Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Boredom of the Browns

One of the fun things I started doing last year was becoming a volunteer game charter for Football Outsiders. They have exceptional access to game statistics, and they've put together a nice Excel sheet that allows us to chart every play of every game to capture quite a bit of information. How many RB/WR/TE/OL on each play? Formation? Who put pressure on the QB? Who was the defender on every pass? How many rushers and blockers did each team use? Zone blitz? What was the play design meant to be? Who blew blocks? Who broke tackles? etc...

Naturally I chart the Ravens and they typically ask me to chart half of a Ravens game each week. I just got done charting the first half of the Browns game today. One of the things that stuck out to me in my charting is how absolutely boring the Browns offense is.

Don't get me wrong. "Boring" does not mean "ineffective." The Browns actually showed their offense can be quite effective. Cleveland ran up 304 yards of offense vs. the Ravens, to date the most they've allowed to any team. This included 173 rushing yards, led by Peyton Hillis, a man whom when Dan Patrick asked Terrell Suggs if he'd ever heard of him, Suggs responded "Never heard of him before in my life." (Dan Patrick mentioned this to Josh Cribbs the next day, and Cribbs said "He's heard of him now.") The Browns are not dominating offensive categories or anything. But they are consistently putting up ~300 yards a game and have a 2.9% DVOA and rank #15 in DVOA, top half of the league.

But when I watched them, there's simply no innovation anywhere in that offense. I don't remember a single play with pre-snap motion. We don't track motion, but I didn't see any. As for the formations, the Browns ran 30 offensive plays in the first half, and the formations broke down in the following fashion:

Standard I formation - 9 times
Offset I formation - 7 times
Standard 3 WR set with slot WR - 7 times
All players in tight (2 WR, 2 TE, single back) - 4 times

That leaves three plays. Once they ran trips right. Once ran two TE left on a single-back formation. And once they ran two WRs stacked to one side. Those are hardly innovative formations. As a counter-example, the Ravens used motion more than half the time, and lined McClain out as a TE seven of their 23 offensive plays the first half. Simply by the fact I mention those formations as the more innovative and exciting plays of the Browns offense should show you how boring it is.

Their offensive line is what allows them to run such a boring offense and still be at least somewhat effective. The left 60% of their line - Mack, Steinbach and Joe Thomas - is arguably the best in the NFL. Womak and Pashos are not stars, but they're not horrendous either. The solid play from the line allows them to get away with not trying to confuse anyone with tricky formations or confusing motion to disguise their plays. They simply line up and smash you.

This bears itself out in their run/pass play close-ups. They ran 16 times, passed 14 (no busted passes turning into runs). Of their 16 rushes, only 5 were from a single-back formation and two of those were two TE sets. None of their rushes were draws. Of their 14 passes, only four were thrown more than ten yards past the line of scrimmage; the same number as were thrown at or behind the line. And the longest of those four went 20 yards in the air (two of them). They ran play action only once and had fewer than six blockers only twice, despite the fact that the Ravens blitzed a measly four times.

I don't have the stats like these for the rest of the Browns season. But I would be surprised if they weren't very similar. I've watched of course one full game vs. the Ravens, and bits and pieces of other Browns games, and their offense looks the same from what I've seen. Very vanilla. Very boring.

But effective. And I guess that's all that matters.


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