The Cleveland Browns were thoroughly beaten by the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs offense was way too much for the tattered Browns defense that had suffered too many injuries to be able to successfully compete against the top tier offense. However, even in the convincing loss, the Browns offense showed a quality performance. Behind new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, the Browns offense ran better than the previous weeks. One of the new points of emphasis that the Browns showed versus the Chiefs was getting the ball to running back Duke Johnson.
Johnson caught nine passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns, while also adding a carry for eight yards. The Browns found that Johnson could be a mismatch in the passing game out of the backfield and Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield decided to exploit it throughout the game.
In this week’s film room, I will examine the ten touches Johnson had against the Kansas City Chiefs to look at what the Browns saw that led them to focus on the running back more than it had all season. So with that, let’s roll the tape!
Q1 6:57 3rd-and-1: Mayfield to Johnson for 7 yards
This play is simply a one-on-one situation. Johnson is lined up to the left of Mayfield in the backfield. Mayfield sees man coverage with just one deep safety over top and that safety is shading to the left side of the field. This opens up the right side of the field, especially due to the fact the Browns only pass catcher on that side is running a streak route, clearing the whole right side of the field of defenders. The Browns just need one yard for the first down, so a quick pass will do. Johnson is covered in man coverage by the middle linebacker. The Browns call for Johnson to cross the formation and leak out of the right flat. The running back is able to simply beat the linebacker to the flat and Mayfield fires a quick pass to allow Johnson to run after the catch and get the first down. Mayfield saw the advantage Johnson had and so Mayfield did not hesitate to throw it to that advantage.
Q2 8:56 3rd-and-5: Mayfield to Johnson for 3 yards
The Browns thought they had an advantage in this play, but the Chiefs recognized pretty quickly and took it away. Mayfield sees that the Chiefs are bringing the blitz on this third-down play, leaving the deep safety as the defender in charge of covering Johnson out of the backfield. Mayfield, though, telegraphs his intentions from the start and stares down Johnson leaking out to the left flat. His attention to Johnson draws the cornerback on the left side of the field to leave his assignment early and to crash down to the flat to try and stop Johnson. Mayfield gets the ball out quickly, but the advantage is all but gone because the Chiefs now have two defenders crashing into the flat to stop Johnson before the first down marker. Johnson does his best to try and avoid the tackle attempts, but the multiple defenders are able to successfully bring Johnson down short of the first down. It was a good decision, but the execution could have been a little bit better.
Q2 8:08 4th-and-2: Mayfield to Johnson for 23 yards
After a failed third down play, the Browns decide to go for this short fourth down situation. The Browns run the perfect play for the way the Chiefs came out on defense and the Browns executed to perfection. The Chiefs are in man coverage with just one deep safety over top. So, the Browns decide to do a rub play with Johnson and wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Johnson runs a wheel route around Landry to the left. The edge defender on the left end of the line is covering Johnson one-on-one. The ball is snapped and Johnson starts to head out to his wheel route. Landry does his job to get in the way of the edge defender, getting just a little contact on the defender tasked to cover Johnson. This slight contact allows Johnson to get to the left edge and to get behind the defender, where only open field is ahead of him. Mayfield fires a perfect pass to drop it in over the coverage and to allow Johnson to gain even more yards after the catch. Johnson is not touched until the deep safety is able to come over and force him out of bounds. It was a great play and execution to convert the first down.
Q2 1:57 1st-and-10: Mayfield to Johnson for 10 yards
The Browns execute another play to get the ball in the hands of Johnson. The play is running back screen pass to Johnson. But, Cleveland throws in the wrinkle of faking a receiver screen to the right, opposite of the running back screen on the left side of the field. The Chiefs are in zone coverage and misdirection helps to freeze the defense just enough to open up the running back screen. The Chiefs fake an all out blitz by dropping two of the defenders at the line to the middle of the field. With the fake to the right, the two defenders in the middle of the field cannot leave their spot to shade to either side of the field. This left the left flat open for Johnson to leak out of the backfield. The Browns get two blockers in front of Johnson and those two blockers take on the two defenders in the middle of the field. The cornerback on the left side of the field is in off coverage and cannot crash down quickly enough to make the stop. Johnson follows the blocking for a nice gain.
Q2 1:04 3rd-and-2: Mayfield to Johnson for 1 yard
The Browns try to run the same play as the first one I examined in this piece where Johnson is called to leak out of the opposite flat to where Johnson is lined up. But, this time the Chiefs were in a better play to defend it. Instead of man coverage like the defense was in for the first version of this play call, the Chiefs come out in zone coverage. This allows the Chiefs to not have to chase Johnson across the formation and lose in a race. When Johnson comes across the formation and out to the left flat, the Chiefs cornerback on the left side of the field quickly reads it and crashes down on Johnson. Mayfield fires it quickly to allow Johnson to catch it and then make a play. But, the Chiefs corner is able to close immediately on Johnson and not allow the running back to get to the first down marker. The Browns running back may have slipped a little too, which may have negated any attempt of Johnson being able to avoid the tackle and to get the first down.
Q2 :40 1st-and-10: Johnson runs for 8 yards
In the two-minute drill right before the half, the Browns decide to throw a curveball and call a draw play to Johnson. Mayfield takes the snap and fakes a pass before handing it off to the running back. The draw works to cause the secondary to drop deep and away from the line of scrimmage, leaving just the four Chiefs rushers around the line. But when Johnson gets the ball, the running back has to almost immediately avoid the right edge rusher who is crashing the pocket. Johnson is able to break the tackle and get the edge. The Browns get good blocking on the inside, but he is faced with the corner on the outside. Johnson eludes that tackle and is able to fight through another tackle attempt to get out of bounds to stop the clock on the successful run gain.
Q2 :32 2nd-and-2: Mayfield to Johnson for a 19-yard touchdown
This is another play where the Browns took advantage of Johnson being covered one-on-one. Cleveland also adds in a rub concept to make it even better for Johnson. Johnson is covered by the defensive back who is lined up in the middle of the box. The Browns have two pass catchers on the right side of the line and they both are running inside routes to clear the right side of the field. The routes also cause a rub action on the defender in charge of covering Johnson. The rub gives Johnson space to get out to the flat and catch the ball with the ability to run after the catch. Johnson gets the ball and runs up for the first down before the defender can recover and get to him. But, he is not done. Johnson is able to break the tackle of the defender, and with the right side cleared, the running back is able to stroll in for a touchdown.
Q3 3:00 1st-and-10: Mayfield to Johnson for 11 yards
The Browns once again call a running back screen and fake another wide receiver screen on the other side of the field. This time the numbers game was even better on this play. When Mayfield takes the snap, he really fakes hard on the receiver screen on the right. This draws four second-level defenders to that direction, leaving just three second-level defenders on the left. Mayfield comes back to the left and drops it off to Johnson. Johnson takes the ball and follows his blocks to get another first down and really good gain. It was a well-executed play by Cleveland.
Q4 15:00 3rd-and-5: Mayfield to Johnson for a 5-yard touchdown
The Browns call the perfect play for the situation and the defensive look. The Chiefs are going to bring everybody on a blitz with single man coverage on all four pass catchers out wide. To exploit this, the Browns do another rub concept. Johnson is stacked on top of wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Landry runs a slant right into the defender on the inside, holding up the defender and opening up the underneath area. Johnson slants underneath of Landry and catches a quick pass from Mayfield. Johnson is able to catch it in time to fight through the tackle attempt and into the endzone. It was a nice play call to take advantage of the single man coverage and good execution by Mayfield, Johnson and Landry.
Q4 7:55 4th-and-2: Mayfield to Johnson for a 1-yard loss
This play fails for numerous reasons. The Browns needed just one yard for the first down, so I did not like the play call that called for a running back screen. It was too cute. The next problem is the Chiefs defense. The defense disguised the defense well, dropping back multiple defenders from the line of scrimmage, but also blitzing defenders from other areas. This confused the Browns offensive line, causing multiple breakdowns where rushers were untouched on their way to Mayfield. This caused Mayfield to have to get rid of the ball quicker before the play can set up. Johnson caught the ball but had no blocking in front of him, allowing the defense to close on him and to stop him before getting the first down.
The highlight of the game versus the Kansas City Chiefs was offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens. I liked how Kitchens used more play action and short passes to get Mayfield comfortable and to take pressure off the offensive line. The offense ran pretty well under the play calling of Kitchens.
The lowlight of the game versus the Kansas City Chiefs was the injuries to the Browns defense. The Browns defense had no chance against the Chiefs offense because of the numerous injuries it faced before and during the game. Now, linebacker Christian Kirksey and cornerback E.J. Gaines are lost for the season after getting injured against Kansas City. Those are two big losses at positions with little depth. It was a brutal game for the short-handed defense.