Necessity may be the mother of invention, but in the NFL, desperation often pays the bills when it comes to schematic creativity. Even the coaches who think closest to the vest will think outside the box when games, seasons, and jobs are on the line. We rediscovered this early in the 2008 season, when Miami Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee presented a series of three direct snap plays – Steeler, Power, and Counter – to head coach Tony Sparano on the plane home from a defeat in Arizona. Those plays became the Wildcat, the successful system that led the NFL to a frenzy of option and misdirection plays. The Crennel-era Browns had their "Flash" packages with Josh Cribbs as the point man, and there's still hope of seeing some more trickeration in the future if a healthy Seneca Wallace stays on the roster.
But against the Ravens last Sunday, and with rookie Colt McCoy struggling as he perhaps never had before, the Browns unloaded a new wrinkle that scored extra Cool Points for not only resulting in a touchdown, but looking like something out of "Friday Night Lights". With 7:21 left in the first quarter, Cleveland had the ball on the Baltimore 29-yard line. At this point, McCoy was four of five for 31 yards and a pick, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll went all high school with a play that fooled the Ravens right out of their little birdie costumes.
Presnap, Cleveland lined up in a shotgun, two-wide set with two tight ends on the right side inline, and Wallace in the shotgun. Both tight ends – Ben Watson (82) and Alex Smith (81) motioned to the left to a bunch formation with receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (11), who motioned down. The Ravens countered with a 5-2-4 look with off coverage on the bunch side.
Daboll had a little more in store for Baltimore, though – at the snap, Wallace handed the ball to Peyton Hillis (40), who then handed the ball to Massaquoi as the receiver started an end-around. Massaquoi then stopped and heaved the ball to Brian Robiskie, who had beaten cornerback Chris Carr in the end zone with a great diving catch.
The touchdown was a flashy enough outcome, but we're doing a disservice to the coaching staff if we don't pick apart just how full of win this play design was. First, the tight end motion crossed up Baltimore's "we're gonna move around a lot pre-snap and not set our front seven until late" approach. And while Watson ran a little circle route up the left hash, Smith immediately came back to the right side to block Terrell Suggs, keeping him from disrupting the throw. At the same time, the usually deadly Ed Reed Safety Blitz was negated by the little chip thrown by Wallace. And since Wallace is athletic enough to be watched as a receiver when he's out on the field, Baltimore's defense was sent on quite the little scavenger hunt.
Most option plays don't work at the NFL level because they're too full of fluff, and they display an inattention to fundamentals. The score from Massaquoi to Robiskie worked precisely because the guys in charge of the playbook thought the play through from start to finish.