andrew Hawkins, WR Terrelle Pryor, and WR Corey Coleman.
If QB Robert Griffin III had wanted to go to his right, Hawkins had his man beat. However, it was a fine decision to go for the back shoulder throw to Barnidge. Everything goes well about the route and the throw, but Barnidge drops his second pass of the game, leading to a punt...
Play 4 (4th-and-5 @CLE 41): Fake punt to Duke Johnson, loss of 6 yards
...or so we thought. CBS cameras cut back to the action as the fake was being run, and I’m sure we were all embarrassed as fans to see it fail so miserably. What were the Browns thinking?
First, Cleveland ran four of their five starting offensive linemen onto the field. Snapping the ball is Cameron Erving (not LS Charley Hughlett; he is lined up next to P Britton Colquitt on the left). The thought was that Cleveland’s big men could win the battle against linebackers and defensive backs to scrape out five yards.
In theory, I get it. The concept itself actually makes sense. However, I don’t like the timing. Sure, maybe you can say, “we wanted to do it when no one expected it.” Well, it looks like Cleveland didn’t expect it either, because we only had 10 men on the field.
What really killed the play, even more so than the 10 men factor, was the high snap by Erving to RB Duke Johnson.
You can see that Johnson had to jump as high as he could with his arms in the air just to prevent this from sailing over his head. If the snap had been normal, Johnson would’ve been able to take off to the right side immediately. I drew a little green circle indicating where Johnson might have already been.
Because of the high snap, a defender from the other side is right on Johnson’s ass. Johnson has to run laterally and is a dead duck, dropped for a loss of four yards. If the snap had been fine, I think he is over around the green area, which would’ve been away from the backside defender and likely going for a first down.
Conclusion: It all comes down to execution. I don’t think we should’ve run so many trick plays right off the bat. They all failed, but if they had worked, I’m sure I’d be talking about what a genius Hue Jackson is.
I didn’t care for the decision-making of Robert Griffin III on two throws, and we had two drops by Gary Barnidge, a guy who once had the longest streak among tight ends without a drop. Even though Cameron Erving got some praise for his blocking, overall, he wasn’t very good in these first three series when it comes to some of the extracurriculars like snapping the ball at the right level or blocking defenders in the open field.
This was as bad of a start as one could get to a game, but it is correctable. Josh McCown will offer a more stable presence who can go through his reads. We’re likely to see fewer trick plays of the “quarterback-speed” variety, which might be a good thing as far as sticking with the basics initially. Barnidge’s dropped passes really killed our ability to utilize the running game in these first three series. Who expects Barnidge’s drops to continue? Not me. I would anticipate a better start at home against Baltimore.
Thursday, I will try to review the Browns’ first scoring drive, and time-permitting, a few of the positive defensive plays from our youngsters.