Cleveland Browns' Chalk Talk: Preseason Game #1-The Offense

The Orange and Brown Report is proud to bring you chalk talk from the Cleveland Browns' preseason-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers. Join us in The WaterCooler as we discuss what went right with scheme, concept, and technique.

Offensive Notes

Power football is back....

While the Browns' running attack suffered from a combination of new schemitis and preseason rust, several positives can be found in the squad's 2016 preseason-opener. 

While the ground game accounted for a pedestrian 77 yards on 17 attempts (4.5 YCP average), a deeper look demonstrates the strength of head coach Hue Jackson's power ground attack. The unit ran gap-blocked concepts 7 times for 56 total yards (8 YPC) and lost yards on only a single play (Crowell's opening carry for -2 yards).

The offense's first successful run came early in the first quarter off the famous 'Power' concept, utilizing down blocks from the offensive line, a pulling guard, and a kick-out by the fullback.

Aligned in a 'Heavy' formation using 22 personnel (rookie Spencer Drango has entered the game as an eligible lineman), the offense attacked the short-side of the field in order to create a numbers advantage at the point of attack and force the boundary cornerback to tackle.

The play appears to be designed to hit the D-gap just outside the tight end's shoulder. The playside tight end will down-block the stand-up rusher as the fullback attacks the EMLOS (End Man on Line Of Scrimmage) to create a running lane for tailback Duke Johnson Jr. Right guard John Greco will pull to lead his tailback through the hole, with Johnson fitting his run off Greco's block on the linebacker. 

Rather than hitting between the tight end and fullback, Greco inserts through the C-gap, although in his defense the play *may* have originally been designed to hit that hole. Because he inserts through this gap (rather than inserting outside the tight end) he is unable to get a clean block on the WILL (#50), allowing the defender to make a tackle attempt just past the line of scrimmage. Johnson shows outstanding lower body strength and balance to run through the arms of the would-be-tackler, and finishes with a great stiff arm for a solid 11-yard gain on second down.

The team's success executing the gap-blocked run game continued early in the second quarter as tailback Raheem Mostert showed good vision and explosion on his way to a 27-yard scamper running the famous 'Counter Trey'.

Like 'Power, the Counter Trey utilizes down-blocks, a puller, and a kick-out to create a crease for the ball carrier. The Counter Trey is unique in that it also creates an element of misdirection, with the tailback executing a hard jab step away from the play's direction before meshing with the quarterback. The jab step serves two purposes: 

  1. It creates a false key for any defenders reading the tailback's flow for play direction
  2. It gives the pullers time to get to their blocks

Focus on the pullers in the GIF below:

At the snap, the Wing immediately releases to the second level, leaving the playside EMLOS to be kicked-out by the first puller (Alvin Bailey), while the left side of the offensive line down blocks to create a wall between the defenders and the ball carrier. Austin Pasztor pulls through the hole to pick up the first threat to cross his face from the inside, although the excellent blocking from the left side allows him to climb up to a safety, creating space for more yards. Mostert does a great job decisively cutting off Pasztor's block at the second level (cut in whichever direction the rear end is pointing) and rumbling out of bounds for an explosive gain.

RPOs can be explosive...

As noted in last week's chalk talk breakdown of the Orange and Brown Scrimmage:

As the OBR has broken down on several previous occasions (here and here), newly-named starting quarterback RGIII excelled in running run/pass options, or RPOs, during his college days at Baylor and during his 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign with the Washington Redskins.

Let's briefly review RPOs before diving into the film. The concept blends passing and running plays, allowing the quarterback to decide who gets the ball based on what the defense does pre and post-snap. Generally, a single defender is designated as the 'read man'. His actions will dictate where the ball goes. In its original form the concept combined inside zone and wide receiver screens, but innovative coaches have adapted the concept to include the power-run game and a variety of short-game routes like hitches, slants, and 'pop' passes.

Early in the second quarter Browns' fans were treated to a well-designed 'Sweep Read' RPO utilizing orbit motion from wide receiver Terrelle Pryor.

As is often the case with "Spread" concepts, the  'Sweep Read' was successfully run by college teams (Ohio State, Auburn, Clemson) for several seasons before working its way up to the NFL. The Carolina Panthers excelled at executing the concept last season, with quarterback Cam Newton and tailback Mike Tolbert gashing defenses as they put NFL defenders in run-pass conflict.

Like the aforementioned gap-blocked concepts the Sweep Read uses pulls and down-blocks to create a crease for the tailback, although the pulls come from playside linemen (the left guard and center), rather than the backside (away from the play's direction) like Power and Counter.

Orbit motion from the wide receiver gives the quarterback a second option if the 'read man' chases the running play. Quarterback Josh McCown is extremely unlikely to pull the ball here, but with RGIII at the helm the offense can run speed option or simply turn and throw the ball if the option player squeezes to play the run.

Facing this alignment the read man is the right defensive end (#55). Notice that he is left unblocked as his actions will dictate where the ball goes. Because #55 squares up as he reads the quarterback/tailback mesh, the give choice is easily made. Should he have continued down the line, McCown likely would have quickly swung the ball to Pryor (notice both wide receivers blocking at the bottom of the screen).

The left side creates a solid seal, with the pullers blocking the inside linebacker and alley fill. Mostert's jump cut *almost* allows him to cross the safety's face. If he can keep his feet here this was going for six points.

Rookie quarterback Cody Kessler's ten-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Rashard Higgins came off another well-designed RPO that appeared to read the third-level safety.

The concept integrated basic Inside Zone with a back shoulder fade, although Higgins likely had the choice of several routes based on the cornerback's depth and leverage (the fade route was probably communicated at the line of scrimmage via a hand signal or verbal cue). Because the cornerback was leveraged over the receiver's inside foot with the safety two yards outside the right hash, neither were in position to stop the back shoulder throw if executed correctly.

Let's start with the offensive line. Because they do not know if the tailback will take the handoff they will always run block. We see the entire line execute basic zone blocks, with the right guard "check, climbing" to the playside linebacker. Kessler wisely eliminates the mesh point with the tailback by retreating at the snap, knowing that he needs to create time to get the throw off. With the offensive line run blocking, there is a risk that the defense can penetrate and hurry him before he gets the throw off. 

Kessler delivers a dime and Higgins does a great job getting his head and body around for a good-looking touchdown. 

Half-field reads.... 

Hue Jackson has earned the well-deserved reputation as a coordinator who will build an offense around his personnel's strengths. Friday night provided a few clues as to the type of pass concepts the head coach will utilize to put his new quarterback in the best position to succeed.

RGIII's failing as a pocket passer are well-documented and have been discussed ad nauseum. While he (hopefully) learns the skills and nuances required to execute the traditional NFL dropback passing game, expect Jackson to use a variety of "half-field"concepts that allow the quarterback to make simple, direct reads and quickly deliver the ball.

During the offense's first drive Jackson dialed up the famous Y-Stick/Ghost concept out of an Empty formation.

The three-man concept uses a clear out by the #1 receiver to create room for a quick out from the #2 receiver and a stick route from the #3 (tight end Gary Barnidge). The play is very effective because it creates a single horizontal read against the curl/flat defender against zone defense, while creating a favorable matchup against man coverage with the tight end isolated on a linebacker.

Because the Packers' defense plays man coverage, the first read to Barnidge is an easy choice as the linebacker's depth will prevent him from breaking on an outside route before the ball gets there. While the 7-yard gain may not look impressive on the surface, tried-and-true concepts such as Ghost will keep the sticks moving while minimizing RGIII's weaknesses as a pocket passer.

Up next, the defense....

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