Know Your Enemy: Cleveland Browns Offense
Throughout the offseason, I’ve defended Brandon Weeden as a quarterback in the wrong offensive system with minimal weapons. I also said that the Browns have a new regime, including Norv Turner’s downfield passing attack, that fits Weeden’s big arm very well. With the emergence of Josh Gordon and health of Trent Richardson, this offense could run behind a good O-line and throw to the intermediate levels for first-downs.
These were the things I said before seeing the Browns on film. I watched their Week 1 loss to Miami to see just how right I was.
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The Run Game
Two years ago the Browns moved up in the draft to select RB Trent Richardson 3rd overall. The plan was to obtain a bell-cow back that can chew up yards behind a mauling offensive line and leave short yardage on 3rd downs for sub-par QBs to take advantage of. After an injury-laden 2012 and minimal preseason work (25 snaps), Richardson was to make his revitalized debut and demonstrate why the Browns selected a running back so high in an era where running backs are devalued.
Richardson’s stat line was just OK. He carried the ball 13x for 47 yards. Richardson did not look as explosive or decisive as he has in the past. He did a bit too much dancing around the hole and was hesitant to run through lanes that were given to him. Richardson boasts a fantastic combination of power and agility at his best, but after a few stellar carries in the first quarter, he resorted to evasion rather than brute.
Richardson takes some blame for the lack of yards on the ground, but the circumstances surrounding him were less than ideal. This particular game was never out of hand, yet the Browns had Weeden drop back 53 times and did not give the ball to Richardson throughout the extent of the fourth quarter. Additionally, the offensive line was horrible, just horrible. The Miami defensive line is a strong unit but the weak points in the Browns offensive line left massive gaps for penetrating Dolphins to attack the ball carrier in the backfield. Oniel Cousins stood out for all the wrong reasons, Mitchell Schwartz tends to anchor in the run-game rather than drive his opponent off the ball, and the communication between linemen appeared to be lacking.
Weeden’s Fit in the Norvian System
Brandon Weeden has borderline-elite arm strength, so a downfield aerial attack appears ideal for his skill-set. Although his most talented receiver, Josh Gordon, will be suspended for the Ravens game, Weeden has a shifty slot weapon in Davone Bess and an up-and-coming tight-end in Jordan Cameron. This side of the ball can be effective in the right conditions:
Miami’s defense brought a lot of pressure during their Week 1 match-up. In this instance, Miami is running an overload “Fire Zone” (3 deep, 3 under) to attack the right side of the Browns’ O-line.
This route combination has Travis Benjamin running a clear-out 9-route up the left side while TE Jordan Cameron runs the “Sail.” Cameron drags deep across the field to attack the void underneath CB Dimitri Patterson (his eyes are downfield) that was vacated by Benjamin’s go-pattern. The design places Cameron above the underneath zones and below the deep zones for a long completion and a first-down.
From the endzone view, Weeden has a great deal of functional space to work with behind a very solid set of blocks from his line (and spare tight-end).
The “Sail” combination is a Weeden favorite dating back to last year. It fits his strong arm perfectly and doesn’t ask him to fit the ball into a tight window. This is the Browns offense at its best.
To the dismay of the Browns faithful, the aforementioned set of circumstances is rare. Far too often this offensive line do not hold up in protection of five- and seven-step drops. Cousins, again, is a liability as he can be bulled with surprising ease given his large frame. RT Mitchell Schwartz is a step slow facing edge pressure, and the lack of chemistry throughout this front five is susceptible to stunts and blitzes.
When the protection is solid, Weeden has a poor habit of sensing pressure that isn’t there. Weeden rushes his throws and eschews sound mechanics for awkward all-arm passes that tend to die before their target. This propensity to feel pressure comes in part from his shotgun/spread-intensive background from OK State where he wasn’t forced to step up in the pocket and make reads decided upon after the snap. Even All-Pro LT Joe Thomas can get bulled by large DE/OLBs, and although Thomas can generally anchor before the rusher gets to the QB, Weeden feels this front-side pressure and suffers.
At the risk of piling on Brandon Weeden, I’d like to note a few other traits that keep him from his desired success. One trait is accuracy. Weeden’s ball placement is not great at this point in his career. This likely stems from being rushed through his mechanics. With receivers that do not reliably catch the ball, this combination creates a lot of turnover opportunities for the defense (two of Weeden’s three INTs last Sunday came from dropped passes).
The last trait that holds Weeden back is his tendency to lock onto his primary read. Weeden doesn’t appear to read the defense to decide which receiver should be open. Weeden takes the safer approach where-in he waits to ensure that a receiver is open (a “see-it, throw-it” type of QB). This trait comes with its own issues:
The Browns are in desperation mode at the end of this game. They are going for it on 4th and 2 (yellow line). At the time of the above image, WR Davone Bess used divide motion to cross the formation and his man-coverage assignment CB Brent Grimes follows him.
The Browns are in full-slide protection (to the left) which leaves Trent Richardson with the unenviable task of blocking star rusher Cameron Wake. Presumably Weeden knows the protection and knows that Richardson is a mismatch for Wake. The ball needs to come out fast.
After the snap Bess breaks to the flat with the other receivers clearing that area. The ball should come out right as this image is taken. Grimes is trailing Bess and this should be a first-down with an accurate throw.
Instead of throwing, Weeden waits. Once he made his decision not to throw, he should have moved onto his next read in the progression. Yet he stuck with Bess in the flat until he was covered. This image was taken at the first point where Weeden takes his eyes off of Bess. Wake has bulled through the protection and will sack Weeden a half-second later.
Weeden is not an inept quarterback by any stretch, but he has several attributes working against him and if his offense continues to lack success in running the football, his stats will not improve.
Quick notes on the Ravens strategy
- The Ravens should feign a lot of pressure, particularly in the A-gaps. This can serve a dual purpose in hurrying Weeden through his steps while creating confusion in the protection schemes up-front.
- Weeden’s strong-suit is not timing throws. So press-man (where Webb and Jimmy Smith are comfortable) can be a viable option on many snaps.
- Play action will be a part of the Browns pass attack. It can create a moving pocket for Weeden and voids over the middle if linebackers get sucked up to the LOS. Playing successfully against the run AND covering TE Jordan Cameron may cause issues for linebackers.
- The Ravens D-line will be a huge factor in this game. Ngata can bull C Alex Mack, Canty can penetrate in the B-gaps and RT Schwartz will struggle vs. Dumervil’s speed. I imagine the Browns will leave TEs close to the formation to block. This reduces the number of pass threats downfield and can allow for coverage sacks or forced throws.
- The Browns OL did not reach the second level very often against Miami. This spells bad news for a power-based run scheme. The Ravens linebackers may be kept relatively clean to make tackles.
- The Cleveland offense is not designed to pick up 3rd and 12. If the Ravens keep the distance manageable in 1st and 2nd downs, 3rd down will be the time to use complexity to force turnovers.
As I said in my Browns Defense Preview, this has all the makings of a low-scoring bout. The Over/Under for total points is set at 43.5. I agree with fellow BSL writer Chris Worthington who said, “if I was a betting man, I’d take the Under every day of the week.”