One of the most telling parts of the gameplan will be revealed to open the game. Those are almost always going to be scripted plays to try and set the tone for the whole game. This week, the Browns were pretty successful to open the game, at least for the first few plays as they grabbed a quick first down. Let’s see exactly what they did and what they might have been telegraphing.
The Browns opened in an almost symmetrical formation. Single back with Trent Richardson, a wide receiver out on either side and a tight end capping both sides of the offensive line. The Ravens countered with seven “in the box” and the safeties seemed to read pass as they weren’t overly aggressive toward the line on the first play.
In hindsight this would be a successful play because Trent Richardson pushed ahead for seven yards, but the Ravens did make first contact with him only about two yards past the line of scrimmage. (Red arrow is Richardson.)
So, thankfully Trent Richardson made the play a success by plowing forward. The Browns didn’t give the Ravens the standard look with the I-formation or even an offset with the fullback. It seemed to keep the safeties wondering at least for the first play.
For the next play, the Browns got into their more typical-looking run formation by subbing a tight end for fullback. This time, the Browns drew an extra man into the box as the Ravens have five at the line to go with three linebackers in the neighborhood of the first five yards.
The play here was a very quick timing slant to Greg Little (top of the screen) for seven yards. Weeden telegraphed it a bit, but still managed to get the ball out while missing the outstretched paws of Ravens defenders near the line.
Next play the Browns open in the shotgun with three wide receivers a tight end and Trent Richardson. This time it was a designed rollout to the right (away from Trent Richardson) to an open Greg Little (48 yard line.) It wasn’t a “gimme” catch, and it was close to the sideline, but I think it probably should have been a completion anyway.
Then the roll-out…
Ball was in the air in this last one and Greg Little gets his hands on it as it ricochets into the bench.
So, say what you will about the play-calling, but even this failed play was designed well enough to give the players a good opportunity at the first down on first down.
Spoiler alert, the Browns ended up punting. On second down, they had three wide and a fullback in the game as Trent Richardson only gained a couple on second down.
On third down, the Browns brought Ogbonnaya into the game and the Ravens brought pressure straight up the middle from the linebackers. Weeden got the ball off, but he didn’t have anywhere near enough time and it fell incomplete way short to Ogbonnaya.
Third and seven is a nice advantage for the defense, more times than not. The Ravens defense certainly loves to see it.
The conclusion? The Browns actually opened the game alright against the Ravens. They got the ball to Trent Richardson on the ground twice. They showed run in order to complete their first pass to Greg Little. They used first down to attempt a rollout pass that for all scheming purposes worked even if the execution didn’t come to pass.
In fact, in the game against the Ravens, the Browns got first downs in each of their first three possessions. The Browns had three and outs in their first three possessions against the Bills. Obviously this still isn’t good enough. Additionally, I don’t believe the Browns have had a first quarter touchdown since December 11th, 2011, an overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals and John Skelton. Seneca Wallace and Peyton Hillis were keys to the TD drive in that game, by the way. And despite the fact that the Browns beat reporters have stopped keeping track, the Browns have two first quarter TDs in their 20 games with this coaching staff.
So pay close attention to how the Browns open against the Giants. It should tell a lot about what the Browns might think their advantage is against the Giants defense, if any.