Originally posted on Cleveland Frowns  |  Last updated 8/14/12

Welcome to the first 2012 edition of “Xs and Os with the Bros” by Xs and Os editor @rodofdisaster. This feature represents a basic attempt to dive deeper into the game of football, learn something about the X’s and O’s that make it go, and better appreciate the games within the game. It’s called “Xs and Os with the Bros” because you don’t have to be a former player/coach or a rocket surgeon to get something out of taking a closer look at a football play, so please enjoy the post and the discussion in the comments.

This week Rod focuses on the positive: Brandon Weeden’s 34-yard completion to Travis Benjamin in the first quarter of Friday night’s preseason opener in Detroit. 

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Preseason Week 1 @Detroit
Situation: 1st quarter, 12:18 to go
Down & Distance: 2nd & 7 from Browns 43

The Browns are in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1TE, 3 WR). In the West Coast Offense, this grouping is called “Posse”. The TE (Cameron) is tight to the left and he is the “Y”. Little is in the slot to the right, and Gordon is split out wide to the same side. Gordon is marked X and Little is marked “Slot”. Benjamin is the flanker, or “Z”, at the top of your screen.

The Lions are in Nickel and you can see their personnel identified above. The defensive line is over shifted and the end at the bottom of your screen is in a “wide 9” position (Outside shoulder of center is 1-technique, guard is 3, tackle is 5 and TE is 7). There are two deep safeties and the corners are squared up on their man. This is meant to look like 2 deep safety coverage. The strongside LB has alignment with our RB. The nickel back has Little.

The Pass Pattern

Here we see Weeden dropping back to pass. The asterisk is meant to show very good pass protection by Mack on Suh and Pinkston on Corey Williams.  Schwartz has kicked out to cut off the angle of the wide-9 end. Joe Thomas is, well, Joe Thomas. Hardesty is check releasing.

The defense is clearly in man-to-man coverage with corners on all three receivers and the SS on Cameron.  The SAM LB has Hardesty and the Mike LB is playing a shallow zone looking for crossers. When the Mike does that, it’s called “Robber”. That 2-deep look has now shifted as the FS (can’t see in this photo) rotates to the middle of the field. This is “Cover-1 Robber”.

The patterns run by the offense are as follows: Benjamin and Gordon are running mirror fade routes (fade is like a fly/streak pattern but it angles toward the sideline). Cameron is running what looks like either a fly pattern or a skinny post.  Little is crossing underneath after the clear outs in what the WCO calls a “drive” route. The interesting thing here is that while Benjamin is beating his man, Gordon has single coverage and a safety rotating away from him on the other side. Either of them theoretically has a matchup advantage and, if not, Little should be open late on the cross.

Here we see that Benjamin has his man beaten easily and, although he had to slow down a half-step, he makes a nice catch on a pretty nice ball and manages to keep both feet in bounds for a 34-yard gain.

ANALYSIS

“Speed kills. You can’t teach speed. Everything else in the game can be taught, but speed is a gift from God.”   -Al Davis

When the Cleveland Browns entered the 2009 2010 2011  2012 preseason the lingering question on offense was about the wide receiver position. This had been a definite Achilles’ heel and fixing it seemed to be the mantra of every offseason in recent memory. Much to the consternation of the fanbase the Browns passed on a number of receivers in the first three rounds of the draft before selecting University of Miami’s Travis Benjamin in round #4.

Review of some video highlights of Travis showed that he’s undersized but legitimately fast. I thought to myself that this pick would perhaps do more to change the fortunes of the Browns offense than either Richardson or Weeden. In addition to leading the league in drops, the wide receiving corps in recent years also lacked one other thing: top end speed; and now seemingly they have it.

As this play above demonstrates, Benjamin is a handful for a DB who doesn’t jam him on the line and let him get acceleration. This type of speed cannot be ignored by the defense or else they’ll give up a big play like this one. If they then choose to play a safety back (cover-2), that helps the running game, as well as the underneath passing routes as there’s one less defender in the shallow zones. If they double just Benjamin then everyone else has a one on one matchup assuming they rush four and the Mike is in Robber or blitzes. It’s a win-win for the offense.

I like Trent Richardson very much and Weeden appeals to most as a replacement for McCoy but I indicated early on after the draft that Travis Benjamin might be the key to success in 2012. He doesn’t need to catch a great number of passes to do it. Just being on the field and helping to manipulate defenses can make him a very effective weapon by what he forces opponents to do.

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The full “Xs and Os with the Bros” archive is available here.

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