X’s and O’s with the Bros, Week 12: Alex Smith, NFL Fullback

by Cleveland Frowns on November 29, 2012

Welcome to the latest edition of X’s and O’s with the Bros by X’s and O’s editor @rodofdisaster. This feature represents a basic attempt to look 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 “X’s and O’s 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 Shurmurball staple, fullback Alex Smith. 

Situation: 3rd Quarter; 5:25 left
Score: Browns 13, Steelers 14
Down & Distance: 1st & Goal from Steelers’ 15


The Browns come out in 12-personnel (1 back, 2 TE) and Alex Smith is lined up as a fullback in the “I-strong right, twins left alignment.” The Steelers are in base 3-4 personnel and lined up man-to-man with seven in the box. The alignment is favorable for a run play. Note Harrison looking to blitz off of the opposite edge.


In the first photo we see Weeden pivoting to the strong side and there are several other things to note:

1. Thomas and Greco are double teaming the defensive end
2. Mack is blocking down on the nose and Lauvao is pulling to his left.
3. Harrison (arrow) still looks aggressive.

And here we see the play develop to the weakside:

1. Lauvao has come across and blocked Harrison
2. Greco has flattened the defensive end and Thomas is looking to a LB to block
3. Mack is getting the better of the nose tackle

Finally, the arrow shows Alex Smith sizing up Lawrence Timmons who’s stepped up into the outside gap.


Here we see that Alex Smith has pushed Timmons to the outside. The second arrow shows Joe Thomas on the strongside ILB. A hole has developed and it’s Trent Richardson one on one with Ryan Clark.

Clark conveniently flails to take himself out of the play leaving Richardson with a wide open path to the end zone. He scores to give the Browns the lead for good.


This play isn’t really anything extraordinary, but solid execution like this against the Steelers is nothing anyone should take for granted in these parts. And if the tide really is turning here in Cleveland it seems just as well to have an “X’s and O’s” post devoted to the man whose claim to fame is a play where his coach didn’t even know he’d lined up at fullback or that he’d never taken a handoff in his life: Alex Smith.

Over the last several games Smith has been lining up at the fullback position more and more as the coaching staff has kept Owen Marecic off the field. There isn’t any room in the NFL for a fullback who can’t block or catch consistently. Smith’s blocks haven’t been pretty but they have been effective.

For example, here’s a play in the earlier part of the third quarter where Smith ends up getting a good block on the weakside ILB, keeping him on the that half of the field.

And here’s a play later in the game as the Browns are trying to run clock in the four minute offense. Interestingly, it’s the same blocking scheme with Lauvao pulling and Smith leading to the weakside. This play resulted in another decent gain to keep the chains moving and the clock running.

In last week’s game we saw a big gain on an off-tackle toss play and the arrow highlights Smith who had lined up in an H-back position getting a nice block on the end man on the line of scrimmage.

Smith tends to block high and extends his arms a bit more than I’d like but he’s done a very effective job giving the Browns an effective lead blocker from a couple of different formations. As well as the offensive line has played this year, the big gains still don’t happen without skill players (TE, FB, WR) blocking effectively.

The Browns managed to execute a nice block for the go-ahead score and another to help preserve the lead which is why an effective blocker at tight end is invaluable and also why Evan Moore could never get more playing time. Well done, Alex Smith.


The complete “Xs and Os with the Bros” archive is available here.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Spencer Hall was in Columbus for OSU/Michigan. Read this: http://www.everydayshouldbesaturday.com/2012/11/26/3692940/blatant-homerism-part-one-the-thing-we-did-before-the-fsu-game

    Also, look at these terrifying t-shirts by @musicman06: http://t.co/eJ6mlNEd

    Cheddar Bay open thread will be posted tomorrow.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    PFF on Brandon Weeden and what a worthless stat QB rating is:

    While it’s not something most quarterbacks strive for, a QB rating of
    78.7 doesn’t usually mean a disastrous outing for the QB at hand. But
    Weeden (-4.7) had just that. Pressured on less than 20% of his drop-backs, and working with a receiving corps that dropped only one ball (which would have gone for negligible yardage anyway), Weeden’s stat line shouldn’t even look as good as it does. Though he threw one pick, he was helped out by a few drops by members of the Pittsburgh secondary that really could have changed the flow of the game. He had no luck stretching the defense. Beyond 10 yards in the air, Weeden completed two of seven for 30 yards.


    • Wiseoldredbeard

      Bash bash bash bash smash Weeden bash. For the record, I don’t think people around here argue that QB Rating is worthless, I think they argue that QBR is worthless… The guy is a rookie. He’s played top flight defenses the last three weeks. Let’s see what happens in the next two games against Oakland and KC before we get our pants in a bunch.

      • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

        1. I’ve heard plenty of “but look at his QB rating” here.

        2. Every other rookie starting QB has performed at least twice as well, with a pair performing as well as any in the league, and those guys are all 23 years old or younger.

        3. The metrics used by PFF and Football Outsiders are very similar to QBR and spit out almost exactly the same rankings. I guess those must be garbage, too.

        I really can’t get over the QBR truther insanity here (not with you, WORB, but at this website, generally).

        • Wiseoldredbeard

          I agree that it is stupid to say he (or anyone) is good because of their QB rating. With Weeden, as a rookie, all I want to do is see him develop over the course of the season to get a sense of whether he might be able to stick around and continue to improve. To me, it looks to me like he’s making fewer mistakes (besides having a coach not playing to his strengths), and I think you have to stick with him at least for a while to see if he continues to grow. As for RGIII or Luck — these guys are once in a lifetime and don’t stand for comparison. Can you blame the Walrus for not getting RGIII? Sure. Can you blame Weeden for it, no.

        • GrandRapidsRustlers

          As one of the VPs here of the Weeden fan club I feel the need to defend him even if I agree with the majority of the statistical anaylsis.

          1. Shurmur is a train wreck who from what we can still gather does not allow a QB to audible. Do you really think either QB in the game tonight will continue to run into the teeth of the defense.

          2. I have no idea if Weeden is the long term answer. (Long term in the NFL is 5 years IMHO so we can all stop with the age jokes) I want to see what he does with a real coach.

          3. At the end of the day I still think he is the best QB for this team since they returned. I will entertain the Couch debate but that is about it.

          4. What I really want to see is him light somebody up the rest of the way. You should not struggle the next two weeks to score points.

          • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

            i agree with this and would even go further. it’s been well-established that shurmur’s playcalling is not imaginative and that this flavor of WCO was innovative in 1985. it feels like we skew here too far on weeden in terms of offensive (lack of) performance when we still have this guy calling the plays for a dinosaur offense.

          • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

            Man you know I carry no water for Shurmur but wide open receivers are wide open receivers.

          • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

            i majorly dig weeden’s swing passes.
            yes, the bar is that low.

          • BIKI024

            so when there are wide open looks out there, isn’t that on the QB to make the throw? or does the coach have a Playstation control and just hits a button and hits the wide open guy??

          • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

            here’s my take: weeden overthrew cooper on a key 3rd down. it was bad but all qb’s miss open receivers on occasion.

            my eyes here: i dont find him to be grossly inaccurate and –in my primary point– he *is* a rookie nfl qb and deserving of some ramp time.

            i also reject the luck-griffin-tannehill-etc comparisons because each situation is different. im evaluating weeden, as best i can, based on what i see in browns games.

          • BIKI024

            i like him, and i just don’t see it making any sense to start over at QB again, i’m optimistic that another offseason he should be able to know run the entire playbook blindfolded.

            but i’m not so sure we have lost game solely due to the playcalling, of course hindsight 20/20 you can say we shoulda ran this or that, but the fact remains is that guys are open, so that is a tribute to the scheme/playcall, so hopefully Weeds can start hitting these more consistently down the stretch here.

          • SteamingPileOfCraphonsoThorpe

            Shurmur (scribbling notes furiously): “run entire playbook blindfolded…sweet!”

          • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

            Another reason to reject Luck/Griffin/Tannehill comparisons is that all three of those QBs play behind much worse offensive lines.

          • Believelander

            Better coaches: Yes, yes, yes. Better run game: No, yes, yes. Better skill positions for passers, yes, yes, no.

          • Wiseoldredbeard

            And to go even further — wouldn’t you say it’s important to give a QB at least two years in the league before knowing how servicable he’ll be (assuming he doesn’t completely collapse the first year)? At the end of last season, most thought Newton was going to revolutionize the game in the next ten years; now….eh. Now everyone is obsessed with Luck and RGIII. Who knows what will happen… The whole thing needs to mix together for a while before you know if it works. A QB and his receivers, a QB and his playcaller, they need to earn trust, learn strengths and weaknesses. It isn’t a lightbulb. Don’t turn it off yet. I hold judgement at least until the end of the KC game. (Weeds, don’t freakin’ let me down.)

          • Beeej

            “You should not struggle the next two weeks to score points.” I’m sure Shurmur will figure out a way to game plan a whole bunch struggles.

            “Worst pass defense in the league? Saddle up TRich, we’re gonna ride you hard. When they stack the box, we’ll get’em with dump-offs and 5 yard outs.” Then he quietly starts to hum to himself, “I am so smart. I am so smart. S. M. R. T. …I mean S.M.A.R.T.,” a la H.J. Simpson.

          • Believelander

            I’ll take that argument on Couch. I think if Tim had been drafted into a successful program he would have developed at LEAST into a Matt Schaub quality workman, Pro Bowl level starter. People kept raving about him coming out of a spread offense in college to write the book on his bustiness years ahead of time, ignoring that he walked into one of the most horrifying dumpster fires of an NFL team that’s ever been seen. According to one guy I know who hung with him back in his playing days, after getting mashed up for years in Cleveland, he was content to play out the string as a backup then step away from the game.

        • Cranky M

          Eh…i wouldn’t say Tannehill has been much better than Weeden, let alone twice as good. He has 7 TD’s and 12 INT’s.
          But then again, he has terrible receivers, so it isn’t really fair to judge him. But on the other hand, he is playing in an offense similar to what he played in college, whereas Weeden is learning an entirely new system.
          Which goes with what i have been saying all along: judging rookie QB’s is notoriously difficult, and using contrived statistics to do so isn’t really fair. There are just way too many extraneous factors at play. They have the steepest learning curve of any position in sports. In no way is it possible to use Total QBR or QB rating to accurately project how good a QB is going to be in the future. Now, if Weeden’s stats are equally terrible next season, after an offseason where he knows exactly what he needs to improve upon…i guess that’s another story.
          But despite claims to the contrary, those statistics are incapable of successfully factoring in the vast multitude of extraneous factors that affect every given pass/play/game/etc etc.. Total QBR may be trying to do so, but it fails (in my humble opinion). It’s just not possible. Some of the ways in which it attempts to factor in “clutch” and whatnot, for example, are borderline ridiculous.
          I much prefer the eye test, and the eye test tells me that Weeden is better than any other QB we’ve had in the recent past.
          In any case, there is no way to upgrade at QB next season: zero good free agent QB’s, no surefire franchise QB’s in the draft. We have to ride the Weeden wave.
          On the positive side, unlike past QB’s, his problems seem to be mental as opposed to physical. You can’t teach McCoy arm strength, but there’s no reason to assume that you can’t teach Weeden to see the firld better.

          I promise this is the last time i will argue about QBR….please don’t drop the Banhammer on me…

          • Cranky M

            This message was brought to you by Devil’s Advocate and Associates.

        • Believelander

          What Cranky said. Tannehill. Not twice as good. Not impressive. Also every other rookie QB is in a different situation. No Shurmurball. Russell Wilson and RG3 are in systems tailored to their strengths with powerhouse running games. Andrew Luck, RG3, and Tannehill were all top 10 picks. You can’t point at successes they are enjoying as indicators that Brandon Weeden isn’t ‘a real quarterback’ as you’ve implied (I believe the exact words were we needed to get ‘a quarterback’.)

          Actually, you certainly CAN, but that doesn’t make it wise or believable. It’s silliness trying to write the book on a rookie QB. It’s cool that you don’t think Weeden will be any good. There are plenty of pointers one can use to make that case. Many others one can use to make the contrary argument. But the subtle and sometimes not so subtle suggestions that he’s a definitive bust? Baseless.

          BTdubz check your Twitter feed if you haven’t. Shot you a link for a nice pro-LeBron tidbit that actually had me nodding my head.

      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_PCO2kuvVpU PML

        If he didn’t have red hair, I bet you’d be singing a different tune.

        • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns


        • Wiseoldred(?)beard

          What if I don’t hair now? Boom! Just blew your mind.

    • Steve

      As one of the QBR-skeptics, I appreciate this kind of analysis. They broke down Weeden’s play accurately. The problem I have with QBR is how the creators go “don’t worry about how exactly we make the sausage, just eat it”. When we can break it down, like this, I can be a lot more confident that the results are right.

  • GrandRapidsRustlers

    Have to get in early with a single point cheddar play.

    Atlanta (-3.5) over New Orleans – The Falcons are the Rodney Dangerfield of good football teams. They get over their Saints problem tonight.

    Also…that is a hell of a block by Lauvao above.

  • Beeej

    I’m not used to Xs and Os featuring the Browns making positive plays. It feels a little dirty, but I could get used it.

  • jackmac

    Interesting breakdown. How often does Weeden check out of a play call?
    in your examples they are running a play inspite of the defensive alignment. Is much of Weeden’s hesitation and the poor offense a reflection that adjustments are not made and it is tough to run into a 9 man line or throw into double coverage and zones shifted to beat a perceived route . Top tier QB are playing chess and trying to run a play that confuses… the browns look to just execute and hope the defense isn’t always stacked or pre reading the exact play??? Is Weeden not there yet or the coaches not willing to let it evolve?

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      I had a similar reaction when I looked at this. They ran right into the Steelers’ alignment.

    • SteamingPileOfCraphonsoThorpe

      Good points. Here was my thought during the “bleed the clock” portion of the game – RUN TO THE LEFT!! Along the lines of confusing the defense, it seemed to me a perfect time to stack the line to the right, then run a counter/sweep/iso play to the left. I was quite literally screaming at the TV “Run left, stopping pounding it right over guard/tackle”. Do what they don’t expect!

      I was watching in a bar so I was not at home where I could record it and watch it again, so I may be mistaken. But it seemed like almost every run in the last 7-8 minutes of the game, even before Weeden went out, was to the right, and mostly inside the tackles. Am I just imagining things, or performing a Clemensian mis-rememberance? Anyone else note that?

    • Jim

      Didn’t Weeds previously mention he is not permitted to check out of a play? I think that falls on the coaching staff who either do not trust the rookie to audible or do not consider it an integral part of their playbook.

    • Believelander

      The coaches. Colt McCoy pretty obviously was not allowed to audible last season, either.

  • SteamingPileOfCraphonsoThorpe

    I’m going to throw out a thought that I already know with 110% certainty (my certainty has been fined in the past for breaking the Laws of Physics) will set off a Frowns comment war, but here it goes…

    [NOTE: this is not an argument for more Shurmurball, just an observation].

    Is it at all possible that this coach might, in fact, be improving at his job as the team record improves – 0-5 to start the season, 3-3 in the last 6? (I can feel Frownie reaching for his 24k gold-plated banhammer, but I’m begging for leniency, your Honor!) I know, I know, still making poor decisions and baffling us fans with play-calling. But on the positive side, he coaches a team that we have seen really play hard throughout the season, that has rarely, and maybe not at all, been physically outmatched in games, and is showing the kind of toughness we love. If we accept that a team often reflects the attitudes of its coaches, what does that say for the job they’ve done in preparing these guys, at least mentally and physically? I will completely recant every bit of this if they go out and lay an egg against the Raiders and Chiefs, but what if they finish 6-10, or even 7-9 (highly unlikely), after starting 0-5? Of course, he could just be pulling a Norv Turner, and that is the danger of falling in love with that team that finishes strong – why didn’t they play like that all year??

    The morning show on KNR (yes, I listen to that sometimes, because I don’t live in NE Ohio anymore and haven’t been directed to other shows online; that’s what happens when your parents take you down South in the 5th grade because steel mills are circling the drain daily) made a good point today that Shurmur started using two return guys on punts when the Stoolers kept kicking away from Cribbs…in-game adjustment? We accept, without questioning the assertion, that the game “slows down” for the guys on the field as they go from rookies to more experienced players – could the game be slowing down for a first-time HC, too?

    Just food for thought and discussion. Again, not advocating keeping Pat, just noticing positives like fewer wasted timeouts, seemingly better organization on the sideline, and a team attitude that I can get behind.

    I also found this an interesting read. And of course, none of those other teams had 8 turnovers…but I might argue that without the early pick-6, the Stoolers only score 7 points. And none of those other teams forced 8 turnovers, either.

    Reminder: 100% recantation of everything above based on the results of the next two clearly winnable games. Plus I’ll buy Frowns a beer next time I’m in Cleveland.

    Sorry, forgot obvious negative:

    • BIKI024

      if you listen to Banner’s presser from the other day, he too came away really impressed with the intensity of the players and coaches and how hard they are working, with all that has been going on with the losses and of course changes up top.

      but you’re right, they lay an egg these next couple games and it’s definitely over for Coach Pat, but win these next 2, and then that Skins game at home becomes REALLY interesting in terms of the future of Pat Shurmur.. if we finish 7-9, i’d give him a 35% chance of sticking around..

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      You’re going to have to buy me a lot more than a beer if you want me to get on board for another year of Shurmurball.

      A legitimate coach would have this team competing for the playoffs.

      • SteamingPileOfCraphonsoThorpe

        Yo, dude, only my wife can bribe me for that!!

        Like I said, not necessarily arguing for keeping the guy, just that improvement begs that Haslam not completely nuke it to the ground. Maybe keep some of the key coaching staff, like Jauron, and make sure it’s not a total rebuild.

      • BIKI024

        what’s that? playoffs?? don’t talk about playoffs! playoffs?? playoffs?? are you kidding me?? i just hope we can win a game. 2 games actually.

        but yes, we’re a few plays short of being in the playoff hunt right now. we all saw them, not a figment of superfan’s imagination.

        with another strong draft class and the $40m in cap space we have this offseason, we should address the final holes on the roster (DB, S, and LB) and we should be ready to rumble, whoever the new coach is.

        but if he finishes strong and we see that he has helped Weeds improve, not to mention his history with Banner, he may have a shot to stay, albeit slim.

        • nj0

          Thing is, if they do decide to keep him, I think they’d have to extend his contract too. I mean, if you think Shurmur is good enough to bring back in 2013, then you clearly think he’s an NFL caliber coach who can get things done. I would HATE to see them keep him only to waste another year with a lame duck like Holmgren did with Mangini.

          • BIKI024

            he still has 2 years left on his deal, so if they do keep him, I’m not sure LaMonte will be pushing for an extension until probably the following offseason.

          • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

            LOL @ the idea of LaMonte pushing for a Shurmur extension.

          • alexb

            I’ll give the guy, or mngmt in general, credit for drafting pretty well. If Shurmur leaves he’s handing off a pretty good team. I’m not sure all our early season problems were on Shurm, but I also am not sure he’s a good coach. Palmer put together a pretty talented team, back in the Jamir Miller days, but they canned him and brought in the absolute biggest fuckhead we’ve ever had in Cleveland …..Butch. I would take 10 more years of Shurmurball before just one more season of ole Butch Davis. I’m currently inclined to give Shurmur one more year unless A) he just really doesn’t want to be here or B) Cowher, or some other demi god, is willing to come in and coach

          • nj0

            Did not realize it was a four year deal.

      • Believelander

        I have to borderline agree/disagree. On the one hand, the Stillers and Ravens aren’t sitting high atop the division, but on the other hand, our entire division is solid. On the one hand, it’s hard to coach up so many rookies, on the other hand we have a lot of talent and the 6th seed in the AFC is wide the f*** open right now. Change ‘would have’ to ‘would likely have’ and I’d be 100% on board with this. Shurmurballs.


  • zarathustra

    Tonight I like
    Falcons-3.5 over Saints
    I hate the hook, but I love the Falcons. Tempted to make this my money play. I may come back soon with an essay. But for now just a one pointer.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      Oh hells bells I’ll ride Dirty Birds tonight for one point, too.

  • mo_by_dick

    #CheddarBay me for Saints +3 @ Falcons plz

    • mo_by_dick

      dagnabit, +3.5

  • alexb

    yeah who’da thunk a decent FB makes sense in the NFL? fucking Holmgren…..”fullbacks are overrated”, then go use a pick on Marecic. What in the all shit?

    • Believelander

      Vickers: Crennell/Savage hire, Mangini guy. Swept out. Then they realized they had no FB. Lol.

  • Believelander

    Great analysis. I didnt think that it was a coincidence that we started running the ball a bit better after Marecic was benched for Smith.

Previous post:

Next post: