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Browns lack of play-action passing last year is surprising

Cleveland’s offense should look different this year but play-action passing was a staple before 2022

Cleveland Browns v Miami Dolphins Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

We don’t know for sure how the Cleveland Browns offense will look in 2023 but it is expected to look different. We have some ideas as rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson noted similarities between the team’s playbook and Chip Kelly’s with the UCLA Bruins. We saw some interesting wrinkles during minicamp.

Prior to whatever this year’s Browns offense looks like, most would have summarized Kevin Stefanski’s scheme as a run-oriented, play-action passing model. Stefanski often said that he wanted a run to look like a pass and vice versa.

In 2020 and 2021, with Baker Mayfield at quarterback, Cleveland ran the 10th most play-action passing plays in the NFL. The scheme helped bring them to the playoffs during Stefanski’s first year as a head coach.

The Browns 2022 season was forgettable for a lot of reasons and almost seemed like a throw-away year after acquiring QB Deshaun Watson, who served a 10-game suspension. Jacoby Brissett led the team for the majority of the year.

Unlike his first two seasons, Stefanski didn’t dial up play-action as much as a large number of teams last season:

Finding a Stefanski-led offense in the bottom half of the league is surprising.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the change, Cleveland’s offense was a top-eight unit in 2022. In 2020, Stefanski’s offense under Mayfield was 9th with the following (injury-riddled season) dropping to 14th.

It will be interesting to see how Watson and Stefanski map out this season’s offense. We are expecting to see more three and four wide receiver sets but RB Nick Chubb continues to be the best back in the NFL. Play-action passing with Chubb in the backfield, and a better-supporting cast of weapons, should lead to a more explosive offense for the Browns in 2023.

Are you surprised by the play-action numbers from last year?