It kind of sucks having to do these reviews in back-to-back weeks, knowing that your starting quarterback went down with an injury. One of the purposes of these reviews is to see how an offense functions under a certain quarterback, and how those concepts can carry over to the following week.
Nonetheless, we can still dissect the playcalling of head coach Hue Jackson, offensive line blocking, and more, so let’s start with the Cleveland Browns’ exciting opening touchdown drive against the Baltimore Ravens.
1st Offensive Series
SUMMARY: The Browns gained 85 yards on 9 plays, with 1 penalty on the drive, taking up 5:15 of clock. It concluded with a 31-yard touchdown pass from QB Josh McCown to WR Corey Coleman, giving the Browns a 7-0 lead.
Play 1 (1st-and-10 @CLE 25): Run for a loss of 1 yard by Isaiah Crowell
From now on, when the Browns pull multiple blockers, I am going to use a different color besides yellow to distinguish that, because I believe it’s easier to see (apologies in advance to any of our readers who are color blind).
To open the game, the Browns shifted their formation to an unbalanced line. After the shift, what you see below is Spencer Drango at RT, John Greco at RG, Cameron Erving at C, Joel Bitonio at LG, Austin Pasztor at LT, Joe Thomas as the first TE, and then Gary Barnidge on the end of the line.
Bitonio and Thomas will pull from the left side over to the right side (I am speaking as if we were viewing this from their perspective). Bitonio will take on No. 55 (OLB Terrell Suggs), while Thomas will hit No. 54 (ILB Zachary Orr). Drango will help Greco with a chip before leaking out to No. 57 (ILB C.J. Mosley).
This has the chance to be a nice opening play, as Thomas is about to bang in to Orr and Bitonio already has Suggs occupied. However, Drango quickly loses Mosley, who hits Crowell for a loss of one yard.
Play 2 (2nd-and-11 @CLE 24): 4-yard run by Isaiah Crowell
On second down, the Browns are going to run a similar concept that they just ran, except with an extra blocker and a different alignment. The offensive linemen are now in their normal positions. OT Spencer Drango is at tight end next to RT Austin Pasztor. On the other side of the line is TE Gary Barnidge next to LT Joe Thomas. TE Randall Telfer motioned into the backfield behind Pasztor.
Telfer is going to take on Suggs on the outside with Drango going out to block Orr. Pasztor will seek out Mosley. Bitonio and Thomas will both pull for the second straight play, and technically, there should be a good numbers game as the only play they’d have in their way is No. 32, Eric Weddle.
Weddle shows why he’s an all-around impact defender, though. He dives at the legs of Bitonio and Thomas, cutting them both down. Drango has also lost Orr, which doesn’t help, but it’s really Weddle who prevented this play from going longer than four yards.
Aside: Drango only played three snaps all game, two of which were on the first two plays of the game. Perhaps the coaching staff didn’t like how he was handling himself in space, failing to hit blocks on back-to-back plays.
Play 3 (3rd-and-7 @CLE 25): 8-yard completion to Andrew Hawkins
On third down, WR Andrew Hawkins is going to run a crossing route underneath the Ravens’ zone coverage and shy of the first down marker.
McCown is well-protected, but he gets rid of this pass to Hawkins. The cornerback on the edge reads it correctly and comes off of his receiver to try to make a tackle, but Hawkins shows why he’s such a valuable third-down receiver, making the cornerback whiff before sprinting to the outside for an eight-yard gain and a first down.
Play 4 (1st-and-10 @CLE 36): 5-yard run by Isaiah Crowell
On first down, Cleveland’s early commitment to the running game continued. This time, the Browns deploy a three-tight-end set on the right side of the formation. TE Seth DeValve will block No. 24 (CB Shareece Wright) on the outside. In the middle, TE Randall Telfer takes on No. 55 (OLB Terrell Suggs). TE Gary Barnidge is left with taking on No. 54 (ILB Zachary Orr).
The tight ends will do their work well, creating a hole as outlined by the magenta lines. RT Austin Pasztor helps chip a defensive lineman before trying to get to No. 57 (ILB C.J. Mosley). He can’t quite get there in time, but it’s not something I’ll blame him for, given the amount of space and Mosley’s pursuit of the play.
Suggs is actually credited with the tackle here, as he trips Crowell up a little, but Mosley is the one who basically finishes the tackle after a five yard gain.
Play 5 (2nd-and-5 @CLE 41): Incomplete pass to Corey Coleman
On second down, after showing several runs so far, the Browns will try to catch Baltimore biting to stop the run off of a playaction pass. Their outside receivers streak with both tight ends running up the seams. The Ravens aren’t going to bite for the fake whatsoever, though, as seven defenders drop into coverage.
The Ravens only send four rushers, but two players lose the individual battle: C Cameron Erving and LT Joe Thomas. RB Isaiah Crowell is a help blocker, but off of the playaction, he immediately goes to help LG Joel Bitonio with No. 98 (NT Brandon Williams).
Pro Football Focus said that Thomas allowed Suggs to get a hit on the quarterback once in the game, and I think this was the play. Suggs does a hesitation move at Thomas before rushing around him. Erving is simply beat right off the bat.
One could argue that Erving is more at fault here. Often times when there is a playaction pass, the quarterback takes a deep drop and the left tackle lets the defender go really wide, knowing the quarterback can step up, negating the wide angle taken. McCown couldn’t step up at all here and gets decked as he throws a pass out of bounds in the direction of WR Corey Coleman.
Play 6 (3rd-and-5 @CLE 41): 28-yard completion to Duke Johnson
On third down, RB Duke Johnson lines up wide right, and he runs a slant route. RB Isaiah Crowell is in the backfield to the right of QB Josh McCown, running a route into the flat, which draws a linebacker out of the throwing lane for the slant to Johnson.
The bottom of the formation is a bit inconsequential to the outcome of the play, but it had TE Gary Barnidge running a flag route, WR Terrelle Pryor ran a mini-hitch route, and WR Rashard Higgins ran an out route.
The coverage is as tight as you can get on Johnson, but McCown gives him a shot with the clear throwing the lane. The ball is placed ahead of Johnson and he makes the catch, breaks the tackle, and then breaks a second tackle before scampering up the sideline for 28 yards.
Play 7 (1st-and-10 @BAL 31): Offensive pass interference wipes out 8-yard gain
I like the concept of running a screen pass on the very first play after a third-down passing conversion. When we first run the playaction, I think it gives the illusion that we’re going to take a deep shot.
I started this screenshot mid-way through the action. C Cameron Erving will be the first player to leak out, followed by both guards.
Close your eyes and guess — does Erving finally connect on a block in open space? Do you have your guess? OK, now scroll down to find out.
Nope. If Erving had hit the block, the other two linemen would’ve been free to attack more downfield. Instead, Crowell only gets eight yards on the play.
The play ends up being wiped off the board anyway because of an offensive pass interference penalty on WR Terrelle Pryor. Pryor had started the play in the slot, and right from the snap, he was locked in and blocking his man ten yards downfield, before the screen pass was thrown. That’s a loss of 10 yards.
Play 8 (1st-and-20 @BAL 41): 2-yard run by Isaiah Crowell
On first-and-long, the Browns went with a non-pulling running play. There is a breakdown in execution on this play by somebody between C Cameron Erving, LG Joel Bitonio, and LT Joe Thomas. Why do I say that?
Because at the snap, all three players converge for a triple team on NT Brandon Williams. Usually, you’ll see a double team, and even then, someone from the double team leaks out to the second level. Here, nobody goes after No. 57 (ILB C.J. Mosley). If I had to guess, I’d say Erving was supposed to get to the second level. TE Gary Barnidge also loses his leverage on No. 96 (DE Brent Urban).
Both defenders force RB Isaiah Crowell to the outside, but he doesn’t have luck there either. His hustle to the corner still ends up getting him two yards.
Play 9 (2nd-and-18 @BAL 39): 8-yard run by Isaiah Crowell
Despite the long-yardage situation, Cleveland decided to run the ball again, this time with a new wrinkle: WR Corey Coleman is coming in motion at the snap, meaning we could be running a quick bubble screen to the right side of the field (where, not pictured, WR Terrelle Pryor and WR Andrew Hawkins would be lead blockers). Coleman’s motion occupies 2-3 defenders.
C Cameron Erving will pull around LT Joe Thomas to try to block No. 57 (ILB C.J. Mosley). LG Joel Bitonio will pull around Thomas to block No. 32 (S Eric Weddle). TE Gary Barnidge will ride No. 55 (OLB Terrell Suggs) around the edge.
This looks like a great hole forming! Surely Erving will be able to take out his defender this time, right?
Ehhhhh...not quite. Erving dives to the ground to try to chop Mosley, but he stops and steps over Erving. Barnidge has lost Suggs, and he and Mosley combine for the tackle. Still, because Crowell had a nice head of steam due to the initial blocking and scheming, the play goes for a healthy eight yards to set up a more reasonable third down attempt.
Play 10 (3rd-and-10 @BAL 31): 31-yard TD pass to Corey Coleman
Here is the touchdown play. WR Corey Coleman is wide left. He first runs to the outside, but then steps inside and then back upfield to prevent his defender from riding him to the sideline. WR Andrew Hawkins is running a go route from the right slot, TE Gary Barnidge is running an out route, and WR Terrelle Pryor is running a deep in route.
We know that McCown and Coleman connect for a nice touchdown, but McCown took a bit shot on the play. Let’s see why. The Ravens are going to run a stunt with No. 54 (ILB Zachary Orr). LG Joel Bitonio is going to initially help C Cameron Erving with a chip on No. 99 (DL Timmy Jernigan).
You can see Bitonio chipping Jernigan hard. This makes Jernigan lose his balance a bit and kind of stumble away from Erving. Erving can’t get by the “pick” so to speak set by No. 50 and RG John Greco, and Jernigan takes advantage of his luckily-found pass-rushing lane.
Meanwhile, after Bitonio had delivered the chip on Jernigan, he correctly sees the stunt coming from Orr and goes to block it. Funny enough, now it’s RB Duke Johnson who helps Bitonio with the chip on Orr, which seems to catch Bitonio off guard.
Bitonio stumbles and Orr does an either designed or lucky spin move (I think he spun because of the hit by Johnson). Because Bitonio stumbled, he also now has a free pass-rushing lane to McCown. McCown will get the pass off in time, but pays the price.
Here is a GIF of the action I just described, so you can see it unfold in real time.
Conclusion: The first drive was filled with a lot of mistakes by C Cameron Erving, as his open-field blocking issues continue. To an extent, the first third-down conversion to WR Andrew Hawkins was a bit lucky, since the throw was short of the first down line; a defender just missed the tackle. If the defender made the tackle, we would’ve grumbled about throwing shy of the sticks.
What is clear on the first drive is how much more touch and confidence QB Josh McCown had than QB Robert Griffin III in delivering passes and standing in the pocket. That last part might be a bit of a disservice, though — because of it, he’s out of action now.
I light the concepts that head coach Hue Jackson deployed in the running game. OT Spencer Drango had a rough start — he, along with Erving, prevented things from going better on the ground. The route by WR Corey Coleman on the touchdown, along with keeping his feet in bounds, capped the drive off on a positive note.