Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 11/17/11

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.

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