As we have been for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Today, revisiting the Cleveland Browns’ offense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Browns Run Game
When they’ve been able to run the ball, it’s actually been pretty good. Too bad they’re often so far behind in games they have to rely on the pass. Isaiah Crowell is still the lead dog, even after getting thrown under the bus by his head coach. He’s averaging a healthy 4.4 YPC. As a team, they have 47 runs of 10+ yards, above average in the league, but haven’t gotten many chunk plays. Only six of 20+, tied for 26th. Similar issue as the Steelers (17th and 31st, respectively).
Duke Johnson is the #2 but really acts like a wide receiver/third down back. The Steelers saw some of Matthew Dayes in Week 1 but he’s had only two carries since. I wouldn’t worry about him.
The offensive line is spotty. From left to right. Spencer Drango-Joel Bitonio-JC Tretter-Kevin Zeitler-Shon Coleman. Pretty bad tackle play, guards are solid, and Tretter is decent, though Javon Hargrave dominated him at the beginning of the year.
Scheme wise, you’re going to see a lot of inside zone. Their bread and better. Occasionally pull their guard but they want their backs to read the play and get upfield. Lot of one-back work but they still have their fullback, #40 Dan Vitale, who does a serviceable job.
Some other stats. They’re averaging 14 points per game, that’s last, and 31st on third down (32.8%). Red zone offense is only marginally better at 27th in the league, 46%.
Browns Pass Game
Deshone Kizer is already a sitting duck and I don’t expect him to be under center next year. Could be his last start as a Brown. The numbers ain’t pretty but neither has been the support system. 53.6% completion rate, 5.8 YPA, 9 TDs, 21 INTs, and he’s been sacked 32 times. Hard to find anything positive and to be fair, he’s legitimately been terrible. You’ll see one of his worst plays in Josh’s report below.
Running back Duke Johnson is their top receiver across the board. First in targets, receptions (87 and 68) and second in touchdowns with three. Josh Gordon is back to give them a legitimate weapon on the outside. Strong start and he’s been peppered with targets, 19 targets over the last two weeks, but he hasn’t captured that magic. Under 50 yards the past two weeks. Still, he’s a clear threat and they’ll kick him to the slot on 3rd down.
David Njoku has gotten better at TE but has gone quiet the last three weeks. Elsewhere, there isn’t much to talk about. The receivers are laughingly disappointing. If you’re wondering, Sammie Coates has just six catches this year and only one over the last month.
Sacked 44 times, top ten in the league, and Pittsburgh took Kizer down seven times in Week One. On third down, Johnson is their guy with 23 receptions on third down. TE Seth DeValve is oddly used a lot there, second with ten catches on 20 targets.
Conceptually, it’s a lot of easy progressions. Plenty of dragon concepts, slant/flat, for easy three step throws and getting the ball to their weapons. Here’s one on 3rd and 4, hitting Johnson in the flat and letting him do the rest of the work.
You’ll get some spot and smash concepts. Again, easy triangle reads for Kizer.
Josh’s Individual Report
There’s just one week left in the 2017 regular season, and fortunately for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s a date with the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on New Year’s Eve.
We know what this Browns offense is all about: run the football between the tackles, dump the ball off in space to its playmakers and try to avoid the turnovers. Unfortunately for Deshone Kizer, he hasn’t been able to avoid the turnovers this season, throwing 21 interceptions while fumbling the football 9 times.
It’s been a rough year for a guy that I liked coming out of Notre Dame. His confidence is completely shot thanks to the mess that is the Cleveland offense, but he still has all the physical tools to become a very good quarterback in the NFL.
As the starting quarterback, Kizer has piloted the Browns to the NFL’s 27th-ranked total offense, including the 26th-ranked passing attack, No. 19 rushing attack and the lowest-scoring offense in the NFL.
Too often when the Browns enter the red zone, Kizer attempts to do too much and turns the football over, including a ghastly interception to Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr in the back of the end zone early in the fourth quarter of their Week 15 matchup in Cleveland.
It’s third and goal here for the Browns and Kizer, trailing by 17 points early in the fourth quarter following a nice, long drive down the field against a good Ravens defense.
Kizer should have thrown this ball 10 rows deep and settled for the field goal, giving his good defense a chance to get the ball back to the offense, but instead he floats an off-balance throw into triple coverage where Carr is able to make the easy interception for the touchback.
That’s the type of play that has driven head coach Hue Jackson crazy this season, but things could be made easier for Kizer in this instance. One or two reads and then throw it away. That’s some sort of development, but instead this is what the Browns end up with.
It’s not all bad with Kizer though. He’s very mobile and powerful for a quarterback, rarely going down on first contact. Yes, he tries to extend plays with his legs and sometimes that hurts him with throws or actual injuries sustained on scrambles, but he’s a guy trying to make plays with his arm, and in some instances (not the one above) you can’t fault him for that.
Sometimes, you get plays like this.
Facing a blitz from the left side late in the first half against the Ravens, Kizer shows some poise, taking the hit and remaining upright, firing a strike to tight end Seth DeValve for a gain of 23 yards, eventually resulting in a field goal.
Kizer’s arm talent is undeniable, and his strength for the position in the pocket is something to behold, but this types of plays are too few and far in between.
I hear a lot about how the Browns just don’t have offensive talent, and that just simply isn’t true.
Kizer has a strong running back duo to lean on early in games as Isaiah Crowell has emerged as a solid 2-down back, while Duke Johnson Jr. certainly looks the part of a star running back. The workload as a runner just isn’t there though. Maybe that changes with the new regime in power. We’ll see.
Crowell is having a bit of a public spat with Jackson at the moment, feeling as though he’s been slighted by the head coach, but Crowell is putting together a decent season.
On the year, Crowell has 832 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 191 attempts (4.4 yards per carry). That’s nothing to balk at. He’s a power back that will hammer you in between the tackles and can bust off the occasional big run or two each game.
Backed up deep into their own end, the Browns turn to Crowell to try and get some breathing room. Instead, Crowell rips off his longest run of the season.
He’s patient enough to stretch it wide to the left, allowing his blocks to set up before then having the vision to turn it up field and hit the boosters. Of course, a ton of credit has to be given to the Browns’ offensive line on this play, but Crowell does a great job of seeing the lane up hitting it.
With Johnson Jr., I’m fully onboard in terms of belief that he can be an every down back that can run between the tackles, hit the edge and be a significant threat as a receiver. But like I said, the workload just isn’t there for some reason as a runner.
Johnson Jr. has just 76 carries on the year, but he’s turned that into 328 yards (4.3 ypc) and 3 touchdowns. As a receiver, Johnson Jr. is easily the Browns’ best weapon, leading the team in receptions with 68, adding 618 yards (9.1 ypc) and 3 touchdowns. He’ll line up in the slot, or he’ll run routes out of the backfield.
He’ll be a problem on Sunday.
At receiver and tight end, the Browns have a good, young nucleus to work with, but it all goes back to Kizer’s ability to get them the football.
If Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon were on another team or had a much better quarterback at the moment, this duo would be feared. Instead, they’re almost laughed off in a sense as the Browns are still working Gordon back up to speed, while Coleman has almost disappeared in this offense due to the way they’re using him as a short route runner instead of as the field-stretcher that he is.
Combined, the duo has just 36 receptions and 3 scores on the season. Slot receivers Rishard Higgins and Ricardo Louis get a lot of work as well, but Higgins seems to have taken over the lion’s share of the snaps. He also seems to have a lot of trust instilled in him from Kizer.
At tight end, DeValve and rookie David Njoku are going to be good for a very long time. DeValve is the blocker of the group and the possession receiver, while Njoku is the move tight end who can carve up defenses in the middle of the field. Again, you’d like to see Kizer get these guys more involved each game, but most of that falls on play calling and scheme.
It will be interesting to see how the Steelers decide to handle Johnson Jr., DeValve and Njoku in the middle of the field with no Ryan Shazier available.
Up front, Cleveland’s interior offensive line is very solid as guards Kevin Zeitler and Joel Bitonio are the clear building blocks of the offensive line, while center JC Tretter has come on strong in the second half of the season.
Without future Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas available, the interior offensive line had to step up its game. They’ve done that and more. Unfortunately for the Browns, left tackle Spencer Drango, who is filling in for Joe Thomas, hasn’t been very good as a pass protector, struggling with speed and power off the edge. He’s a strong run blocker, but left on an island as a pass protector, he’s in major trouble.
Right tackle Shon Coleman hasn’t been any better. He’s nearly identical to Drango, in terms of play. A good run blocker but a poor pass protector.
On special teams, rookie kicker Zane Gonzalez has had an up and down first season in Cleveland. After winning the Lou Groza Award at Arizona State, Gonzalez has missed 5 field goals and 1 extra point, but down the stretch he’s seemed to right himself, missing just one kick in his last seven games. He seems to have solidified the position heading into 2018.
At punter, Britton Colquitt looks to be on the downside of his career. Against the Ravens and Chicago Bears the last two weeks, he’s struggled with distance and placement on his punts, hitting two line drives for short yardage against the Ravens while also struggling to kick in the snow against the Bears.
He is certainly not a guy that is going to flip the field for the Browns at this point in his career.
Rookie safety Jabrill Peppers is electrifying on kick and punt returns. He’s going to bust a kickoff for a score soon; possibly even on Sunday. He’s come close so many times in the last few weeks that it’s only a matter of time.
When fielding punts, if he gets his hands on the ball, he’s almost always going to return it. He rarely fair catches the ball. However, he struggles to decide when to catch the ball when it’s deep in his own end. Baltimore’s Sam Koch toyed with him in Week 15, downing a number of punts deep in Browns territory because Peppers let a few balls bounce.