Something seems wrong with the Cleveland Browns offense of late. After Baker Mayfield completed a come-from-behind win against the Jets and went on to hang 42 points on the Oakland Raiders the next week, the Browns haven’t been able to play up to their potential.
There appears to be plenty of blame to go around, but instead of focusing on the problems, I will instead focus on a potential solution in this article. All year I’ve been promoting the Run Pass Option game that the Browns have utilized on offense. Certainly these plays have been successful and I’d continue to advocate for an expansion of them into the offense. But we probably won’t be able to simply run 50 RPOs and call it a day.
Why have the RPOs been working? RPOs put Baker Mayfield and the rest of the Browns in position to succeed: Baker gets to make quick decisions and accurate throws, our running backs and offensive line get to run only in favorable situations and don’t have to worry about extra players in the box, and receivers such as Duke Johnson or Jarvis Landry can use their quickness and route running savvy in space. Most importantly, the defense can’t camp out on one play. Finding other creative ways to allow our players to do what they do best while keeping the defense off balance is the recipe for success.
RPOs are fairly widespread in the NCAA and NFL at this point, but against the Oakland Raiders the Browns showcased some creativity by using a Screen Pass Option.
Facing a 2nd and 12 from their own 23 yard line, the Browns lined up in a shotgun formation with 3 WRs to the right. TE David Njoku lined up on the left side of the line, while RB Duke Johnson lined up in the backfield to QB Baker Mayfield’s left.
Sensing that it was a passing down, the Oakland Raiders went to a 2-deep shell, playing a cover 2 zone coverage. Cover 2 is notoriously bad against trips formations, and we had essentially anything we wanted here.
The receivers to the offense’s right run a stick concept. This concept is designed to give the quarterback a triangle read and is good against any zone coverage. It’s good against man to man as well, if you have a good inside receiving option. This stick concept may have been something Baker had the ability to throw based on a pre-snap read, or it could have been a pure decoy. Regardless, Mayfield does not read this side of the field after the snap.
On the other side of the formation the Browns are setting up a TE screen for David Njoku. On the snap Njoku slips his pass blocking responsibility while LG Joel Bitonio and C JC Tretter get out to block. Bitonio in particular does a good job of staying close to the line of scrimmage as he leaks out in order to avoid an ineligible downfield penalty.
The screen probably would have worked here, as the closest defender is 10 yards downfield when Mayfield throws, and both linemen were in position to spring Njoku for a big gain. Instead, Mayfield hit another option. As the screen was being set up Duke Johnson ran a wheel route, which attacked the hole between the corner and the safety in cover-2. The corner’s responsibility here is the flat, so he is put in conflict between coming up to defend Njoku and sinking to defend Johnson.
A coaching point for a quarterback on vertical routes such as the wheel route is “if he’s even, he’s leavin’,” meaning that if the receiver is able to catch up to the defender, it is probably safe to assume the receiver will pass the defender and to throw with anticipation. Sure enough, the corner’s momentary lunge toward the TE screen gave Johnson all the time he needed to create separation, and Mayfield delivered a great pass. The result of the play was a 19 yard gain, a first down, and another 15 yard penalty for roughing the passer tacked on.
Here is the play in its entirety:
Creative plays like these put the defense in conflict and rely on Mayfield’s quick decision making and accurate throws are a welcome sight in the Cleveland Browns offense. If the stick combination to the bottom of the screen is live, it gives Mayfield essentially three plays in one and the ability to choose what he likes against the defensive look.
Building off of the types of quick reads found in the RPO game, plays like this give the Browns a great chance to move the chains by putting their players in position to do what they do best, and by putting the defense on its heels. Let’s spam this until it stops working, Coach Haley.