This year, Josh Carney and I will break down the opposing team’s defense in our weekly scouting report. Like last year, I will be looking at the opposing team in a more broad, scheme-approach. Josh will have a closer eye on the individual players.
Today, the Cleveland Browns’ offense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Cleveland’s Run Game
I do want to start off by saying that I largely like the Browns’ coaching staff. They are an experienced bunch with a lot of success. Pep Hamilton has been coaching since 1997, Al Saunders since 1970, Kirby Wilson (former Steelers’ RB coach) since 1983 and Hal Hunter since 1982.
After a hot start, the running game has faded. Isaiah Crowell is averaging a healthy 4.6 yards per carry this season. It looks good on paper but he’s under three yards a pop in four of his last five. Hue Jackson did say he wants to recommit to the run game so we’ll see if that changes this week. Of course, I don’t think there’s ever been a head coach who said he didn’t want to run the ball better.
Duke Johnson has been utilized as much as a receiver as a running back this season. 49 carries to 39 receptions. But he’s a threat in space and one of their biggest playmakers.
Their overall numbers in the run game are going to look good, tied for 6th in 10+ runs and tied 9th in 20+, but since Week 6, they’re tied for 17th with only 12 runs of 10+.
There has been a lot of shuffling on the offensive line. Here’s their projected starting five.
LT – Joe Thomas
LG – Spencer Drango (rookie)
C – Cameron Erving
RG – John Greco
RT – Austin Pasztor
Erving has been a total mess, so much so that Jackson has recently said they may move him out of the center spot. Greco would likely move to center in his place. Drango has also struggled in pass protection in limited work. He is still adjusting to playing inside and in a pro-style offense; he was an offensive tackle in Baylor’s spread.
Their run game is varied. But they still love outside zone as much as anyone in the league, probably right up there with the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles. Of course, as you’ll see below, success is more fleeting.
They have mixed stuff up with some gap runs and sweep plays so they aren’t the zone team as exclusively as perhaps they have been in the past.
One thing that is a hallmark of Hue Jackson is his pre-snap shifts and motions. They also have ten days to prepare for this game, playing last Thursday, so you can expect a couple extra looks from him. No one is more creative pre-snap with the shifts, trades, and motions he’ll use.
They can start in this Emory/Henry look…
And then shift back to a “normal” formation on the same play.
And vice versa. It’s a Chinese Fire Drill every play for this guys and while the Steelers are use to it, playing against Jackson’s Bengals – Cincinnati still does similar so Pittsburgh has seen it already once this year – it’s still a challenge.
They have used a non-traditional fullback for several years now and found a good one in H-Back Dan Vitale, a rookie from Northwestern. He’s very Brian Leonard like. Played nine snaps against the Baltimore Ravens.
Gary Barnidge is their starting tight end with Randall Telfer getting most of the time as their #2.
Cleveland’s Passing Game
There have been a lot of faces under center this year. Five quarterbacks have thrown at least 20 passes for them, led by Cody Kessler’s 178. He’s actually played reasonably well this year. His completion percentage is 8th in the entire NFL at just under 67% and he’s thrown just one interception this season.
But he isn’t pushing the ball downfield as much as the offense demands, averaging a paltry 7.0 yards per attempt, barely edging out names like Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum, and Alex Smith. That’s his number one issue, plus his pretty high sack rate (15 of them).
It’s Terrelle Pryor who is their clear-cut #1 receiver with 51 grabs and four touchdowns this season.He also has 13 receptions on third down but that’s second on the team behind Duke Johnson. Johnson has 16, tied for third most of anyone in the league and the most by a running back. Keep an eye on him.
Johnson, and really most of these gadget-looking guys, get moved around the formation. Here’s an example of Johnson split out wide to the bottom and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins lined up in the backfield, releasing to the flat.
Hawkins has come on strong with three touchdowns on 24 receptions. But he’s taken a backseat again to Corey Coleman, healthy from a broken hand. Coleman isn’t meshing well with this short-game offense but is still averaging 17.8 yards per catch. He’s dynamic.
As I alluded to in the run game portion, it’s a Hue Jackson offense, which means you see a lot of crazy stuff. He has brought with him his Emory & Henry formation where both tackles are split out wide, leaving usually only five players – the guards, the center, and quarterback/running back – near the football.
You get some zone read stuff, a lot of screens, but if you’re caught napping, they’ll take a chunk play from you. Like this 44 yard gain to Crowell Week Nine against Dallas.
Lot of vertical concepts that break off at about 10-12 yards if they can’t win deep. So you get a lot of curls and comebacks with someone like Coleman or Pryor. Run you off with speed and then break down and make the sound catch underneath. Artie Burns could struggle in his transition. Happened a lot this season.
Watch for the TE screen on third and long. Barnidge isn’t enjoying the success he did a year ago but twice, they threw a TE screen to the right on 3rd and 10 and 3rd and 11 around their 40 yard line.
On early downs, 1st and 10 in their own territory, I’ve seen them rely on snag concepts. Curl/flat/corner combinations with a nice triangle read for the QB. Like this.
On third down, reduced splits is an indication for their mesh concept.
Browns’ Special Teams
Their return game has been uneventful. Tracey Howard and rookie Ricardo Louis have seven and six kick returns but neither have a return longer than 21 yards. Duke Johnson is an aggressive punt returner, just one fair catch in 12 total chances but his return average is a meh 6.8.
On punt returners, last week, their jammers were RB George Atkinson III and CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun.
Their kick return formation is a 4-2-1-2-2.
Britton Colquitt is their punter and holder. He has attempted just one pass in his career, 2011 with the Denver Broncos. It was incomplete.
On field goals, Gary Barnidge is their left wing and should always be considered a threat to receive a fake. He’s their only offensive skill player on this unit.
Josh’s Individual Report
Week 11 takes the Pittsburgh Steelers to Cleveland to take on the winless Browns and Hue Jackson. While the 0-9 record looks bad on paper, the Browns have been a competitive team all year, showing that they seem to be on the right path towards rebuilding a floundering franchise on the shores of Lake Erie.
With all of that said though, the quarterback picture in Cleveland is extremely confusing. Outside of the most important position on the field, the Browns offense seems to be putting together a solid unit across the board.
That being said, the raw offensive numbers won’t tell that same story for Cleveland. Coming into Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, the Browns are 28th in total offense per game (321.3), 30th in points per game (17.5) and 27th in turnover margin (-5).
While the quarterback situation has been an issue all season long (Cleveland has had six different QBs take snaps this season), the Browns should take some solace in the fact that the running back duo of Isaiah Crowell (551 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Duke Johnson Jr. (338 receiving yards, 227 rushing yards) has combined to be a strength for this Cleveland franchise as the Browns rank 6th in the league in yards per carry (4.7). However, Cleveland ranks just 26th in rushing attempts (175) due to the fact that they’re trailing in the second half more often than not.
But let’s take a look at Crowell and Johnson Jr. The two really compliment each other well as Crowell is the power back that really seems to set the tone on the ground for the Browns, while Johnson Jr. serves as the change of pace back who can make things happen in space on the ground or through the air.
As Crowell and Johnson Jr. provide the Browns with a consistent duo to lean on, the one guy who has really stolen the show for Cleveland has been converted wide receiver Terrelle Pryor.
What a complete receiver this guy is developing into.
It’s no secret that Pryor was a great athlete as a quarterback, but he just wasn’t a great passer. For years, plenty of people called for the former Jeannette High School and Ohio State University star to make the switch to receiver in the NFL. Finally, Pryor put aside his desire to be a quarterback by making the change to receiver, allowing his career to take off in a big way.
In his first full season as a receiver on an active NFL roster, Pryor has hauled in 51 receptions for 627 yards and four touchdowns while also taking some snaps as a quarterback in a tight spot for the Browns.
As a receiver, Pryor has developed into a very solid possession receiver who has become increasingly difficult to defend in the red zone.
Not only has he become a tremendous route runner after switching positions, he’s beginning to learn how to use his great physical tools to his advantage, becoming a serious matchup problem for any cornerback in this league.
While Pryor is having a great season, rookie Corey Coleman has put up some strong showings despite missing six weeks due to a broken hand suffered in practice. In four games the first-round pick has 13 receptions for 231 yards and two touchdowns. If Coleman and Pryor can continue to develop at a quick rate, Cleveland really has something at wide receiver.
Outside of Pryor and Coleman as pass catcher, Gary Barnidge is still a threat at tight end despite having a quiet year up to this point. The veteran tight end has hauled in 37 passes for 434 yards on the season despite dealing with a revolving door at quarterback due to injuries.
Which leads us to that quarterback conundrum.
Although Cody Kessler has really impressed me so far this season as a game manager and a guy who is calm and cool under pressure, leading the league in accuracy under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus, he has struggled with staying healthy.
The same can be said for Josh McCown and Robert Griffin III, each of who has missed a ton of time this season due to injury. Along with the trio previously mentioned, Cleveland has trotted out Charlie “Clipboard Jesus” Whitehurst and rookie Kevin Hogan out at quarterback this season, which has been very trying for Hue Jackson and Co. not having much continuity at the most important position on the field.
I would assume Kessler would get the start against the Steelers this week, giving the Browns an option at quarterback who is smart with the football, accurate on short and intermediate passes and really seems to add another dimension to the Cleveland offense.
He’s a guy I was really impressed with when watching film during bowl season, so I’m not surprised he’s set himself up for success in this league with his toolbox at his disposal.
Up front, Cleveland doesn’t have a great offensive line, but there are some flashes of solid future pieces along the offensive line.
Here’s how I project them to line up left to right on Sunday:
LT – Joe Thomas
LG — Spencer Drango
C — Cameron Erving
RG — John Greco
RT — Austin Pasztor
Thomas continues to be one of the top 4-5 left tackles in the NFL. He’s very solid as a run blocker and up until this season allowed the least amount of sacks of any left tackle in football in a five-year stretch. That’s very impressive.
Drango is a big, hulking lineman who can really dominate as a pass protector coming out of Baylor, but he’s still developing as a run blocker. When he figures it out, look out.
As for Erving, he’s been a major disappointment and appears to be a failed pick by the Browns. There’s still time for him to turn it around though. Greco and Pasztor appear to be just guys holding down a job until the Browns can upgrade the position.
Offensively, the Browns can scare opposing defenses with their two receivers and running back duos, but it all starts and ends with the quarterback. With too much uncertainly under center, it’s really hard to get a read on the skill players on this team.
On special teams, Cleveland has been solid as of late despite a tough start to the season.
Cody Parkey, who blew the game against Miami, has bounced back in a big way, hitting 11 of 15 field goals on the season, while punter Britton Colquitt has had a really strong year, averaging 45.4 net yards per punt on 51 kicks this season.
Of those 51 punts, 13 have been downed inside the 20-yard line.
Johnson Jr. handles the bulk of the work as a punt returner, averaging just under seven yards per return on 11 chances. The Browns don’t really have a homerun hitter as a punt return, so it’s important that they have someone solid back that, and that’s exactly what Johnson Jr. is.
In the kick returning area, Tracy Howard and George Atkinson — two rookies — evenly split the work as the two have combined for 13 total returns (7 and 6, respectively). Again, neither is a homerun threat as the Browns’ longest kick return of the season has been just 24 yards by rookie receiver Ricardo Louis.
The overall numbers from the offense and special teams might not be pretty whatsoever for Cleveland, but the foundation is in place for the Browns to finally start figuring things out moving forward.
While the Browns are still winless, Sunday’s game will be no pushover for the Steelers. You don’t want to be the team that gives Cleveland its first win of the season.”