Travis Benjamin is the Browns’ offense through two games. He accounts for four of the teams’ five touchdowns. The only other Cleveland touchdown was Isaiah Crowell’s 11-yard run against the Titans on Sunday.
Three of Benjamin’s scores have come via the home run ball. (Please pardon the mixed sports metaphors.) Against the Jets, Benjamin scored on a 54-yard pass from Johnny Manziel, and then in game two against the Titans he caught touchdown passes of 50 and 60 yards.
For the season, Benjamin has 6 catches for 204 yards, an average of 34 yards per catch.
The rest of the team has 20 receptions for 199 yards, no touchdowns and an average of 10 yards per catch rounded up.
This got me wondering- can an offense really be built around the home run ball? Is it sustainable?
The former Jr. High coach in me says no. Teams may start to game plan for Benjamin and the deep ball more, perhaps cheating a safety to his side. If the Browns don’t have another weapon, it seems unlikely that Benjamin will be able to duplicate this early season success.
But what do the numbers say? How many pass plays of 50+ yards do the Browns have in a season? How about more prolific offenses?
Glad I asked.
From 1999 to 2014, the Browns had 59 pass plays that went for 50 or more yards. Interestingly enough, only 31 of those plays resulted in a touchdown. That means the Browns average 3.69 pass plays PER SEASON that go for 50 yards or more. They have had 3 already this year.
I expected that the 2007 Browns offense would have produced the most, but that season only saw 3 such plays. How about the Josh Gordon years? Well, in 2012 and 2013 the Browns finished with 4 plays over 50 yards each season. Gordon was responsible for 3 in ’13 and 2 in ’12.
In fact, Travis Benjamin’s 3 touchdowns of 50 yards or more this season puts him in a tie with Quincy Morgan and Josh Gordon for the most in a single season since the Browns returned to the league. Only Morgan (4) has more catches of 50 yards or more in a season.
Here’s a real head-scratcher. The season in which the Browns threw for the most 50 yard plus plays? Try in 2004 when they had 8. Five different receivers had a catch of 50 yards or more that season including Andre Davis (3), Lee Suggs, Dennis Northcutt (3), and Antonio Bryant.
But how does that compare to the rest of the league? What about the Patriots with Brady, or the Colts when they had Manning?
From 2001-2014, the New England Patriots have had 57 pass plays go for 50 yards or more. They scored 33 touchdowns on those plays. That’s an average of 4.07 home run balls a season.
From 1999-2014, the Indianapolis Colts have had 76 pass plays connect for 50 yards or more. They scored on 48 of those passes. They averaged 4.75 home run balls a season with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck slinging the ball to the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Dallas Clark and T.Y. Hilton.
In fact, in Peyton Manning’s best season for the deep ball- 2013 with the Denver Broncos, he threw 8 passes that went for more than 50 yards.
What does that tell us? Well, I think my earlier hunch was correct. Chances are not good that the Browns will continue winning games because of the home run pass, and especially not to the same receiver (Benjamin) every time.
If teams start cheating a safety to help stop the deep pass, could that open things up for the running game? Theoretically it could, although I’m pretty sure that teams will still be able to cram 8 into the box to stop the run.
This of course also assumes that Josh McCown and Travis Benjamin can hook up the same way that Manziel and Benjamin did the first two games.
For those interested, Braylon Edwards had 7 catches for 50 yards or more including 4 touchdowns. Josh Gordon has 5 (all for touchdowns) and Quincy Morgan had 7 receptions and 5 scores.