Cleveland Browns Film Room: Game 9, the Fullback Pass

Like we did last year before it became fashionable, we’ll take a seat each week in our very own WFNY Browns film room and break down a little tape from the game, with a specific focus.  Do enjoy.

Today we are going to look at just one play. It was the single most infuriating play that happened in Sunday’s game (at least to me) and that includes the fourth down call.

Here is the situation. It’s the second quarter, and the Browns are down 14-0. The drive started at the 20 after a touchback, and has moved to Baltimore’s 16 yard line where it is now third and nine. On first down Richardson ran for a yard, and on second down Weeden threw behind Richardson in the flat and he was unable to make the catch.

This is where the Browns had their “communication issues” and ended up calling a time out rather than get a delay of game penalty. It was the second burned time out on the drive.

So coming out of a time out, and badly needing a touchdown to get back in the game, let’s see what the Browns dialed up.

We are going to use the coaches’ film this week so we can see what the receivers and defense are doing. Let’s check our pre-snap reads. The Ravens are in nickel defense (the personnel tell us that, not necessarily how they are lined up here). The Browns have Gordon wide left, Richardson and Alex Smith in the backfield, Travis Benjamin is the wide receiver on the right (on the line of scrimmage), and Greg Little is the slot receiver on top.

Little goes in motion before the snap. Nobody follows him. The Ravens are in a zone defense. The corners are playing off the line, giving our receivers space. At the snap, a lineman is going to back into a zone. Baltimore is rushing just three, and dropping eight into coverage. Here, let me give you an idea of what we’re looking at.

Not 100% accurate, but you get the idea.

So Weeden drops back. Gordon on the bottom is actually running a route with a double move. He is going to run a slant and then post towards the corner of the end zone. Benjamin decides to run straight at the CB and collide with him. I honestly don’t know exactly what his route is supposed to be because we never really see it materialize before Weeden gets rid of the ball. My best guess is a deep out or post. Little runs a clean route, angling towards the front pylon at about the five. Alex Smith chips on the DE before passing him to Schwartz and heading to the flat. Richardson takes off out of the backfield when he sees no blitz.

Here we see a couple of things. You see Smith open on the right side in the flats. (By the way, the area outside of the tackles to the sideline is what is called the flats. The flats don’t extend much further than two or three yards past the line of scrimmage. Typically a LB has coverage responsibilities in the flats.) The second thing I see is a small (ok, very small) window for a slant pass to Gordon. The ball would have to be leaving Weeden’s hand when Gordon makes his break, but I think that is the best play with the ball here. Of course, Gordon is running a double move remember, and that slant is not part of this play. Another thing worth looking at is the number of defenders on the right side of the play (where Weeden passes) as opposed to those on the left side, where Richardson is going to run his safety valve route.

Here is a screen shot of the beginning of the pass. Weeden has made his decision and is throwing to Smith.

Smith makes the catch. The Browns have thrown short of the first down marker again. As we were told in training camp, they do this expecting the receiver to make a play after the catch and pick up the needed yardage. Here, Alex Smith is supposed to shake one defender and pick up nine yards to get the first down? Not gonna happen. He does shake the first tackler, but by that time he is swarmed by defensive backs and linebackers.

I want to take you through a series a pictures. This is the same play, from the end zone camera. What do you notice here…

What did you notice? I saw a short drop back. I saw a QB who did not look even one time to his left at Josh Gordon. I saw a QB who threw the ball within 3 seconds of taking the snap. (I wish we could post video. You’ll have to trust me on this one, the ball was out of his hands by three seconds.) I saw a QB who was very well protected.

Why go through that second exercise? Well, for one because I don’t think Weeden gave the play enough time to develop. Gordon had just started the second part of his double move. I’m guessing that Weeden is assuming that Gordon is double covered since he is the only receiver on that side of the field. Of course, had his man fallen down Weeden would never have known it. There is also a chance that Weeden could have gotten the ball to Little if the timing was right.

Here’s the biggest beef I have with this play. It’s third and nine. The defense is in nickel, and you have a limited amount of field to work with. I don’t really understand why you have only three WRs on the field. The only way that you are going to get the ball downfield far enough to get the first down is with a timing route like a slant or out route. (Which the Browns would run eventually, but Gordon’s slant was called back due to penalty.) Why do you have two safety valve receivers? Why doesn’t Weeden take the time to let a couple of his players run their full routes before checking off to Smith? So many questions, so few answers.

When Shurmur dialed this play up, I don’t think he really wanted the Smith check down. But he didn’t really call the best type of play for the situation either, which is frustrating since it was called during a time out.

Until next week, the film room is closed.

  • MrCleaveland

    Another gem, Rick.

    You’re absolutely right about Weeden rushing the play. His protection is great, and he should have taken advantage of it. He could have stood back there a lot longer while somebody got open. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re a rookie.

  • Harv 21

    agree with both you and Rick. The actual protection should have slowed everything down for Weeden. Instead, he’s a typical tunnel-visioned rookie QB here.
    These are growing pains. In pre-season he had no feel for the rush and no internal clock in the pocket. Now he’s overcorrected to “make your read – be decisive -don’t take the sack.” Next year these skills will be more instinctive and he’ll be better able to synch his internal clock with each situation that is in front of him. This QB’s brain is still being programmed and we have no choice but to live with some ugly plays while he works the process out.

  • Garry_Owen

    Great as usual.
    Another theory: Little is the primary receiver here. But Weeden’s read is how the DBs react to Benjamin. The fact that Benjamin does not get into his route and gets tangled up with the DB throws off Weeden’s read. (It looks like Little might also get jammed up just a little bit.) Regardless, I still think that the best option in this entire play is Little. Weeden can make that throw to the pylon (Little’s ability to catch it? Well, that’s another thing.) I’m not so disturbed in this case that Weeden never looked Gordon’s way (he might actually be going through the right progression), but absolutely agree that there was no reason for the play to only go 3 seconds. Weeden could have easily waited another half second for Little’s route to develop. Alternatively, he could even be making the throw to Little at the same time that he’s throwing to Smith. (It looks like Little’s route could also be a bit sharper.)

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I think you see a QB who despite the physical tools has alot of work left to do. The problem is he has to do it without benefit of better coaching or a true WR threat.

  • Natedawg86

    I would really like to see them throw the ball to Richardson a few times heading out to the flat, and then fake it (sort of like an out and up although he will already be heading upfield). This should make the LB break on the fake and a nicely placed ball will put him 1 on 1 with a safety or CB with plenty of green after that.

  • Natedawg86

    That play that Gordon ran into his defender and got called on an offensive PI was a load too. I think they were within X yards, where the CB can hit the WR. Confused on why it was a PI.

  • Natedawg86

    I have not seen a lot of college film on him. Was he like this in college? I think it will just take a little time and he will get it figured out. Agree with Harv. Had he had a little more time in preseason to get more of a feel for things, we may have seen the development come to fruition a few games sooner.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    This is why I don’t really have too much of a beef with the play call… if executed correctly, yes it doesn’t leave a ton of options, but it should still work. The only way this is on Shurmur is if Smith is the primary read, which seems absurd on 3rd and 9 but I wouldn’t put it past big Shurm… dude loves the YAC. I have no idea how Weeden throws to Smith when his pocket is squeaky clean… that’s the part I just don’t get. By the time he decides to throw, Little is already beating coverage and heading towards the pylon… that has to be the throw, and like you said we know that Weeden can make it.

  • mgbode

    ok, here is why I do have a beef with the play-call. if Weeden is going to utilize the “strong” side of the formation, then that side of the formation should have been on the wide side of the field. unless Weeden completely messed up, his first and second and possibly third options were all on the right side of the field (and we were on the hash).

  • Garry_Owen

    I even think the play has quite a few good options. As I see the progression: 1) Little; 2) Benjamin; 3) Gordon or Smith; 4) Smith or Gordon; 5) Richardson.
    As Rick spelled out, the play likely fell apart due to Weeden’s quick decision to go with Smith so quickly. The call was a good call.

  • mgbode

    as far as the YAC, I understand it when we throw 2-3 yds short of the sticks while the WR is in motion and we expect him to muscle out (or juke) those extra yards. but throwing to a somewhat stationary guy on the short side of the field 8yds behind the sticks with the defense in zone (quicker to react) is not going to result in many 1st downs.

  • MrCleaveland

    I don’t even understand it when we throw 2-3 yards short. I think Richardson is the only guy who ever breaks a tackle on this dinks. Everyone else gets planted right where they catch it.

  • A shallow route across the middle by Little and he had a lot of room….

  • woofersus

    It’s possible Weeden thought he couldn’t get it to Little for some reason, or maybe Benjamin was the primary and Weeden rushed when his route got botched, but as a part of the larger 3rd down philosophy, if you want to get past the marker with YAC you have to call plays with guys running down the field or angling across the middle. This pass went to a guy with no hope of picking up the first down in almost any scenario, because he was heading toward the sideline with 7 more yards to go and a zone defense containing. Why have anybody run that route? There was another 3rd down (I don’t remember when exactly, but the announcers pointed it out) where the ball was thrown 3 yards short to somebody who had turned and came back a few feet toward the LOS with his defender behind him. You can’t get YAC with a route like that, so you have to throw it beyond the marker. It seems like a poorly chosen/designed play.

    In an ideal world Weeden would have recognized the zone and communicated to Gordon and changed his route to take advantage of it. They’re both rookies and probably just aren’t there yet. As it is, he probably needs to either get the ball to LIttle, who appears to have a fair amount of space, or pump fake to push the defense back a little and then throw it to Richardson in the middle of the field with 2 yards to the marker and give him a fighting chance. Heck, they could have sent Smith through that hole with the assignment to pick up any linebackers coming and then rolled Richardson out towards the weak side of the defense on the wide side of the field as a safety valve and still given somebody a fighting chance to pick up those yards.

  • mgbode

    if we hit the guy in stride, then that shouldn’t happen though.

  • MrCleaveland

    Fair enough, but I’m not talking about what should and shouldn’t happen. I’m talking about what does and doesn’t happen. And what doesn’t happen is first downs.

  • mgbode

    oh, I know. but the only way they are going to result in 1st downs is to keep practicing them in games.