Heading into week 6 of the NFL season, Kevin Stefanski and the Cleveland Browns offense had the arduous task of taking on a San Francisco 49ers defense that was one of the best in the league. Cleveland was without its All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio and starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, so the offense had to try and scheme some things up.
The Browns knew that they had to do everything they possibly could to keep the chains moving offensively, in order to limit the amount of time that the 49ers offense was on the field. Coach Stefanski and Co. knew that the time-of-possession battle was an important one to win in this matchup.
It’s no secret, especially to Cleveland fans, that Kevin Stefanski likes to get creative from time to time in order to gain an edge over defenses. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but he cooked up something special on the team’s first touchdown play of the day.
On 3rd & 1 at Cleveland’s 16-yard line with 5:45 to go in the second quarter, the offense perfectly executed a unique unbalanced sweep play with Harrison Bryant under center. The main reason for having Bryant take the snap was to suggest to the defense that he was going to sneak it, just as he had done in a previous game this season.
This is where the first instance of deception comes in.
The Browns’ offense came out in an unbalanced formation with David Njoku (“Y” in this example) lined up at right tackle and Dawand Jones at right guard. This allowed Cleveland to have Wyatt Teller along with two other offensive linemen to the left side of the center.
This formation combined with Harrison Bryant under center most likely influenced the defense into thinking one of two things.
- Bryant was going to sneak it in the strongside “A” gap.
- Cleveland was going to try and get the 49ers to overload the strong side of the formation, and then run some sort of off-tackle play to the weak side.
The defense never saw a sweep play to the outside coming, hence why the defensive line didn’t attempt to adjust pre-snap by bumping down to the strong side. Teams usually do this in an attempt the gain a “numbers” advantage at the LOS.
Such a perfectly designed and executed play by the #Browns on Sunday.— Matt Wilson (@CoachWilson66) October 17, 2023
Not only did the Defense 100% believe that he was going to sneak it, but they also didn’t adjust like they should have pre-snap. They should’ve bumped over vs. the unbalanced OL.
Jordan Akins came in pre-snap motion across the formation and acted as a lead blocker when the ball was snapped. From there, David Bell pancaked All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner to seal the edge and Kareem Hunt was able to rumble 16 yards to give the Browns their first score of the day.
It’s also worth noting that one of Hunt’s top downfield blockers on this play was left tackle Jedrick Wills, who has been the subject of a lot of criticism as of late. Though it has mostly been warranted, he absolutely played his butt off in this game.
This touchdown play undoubtedly shifted the game’s momentum and boosted Cleveland’s morale heading into halftime.