Cleveland Browns Film Room: Week 9, Third-and-Short Offense

Each week this season, we’ll take a seat in our very own WFNY Browns film room and break down a little tape from the previous week.  Do enjoy.

This week we stare into frustration. How many times have you been watching the Browns and seen them throw the ball two yards short of the first down marker? Seems like every time, doesn’t it?

If I told you that the Browns were in the top ten in the league in third down conversions would you believe me?

Cleveland has converted 58 of 142 3rd-down tries. That’s a 40.8% conversion percentage. That puts them 9th in the NFL. I know. I was kind of surprised myself. New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Green Bay are 1-3. Here’s another surprising stat for you: the Browns have converted more 4th downs than any other team. They are 9-for-14 in that department. These numbers can be a bit misleading though. If you look at total number of first downs earned, the Browns are tied with Minnesota for 23rd.

How do you resolve the discrepancy?

Think about some of the Browns’ games for a minute. The offense has struggled, gone three-and-out for basically the first and third quarters of every game. Then, at the end of the game, the Browns run a hurry-up offense while the defense is playing a soft zone or prevent style defense and the Browns rattle off several third down conversions. It doesn’t take long for the percentage to level out. It also explains why they have gone for so many 4th down conversions. Some of the other teams in the top ten for 4th down makes? Arizona, Miami, Seattle, St. Louis… you get the picture.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at a few of the Browns’ third and short opportunities. We’ll focus on pass plays today.

First quarter, third-and-2. The Browns are in a shotgun formation (which we are told McCoy is much more comfortable in) with a WR split wide right (bottom of screen, Cribbs), a TE on the left, WR Little in the slot and a WR split wide left (most likely Norwood). The Browns are about to run a pseudo-pick play. Instead of running into Little’s man, Watson is going to run him off as Little is going to duck in right behind him.

The defensive backs on the top of the screen are giving the Browns room, playing off a few yards. Little ducks behind Watson, allowing him to clear an easy path to the first down marker. It actually is a well designed play for this situation. McCoy has no pressure as the Rams are rushing 4, and the line is handling them.

Here we see the completed pick and turn by Little. Do you see a problem? Yep. He turns around just shy of the first down line. He sort of settles right on the line as McCoy releases the ball. The defensive back reads what is happening and makes a break towards Little.

Excuse the slight blur of the action screen capture. The play still has a shot to get the first down if McCoy drills Little in the gut allowing him to lean over the line. Unfortunately, the pass is on his back shoulder which makes him lean further towards the line of scrimmage instead of over the yard marker. Little makes the catch and is immediately hit and driven back. The refs spot the ball (correctly I should add) for a one-yard gain. On third-and-2. Somewhere WFNY Kirk screams “STICKS!”

Ok, let’s try another one.

This time it is third-and-3. Still in the first quarter. Colt is back under center, and the Browns started with three receivers on the left side (top of screen). Evan Moore has finished his motion and settled in the slot on the right side. Jordan Norwood is the WR at the bottom of the formation. The Rams have eight in the box, in response to what looks like a running formation.The defensive back lined up on the orange arrows is going to blitz.

Two things go very right for the Browns on this play. First, Jordan Norwood EXPLODES off the ball. He is 2 yards past the line of scrimmage and already made his cut. Look where the other receivers are. Colt McCoy reads the blitz and the zone perfectly. He takes a two-step drop and gets rid of the ball like a laser.

The pass is on target and Jordan Norwood, settled in the perfect spot in the zone gets eight yards on a third-and-3. Well done. Later in the drive however, the execution is not as good.

Now we have third-and-4. A typical formation for the Browns, shotgun with Cribbs wide right, Little in the slot on the left, Norwood split wide left. Watson is the TE on the left and there is a back beside McCoy. The Rams bring five.

Cribbs runs a comeback route, which you will have to trust me on as he’s off-screen. Norwood runs off the corner with a deep route up top, and Little runs an out toward the sideline. He is again right at the sticks. Watson is running a crossing route over the middle, at the correct depth for the situation. He is covered tightly, but the right pass certainly would get the job done. McCoy however feels the pressure from the left side of the line and starts to roll to his right. He may not have a clear line of sight or window to throw the ball to Watson.

Colt’s rollout takes him outside the tackle box and Pashos’ man is able to free himself and put pressure on McCoy. He throws to Cribbs on the comeback route. Unfortunately, the timing on the route is off as Cribbs’ momentum carries him past the yard marker. The pass is off target and incomplete, but even on target the Browns would have been short of the first down unless Cribbs is able to make his man miss.

Last one. Fast forward to late in the third quarter. (The Browns didn’t have many third and short situations in the meantime.) This was one of the best drives I’ve seen the Browns put together to get to this position. Effective use of screen passes, a great run from Ogbannya and an acrobatic catch by Watson. You should recognize the formation. Same as before, only reverse the sides. Cribbs is isolated on the top of the screen.

Pressure will come from McCoy’s left, as Thomas gets straightened up and then turned inside, allowing the defender to get pressure. Ogbannya releases into the pattern, cutting towards the flats. Look at Josh Cribbs at the top of the screen. The defense is playing zone. Josh has the corner beat, and he is going to run at the safety and run a post towards the corner of the end zone.

McCoy throws for Ogbannya, who is stopped well short of the first down. The proper read here would have been Cribbs. This play should have been a touchdown. McCoy knew it too. He shows his frustration on camera, pumping his fist after the play is over.

McCoy really didn’t perform badly in this game. He was accurate for the most part, but you can see the difference between completing drives and getting forced off the field if pretty slim. I think Colt can learn these things, and that the more experience he gets the better off he’ll be. Crisp routes at the proper depth certainly help.

  • mgbode

    very nice breakdown. on the last one, why does ogbannya stop on his route? obviously designed as McCoy throws it there, but if he continues to the sideline and McCoy delivers, then there is a good chance at a 1st down that way as well.

    i also think the proper read was not Cribbs on that play. the screen shot above shows the CB already peeling off Cribbs to play the flat-pass, but he was very much in position to make a play on a pass to Josh. it could be completed, but it would have been a tough pass to get done.

  • That was one of those plays that I wish I could post the video. The CB was ready to let the FS pick up the coverage. He is on the hash mark just off screen. I believe a corner end zone pass gets a TD.

  • mgbode

    fair enough. i don’t remember thinking he missed Cribbs when it happened, so i missed that. thanks.

  • stin4u

    As always, nice job, Rick.

    I have to think Colt’s maturing as an NFL qb has been stunted quite a bit by the horrid line play so far this year. So, when he does get time to throw, he’s still working out where to put the ball as you suggest. Hopefully if these guys gel a bit and continue to give him more time to get comfortable throwing we’ll see the ball going to the right place more often.

  • mgbode

    @stin4u – you very well could be correct. i would just like to use your post as a jumping off point to remind folks that Colt is playing better this year than he was last year 🙂

    Colt McCoy

    60.8% 6TDs 9Ints 7.1YPA 74.5QBrating 23sacks (w/ 222 attempts)
    58.8% 10TDs 6Ints 5.9YPA 78.2QBrating 22sacks (w/ 335 attempts)

    He’s throwing TDs more regularly, INTs far less regularly, taking many less sacks (despite the pressure), and he’s moving the ball (just not in the red zone but he wasn’t last year either). With no discernable running game for most of this season with Hillis injured.

    I want to see him against Baltimore and Pitt, but he has been better this year.

  • oribiasi

    @ mgbode: I would like to use your post to point out that he has more garbage time production that skews his production value so much that to say he has improved is a little more than skeptical.

    I don’t have the time right now, but I’d venture to guess that 3-4 TDs he has thrown are during the fourth quarter when we are down 2-3 TDs already and the opposing team has their 5th string DB out there.

    So, keep that in mind.

  • Harv 21

    Ok, that’s it, we’ll all find the remainder of the season and the upcoming bruising games more watchable if we’re at Rick’s house.

    I got the chips.

  • Shamrock

    If watching it live wasn’t bad enough I’d hate to have to break down tape.

  • You are more than welcome to come Harv.

  • mgbode

    @oribiasi – sigh. we have been down this road before.

    Colt went 2-6 in 2010 and we were effectively blown out vs. Pitt (2X) and Balt. That is 3 out of 8 games where he could have ‘padded’ his stats with garbage time and did not. also, he had chances to pad his stats in the 6TO JAX game setting up short fields and could not.

    Colt has gone 3-6 in 2011 and we were effectively blown out vs. Tenn, SF, and Houston. That is 3 out of 9 games where he could have ‘padded’ his stats wtih garbage time and yes, he did to some degree.

    Despite no run game (vs. last year with Hillis), Colt is moving the ball a little bit better this year and we are seeing increased statistics. Is it good enough? Oh, heck no. He has miles and miles and miles to go. Is it an improvement from last year? I want to see him play Pitt and Balt, but my feeling is that he has improved.

  • BrownsFanSF

    I’d like to add on to mgbode’s Colt defense here:

    last three games Colt is completing 67.5% of his passes and averaging 7.26 yards per attempt. Yes, the scoring hasn’t been there. But those are professional Quarterback numbers, especially considering he isn’t exactly padding his YPA with a bunch of Percy Harvin like tackle breaking or Darren Sproles like dump offs that turn into 20 yards.

  • mgbode

    @BrownsFanSF – thanks. those are good points as well for how he is progressing this season. now, if we can just start scoring.

  • oribiasi

    @ mgbode: …my feeling is that he has improved.

    Your feeling, eh? No stats, now…just feelings? Do you have any idea what the Pittsburgh and Baltimore games will do to Colt? If he survives all four (which is unlikely), his statistics will show much more than any hyperbole I can type right now. These teams will eat this vanilla, predictable offense alive. You think we can’t score touchdowns now, against the bottom-feeders of the NFL like Seattle and St. Louis? Just wait.

    Make no mistake, Colt has been the beneficiary of garbage time TD production this year and if you take those away his season looks worse. Excuses aside, he has not improved under offensively oriented head coach Pat Shurmur, and that should be troublesome and should not be glossed over with rose-colored glasses and doctored statistics.

    Let’s be real here. The kid doesn’t have much to help him, and because he can’t audible and the front office didn’t think he needed a solid wide receiver and Pat Shurmur didn’t have the brain power to run Hillis when healthy, it may not entirely be his fault. He also suffers under play calling like handing it off to a third string Tight End. I will submit all of this. It’s the tell-tale signs of major problems in the administration of the team and its ugly, so I’m not surprised that no one wants to look too long at it. Remember what Nietzsche said, “The longer you into the abyss the more you realize that it is looking right back at you.”

    But remember, he is a “winner,” and winners find ways to win games, with/without support from an intelligent coach or a good running game or a decent offensive line. Let’s hope that mentality can break through the rubble of this team and catch some sunlight before Polamalu (or, whoever) snuffs poor Colt out for good.

  • mgbode

    @13 – i have grown weary of ‘debating’ with you. i give stats and those stats obviously do not count in your eyes. i give opinion and those opinions obviously do not count in your eyes.

    well, there is no point in going further then, is there?

  • Lyon

    I would’ve liked to see Colt throw that ball to Josh, regardless. We have to start taking shots @ the endzone more often. unless the defense gets very lax, no way the RB scores. let’s just start taking chances like that.

    we can’t get anyworse, let’s start trying to improve.

  • Matt

    @13 oribiasi

    Why are you allowed to say “I’d venture to guess” in post #6, but jump all over mgbode for “my feeling is” in #10?

    Fair’s fair.

    We’ve seen you two go around and around about this topic and too many variables have changed to summarily declare McCoy better / worse than last year.

  • MrCleaveland

    Notice how easy it is to spot the receivers in their all-white uniforms? Another good reason to wear them. It’s part of our alleged home-field advantage.

  • oribiasi

    @ mgbode: Oh, my friend, it’s weird being on opposite sides with you when we both want the same thing.

    Here’s the trouble: you give statistics that show how Colt has improved. Do you read the Plain Dealer? There was an article in their not too long ago that stated “violent crime is drastically down in the Cleveland area!” and it cited major stats showing some outrageous percentage of crime being down over 30 years. Now, what did the PD chalk this up to? Better police work, of course. Efficient (ha) county government.

    In reality, the only reason that crime is down in Cleveland is that NO ONE LIVES THERE ANYMORE. The population is down like 50% over the last 30 years. Of course no one is getting shot/robbed…there is no one left to shoot/rob.

    That is the kind of misinformation that basing opinions on statistics only can give you. You can think that McCoy is better, and more power to you. But the reality is that he is not improving from last year. If you take away the garbage time production when the other team didn’t care/wasn’t playing with their first stringers, his production has fallen off.

    Whose fault that is can be debated, sure. I personally blame the coaches and front office. They are more culpable in my eyes due to their less than stellar play calling and team management. Those are outward signs of an inward problem, that manifests itself in many ways. Namely, in this instance, quarterback play.

  • oribiasi

    @ Matt: Notice, I said I didn’t have the time to pour over fourth quarter production of our team to properly list why this is the case. So yeah, I’m to blame for working 45-50 hours per week. Stupid me.

    I am sure that if/when I do have the time I will be able to illustrate what I am trying to say. Even mgbode admits there is garbage time production being factored into these statistics. Now, whether he cares is left to be determined.

  • -bobby-

    @ Lyon- I think if you throw the the RB leading him towards the sideline theres a chance he scores. Him stopping allows the LB to get him more easily. If he keeps running its just the DB that you have to beat, and at the very least hes inside the 5.

  • Brandon

    Nice work Rick! I have been noticing something about the play calling that bothers me the last few games more than 3rd down conversions. Its 1st and 10 calls. I was so frustrated with it that I looked at teh Rams game play by play and confirmed what I already new. 1st and 10 will most definately be a run. When I watch the games I keep thinking to myself they are setting up play action for another 1st down, but no. First and 10 will most likely be a run and net about 2 yards.

  • christopher

    does anybody else notice how ori contradicts himself over and over and over and over and over and over.

    “Your feeling, eh? No stats, now…just feelings?”

    “Here’s the trouble: you give statistics that show how Colt has improved”

    “That is the kind of misinformation that basing opinions on statistics only can give you.”

    i love you man, but you’re crazy — /oldschool’d

  • Lyon

    i get what you’re saying bobby, but at this point in the lost season I’d rather take the throws to the endzone over throws to the flat that probably won’t result in a 1st.

    If we were a competent team I’d be with you, but since we can’t score a TD, I’m all for not playing safe & livin on the wild side

  • oribiasi

    @ christopher: You really can’t tell that there is sarcasm there, in saying that anyone can give statistics to show how Colt has improved? I’m surprised, I pegged you for smarter.

    The point is that statistics can only be used insofar as the extenuating circumstances that cause them can be rationalized. In this case, when I said that he is citing stats to show that Colt improved, I said that sarcastically; in a bubble, with nothing else to consider, sure, he has more touchdowns.

    When you extrapolate (follow me here) the distinct parts of these statistics and actually holistically look at why they are present, you see a broader and ultimately more accurate image. For example, the Plain Dealer article above.

    Why I have to explain this is perhaps a better commentary on why we have such optimism about the Browns than anything else.

  • ben

    Ori – If you want to fight stats with stats, break down Colt’s garbage time numbers last year versus this year. Only way to make your point.

  • oribiasi

    @ ben: Yeah, you’re right. I wish I had the time, I really do. Maybe this weekend.

  • stin4u

    @Ori and mg- I think you’re both right. It’s one of those situations like Rick mentioned at the beginning of the article about how the Browns are 9th in 3rd down conversions. For such a positive stat, the team fails the eye test miserably.

    It’s such a slippery slope one way or another to say he’s improving because of A or he’s regressing because of B because so many other parts of the team have been so bad as well. I like some things I see from him and some I don’t, all I know is I personally need more time to evaluate.

  • pepe

    Great job. Good article. My conclusion is a little different. The offense was successful when Colt made the right read and threw an on-time and accurate pass. The offense was not successful when he didn’t. People like to blame the o-line for McCoy’s failures and there is definitely some truth there, but you can’t ignore the fact that Colt doesn’t get rid of the ball quickly, often breaks out of the pocket needlessly instead of moving up in it, and doesn’t put enough zip on the ball. A better QB converts all those 3rd downs.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    @Ori. You really need your own blog. How does a thread about 3rd down conversions get hijacked into some twisted comparison about Colt McCoy’s “real” and “skewed” stats between 2010 and 2011?? Oh yea, Ori got in the mix.

    Rick, nice piece. I definitely think the whole 3rd and 5 and throwing a 4 yd pass is something every Browns fan sighs about. I dont know how often we’ve done this, but do we ever try delayed screens or even draws on 3rd? I feel like if its 3rd n short, i can bank on a quick slant to Little or Cribbs with limited success. Wish they would mix it up more often.

  • mgbode

    @25/ben – that is part of my point though. at worst, it would prove that Colt has improved greatly at taking advantage of prevent defenses compared to last year. at best, it would show that he has improved both in those scenarios and outside of them as well. I agree that it is a worthy pursuit, but we need to agree on what consistitutes garbage time.

    @stin4u – I agree. We need more time and we need to see him against better defenses. Good thing that we should get just that.

  • Omar’s Magic Glove

    Great post Rick, as usual. I’ve been a long time reader and don’t comment often, but when is this Oribiasi character going to be banned? The comment section used to be a great read as well, but any Browns post turns into him on his soapbox arguing with just about everyone. He really seems to love beating these dead horses over and over and over and over and over…Maybe he should take Phil Savage’s advice and go root for Buffalo.

  • christopher


    Thank you for proving my point in your reply to me.

    And if you intend sarcasm then you should use the sarcasm font which was decided on a long time ago to avoid anyone arguments or heated name calling debates which you tend to bring about in every browns article.


  • oribiasi

    @ christopher: Oh please. You act like I’m some harbinger of doom because I’m not willing to take the crap on the field we see every Sunday as a sign of good things to come.


  • oribiasi

    @ Foghorn Leghorn: Is it so evil to talk about a Browns subject on a Browns article in a Cleveland sports blog? It’s not like I am discussing investor relations for General Electric’s 10-K filing. Which is the sort of thing I do during the day…get a grip.

  • Shamrock

    Oh Christopher you just can’t help but give your opinion on others opinions huh?

  • jimkanicki

    id like to weigh on this.

    ori, i am with you on pretty much everything you say. i can only imagine that if i accepted the role of lightning rod as you have, i’d see it through as you have.

    but i wonder if, in fighting the good fight mostly by yourself, the message gets watered down and if done too much borders on trolling. to be clear, i dont think youre trolling in any way. but it seems like its bugging some of the folks here. like, seems like we got off topic w.r.t. rick’s film study here and you dont want to be the thread jack guy, am i right? and frankly, i dont want to see your solid appraisals of reality diminished by being overdone and then ignored. ya know?

    so my main message is that: even though youre the most vocal on the problems confronting the browns, you’re not alone. i can try to pick up the baton more where i can if it’ll help.

    my other message is that, guys: inviting someone who is not on the same page to start his own blog is at odds with what makes the discussion in this community so strong. so.. all i can do is place my vote not to vote ori off the island. that’s assuming i still have a vote, but why go there now. 😉

  • jimkanicki

    ps, ori –> pls get a twitter account. same for the rest of yall. would love to partake of witty banter with you all in real time.

    (obviously, i’m @jimkanicki , do please stop in and say hi.)

  • jimkanicki

    after all that.. i’m compelled to do my own thread-jack here. (sorry rick. great work up there. im simply at loss on what to rag on if the o-line played ok and colt looked good.. then i have to start entertaining the possibility that our WRs arent getting separation and maybe we do need to invest in a playmaking WR or RB with a high draft pick. this shakes me core and i haven’t come to grips with it yet, thus i have little commentary to add to your post.)

    was everyone impressed with tebow tonite? could there be something to ‘winners win’ and ‘when you have a special special football player who doesnt easily fit into your system, perhaps you need to adapt the system?’

    i happen to think josh cribbs is such a player. preface, i still am optimistic about colt. but i happen to think that if you put josh at qb and gave him the options that fox has given tebow, we might see similar results. moreover, i think it would be a shame if this is never explored. all i know it that when cribbs is near the ball, he makes plays. i cant say that for anyone else on this team. would it be that radical to try him out?

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    @ Foghorn Leghorn: Is it so evil to talk about a Browns subject on a Browns article in a Cleveland sports blog? It’s not like I am discussing investor relations for General Electric’s 10-K filing. Which is the sort of thing I do during the day…get a grip.

    Evil? No. Not sure why you choose that word. Is it wrong to bring up your own subject in a blog article that is only indirectly (at best), related to what you want to talk about? Yes. Considering that the whole blog is dedicated to Cleveland sports, and at this time of year specifically dedicated mainly to the Browns, I think there would be ample opportunities for you to voice your opinions about Colt McCoy in, oh i dont know, articles about Colt McCoy. They come around every week or so, just wait it out.

    Im glad you can read 10-K filings. Again, nothing to do with the subject.

    I am definitely coming across as abrasive towards you, so disregard what i say if you’d like, but I think most readers on this site will at least admit that they value your insight and intellect. I, and i dont speak for everyone, just wish you would stay on topic.

  • Cribbs is giving away tickets to this week’s Browns Jags game on his official Facebook page. Go Browns!

  • Porkchop xpress

    @ jimkanicki
    re: Tebow “Winner”

    So it seems that Tim Tebow took the Denver defense out for dinner to help build team unity. As they were walking down the street there was a loud explosion and an orphanage burst into flames. The Denver defensive players rushed into the building, and quickly began saving children. The D-line grabbed poles and braced the collapsing floors above them. The corners and safeties raced up and down 5 flights of stairs carrying 3-4 children at a time. Just when everyone was thought to be safe a faint cry was heard from the roof. Von Miller scaled the building from the outside burning his flesh with each inch he climbed. Reaching the roof he found a 2 year old girl, with no time to climb back down he aimed for a tree and jumped. Realizing the girl might not survive the fall he tossed her at the last moment into the waiting arms of Tim Tebow, who had mostly been standing around watching the incredible spectable for the last 56 minutes. A passing reporter saw this moment and the headline in the next days Denver Post read “Tebow performs another miracle! Saves falling orphan!!!!”

  • Porkchop xpress

    Rick, you do a great job with these breakdowns, I really look forward to them, keep hoping it will give me insight as to why this team is so messed up. I kinda feel like you hit everything thats wrong with this segement, and its why guys like ori and mg are having their argument.
    Did the reciever run too short, or simply a wrong route? Did the line not block well enough? Has the coach failed to scheme properly week to week or in the bigger picture has he failed to help his players progress in his system?
    All these things are on display in these shots and they all obstruct the question of whether Colt is “The Man”.
    I’m really having a hard time defending the front office because I see this as mostly their fault. They waste a year allowing Mangini to twist when its evident anything short of a miracle playoff run was getting him fired. They’ve essentially wasted this year by not finding even a little help for the offense so we have no clue about McCoy, which means you at least have to give a serious look at Barkley, Jones, Griffin etc. which would mean a 3rd wasted year because even a really good rookie QB is still a rookie QB.

  • Porkchop xpress

    One final thought on this whole thing. The smartest thing McCoy and his family ever did was to stick the nickname Colt on him. If we had an undersized questionable arm stregnthed skittish in the pocket quarterback named DAN McCoy, are we even arguing? Do we care how bad the line/recievers play, or how bad the coaches coach? No, because he’s just Dan McCoy, just another victim in Cleveland’s blood lust for destroying quarterbacks. No without the nickname my money is that he’d have a seat on the Charlie Frye bus to anywhere but here. Makes you wonder if Eric Zeir had only called himself TEX…

  • mgbode

    @Porkchop Express – you went from having my full support from your orphanage story to completely losing it by inferring that Eric Zeier did not have an incredible name.

    @jimkanicki – here’s my thoughts on last night’s game:

    can someone explain something to me?

    why did the Jets move to the dime defense on the last drive? they had 5 or 6 DBs on the field for almost every play. I mean, I understand it at first as they thought the Broncos would at least try to throw with so little time left and so much field. But, when it became apparent that they would not (brilliant strategy btw – credit to Mike McCoy for doing it), then why did the Jets not adjust and put in the base defense that was stopping the Broncos all day?

    I have to say I came away disappointed from the game. Was hoping for more creativity from the Broncos sets. It was basically a watered-down college spread option. I understand they haven’t had the time to put more wrinkles in and they are just learning it themselves, but I’m still a bit disappointed.

    Oh, and Sanchez is terrible.

  • oribiasi

    @ jimkanicki: Thanks for the kind words, and yes, I’d love your help/feedback/support. I agree with you about appraisals being watered down by placement, and I’ll be sure to think of that going forward.

    It does feel a bit like survivor here, doesn’t it?