Welcome to the latest edition of Xs and Os with the Bros by Xs and Os editor @rodofdisaster. This feature represents a basic attempt to dive deeper into the game of football, learn something about the X’s and O’s that make it go, and better appreciate the games within the game. It’s called Xs and Os with the Bros because you don’t have to be a player, coach, or rocket surgeon to get something out of taking a closer look at a football play, so please enjoy the post and the discussion in the comments.
This week Rod focuses on the failure of the Browns running game last Sunday in Cleveland against the Bills.
Situation: 1st Quarter; 3:55 left
Score: 14-0 Buffalo
Down & Distance: 3rd and 1 on Cleveland 19
The Browns come out in “22” or “Tank” personnel (2 RB, 2 TE, 1 WR). Both tight ends are lined up tight on the right. The lone WR (Little) is at the top of the screen. The backs are in an offset right formation with Marecic lined up at fullback. The defense counters with Base 4-3 personnel. There is no shift in the defensive front. There are eight men in the box and essentially a 9th as the weakside CB.
Here we see the play starting to the right.* The first arrow shows Pinkston pulling to his right. The second arrow shows Watson who is trying to block at the point of attack. Notice he’s being stood up by the defensive end.
*Offensive running plays are typically identified in the playcall as a number. The first digit is the back (usually “1” is the QB, “2” is the HB, “3” is the FB) and the second digit is the hole. The gaps to the right of the center are numbered evenly (2, 4, 6, 8) and those to the left are odd (1, 3, 5, 7). A descriptor is then added to the number to give some description of blocking. In this case, it’s the “2” back through the “6” hole, so it would be “26” and the descriptor would be “G Power” as the guard pulls and blocks into the hole. You’d call it “26 G Power.” Nomenclature will vary from offense to offense.
The arrow shows Watson who’s been pushed back into Trent Richardson. Pinkston isn’t blocking anyone and Marecic is blocking the CB.
Here we see a couple of things:
1. Watson is still in the backfield having been pushed back by the DE
2. Pinkston has recovered to engage a defender
3. Marecic is blocking the CB, sort of…
Here’s the final result, a loss of a yard and a half with Marecic (arrow) the lead-blocker somehow ending up behind the play. I’m sure this isn’t what Trent Richardson had in mind when he dreamed of the NFL.
The ability to gain a single yard when needed is a hallmark characteristic of a successful NFL offense; time for all eleven men to buckle the chinstraps and will their way forward. There is some skill to executing the short-yardage run but often, it’s a battle to decide who wants it more. For the Cleveland Browns, this was to be their team identity in 2012. That’s why they used the 3rd overall pick on Trent Richardson and the second round pick on Mitchell Schwartz.
So far this season, even with one very good game against the Bengals, Richardson is averaging 3.5 yards per carry which is 35th in the league. This week, Trent averaged 2.2 yards per carry buoyed by 3 carries for 14 yards in the second half. That’s simply not good enough. That’s also not the whole story.
As you can see above, there’s both a scheme and an execution issue.
First the scheme: Shurmur decided to pull the weakside guard (Pinkston). That is called a “G-power” run. Surely, we’ve seen G-power result in big yards for teams like the Steelers over the years. One could question however, whether or not that’s a wise thing to do here with such a strong and aggressive defensive front. It’s a slower developing scheme and with the quick penetration of the Bills’ defensive line you could argue it’s bound to fail.
This wasn’t the only trap block executed on Sunday as the Browns came back later with this play:
In the first panel we see that Schwartz is pulling to his left and trying to fill a hole on the other side of the line (#1). Number 2 shows the defensive end charge through the hole that Schwartz just vacated and is on top of the play in the backfield. In the second panel, we see that Schwartz can’t really move the defender, Joe Thomas hasn’t really gotten any push on his defender and Richardson has to try and bounce further outside. He eventually gets tackled by that backside DE in pursuit which results in a loss on the play.
The execution in each of these plays is simply awful. There is no push at the point of attack and when you cease to be a blocker that just makes you a speed bump.
The danger in analyzing a single play is that you ignore dozens of other plays where the performance could be better. I would argue that 12 rushes for 27 yards pretty much is an indictment of most of those plays…as we see below.
Here we see a run in the third quarter that was easily Trent’s best run. It was called back on a phantom holding call. The arrow here shows Ben Watson’s man nearly making another tackle in the backfield.
Here is Trent’s TD run. This was all Trent. The arrow shows Watson being beaten again. How Richardson got out of this is beyond me.
Watson was beaten a lot but he did adjust in the second half (or the coaches adjusted for him) as we see below.
The arrow shows Watson taking his man upfield and Richardson tucking in underneath that block. This play went for positive yardage.
Watson was not the only one who consistently has had trouble blocking. Here we see Marecic (the man who spelled the end of the Lawrence Vickers Era in Cleveland) getting knocked on his heels before he even gets to the hole.
And while Mitchell Schwartz has to be the best right tackle the Browns have had in a long time, he frequently gave up his inside gap in the preseason, which is a trend that continued on Sunday (arrow).
The Browns’ inability to run the football (13 carries for 33 yards, 2.5 ypc) and their subsequent abandonment of the run (32 of the last 33 plays were passes) made them one-dimensional on offense, which resulted in an abysmal fourth quarter performance. The casual observer might want to pin this on the man carrying the ball, but of course it’s much more complex than that. Scheme, talent and execution by all eleven men on offense are factors in the failure of these and every play.
And of course, execution means nothing if the schemes are flawed and can’t be adjusted. Whatever Shurmur and crew did at halftime had minimal impact on the outcome of the game. Contrast this with Mike McCarthy whose Packers offense was getting mauled by Seattle this week. They came out in the third quarter as a completely different team. Zone blocking instead of man blocking. Quick passes and quick tempo got them back into the game against a better defense than what Buffalo threw at the Browns (though having a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers (an eighth year NFL vet who’s a month and a half older than Brandon Weeden) certainly helps).
As I frequently mention here, sometimes their Xs are just better than your Os, and the Bills’ defensive line is certainly one of the best in the league, but designing optimal schemes requires an accurate assessment of the pieces that you’re working with. If Ben Watson can’t block and he’s a minimal contributor in the passing game, why is Jordan Cameron spending so much time on the sideline? And why is a tight end being assigned to block a defensive end 1-on-1 at all, let alone ends of the caliber of Mark Anderson and Mario Williams? Does Owen Marecic ever need to be on the field? What is he adding? Is Joe Thomas still a “set it and forget it” left tackle or would the offense benefit from sending him some help every once in a while? Why was it so hard for the passing game to make the Bills pay for such a commitment to the run (certainly a subject for a whole new post)? There are questions to take from every game, and especially the losses. While it’s hard to out-scheme any NFL team for four quarters, it would be encouraging and certainly not too much to ask to see it done for one or two, or even to just not have to completely shut down one whole phase of the game (and your most explosive playmaker) for 33 consecutive plays.
The full “Xs and Os with the Bros” archive is available here.