NFL Film Review Week 2: Cleveland’s Play Action Prowess

It was (another) matchup of former Heisman winners in Week 2, as former Oregon Duck Marcus Mariota led the Tennessee Titans to a clash with former Texas A&M Aggie Johnny Manziel and the Browns. Mark Schofield looks at Cleveland’s play action prowess.

The Cleveland Browns won their first game of the season Sunday, knocking off Marcus Mariota and the Titans 28-14. Johnny Manziel was efficient in his first start of the 2015 season, completing 8 of 15 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns, without throwing an interception. Most impressively, the offense created opportunities vertically working off play-action.

The first example comes from Cleveland’s second offensive play of the game. Facing 2nd and 8 on their own 40-yard line, Manziel is under center with 12 offensive personnel on the field, using a pro formation to the right with tight end Gary Barnidge (#82) lined up as an upback in the backfield. Tennessee has their base 3-4 defense in the game with both outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage, showing Cover 6 in the secondary:NFLReview2ClevelandPlay1Still1

Cleveland looks to stretch the field vertically, with Brian Hartline (#83) running a deep in cut from the left while Travis Benjamin (#11) runs a straight vertical route from the right. As these routes develop, Manziel fakes the inside run to running back Isaiah Crowell:NFLReview2ClevelandPlay1Still2

In this Cover 6 coverage, the Titans have the Cover 2 look to Benjamin’s side of the field. Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh (#24) is in press alignment over the WR while safety Michael Griffin (#33) is responsible for the deep half of the field.

Prior to the snap, you can see Sensabaugh with outside leverage on Benjamin, looking to force the WR towards the middle of the field where there is help. But as the play unfolds, Griffin is caught with his eyes in the backfield while Benjamin races deep into the secondary:

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From this angle you can see Griffin try and race back towards his half of the field ‒ but it is too late:

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Manziel drops in a perfect rainbow and the Browns have an early lead.

This Close

Cleveland almost hit on a similarly designed play in the second quarter. Here, Manziel is under center with 13 offensive personnel on the field, in a two tight end wing look to the right and pro formation on the left. Receiver Andrew Hawkins is the outside, or Z receiver. The Titans have their base 3-4 defense in the game and once more show Cover 6 in the secondary, with the Cover 4 side of the coverage rolled to Hawkins’ side of the field:NFLReview2ClevelandPlay2Still1

Once again, the Browns use play action to stretch the defense vertically. They send Barnidge on a deep out route, while Hawkins runs the vertical post route:NFLReview2ClevelandPlay2Still2

Working against the Cover 4 side of this coverage, these two routes should get Hawkins into single-coverage against CB Perrish Cox (#29). With both the TE and WR releasing vertically, the outside corner will stay with Hawkins, and the inside safety will read Barnidge and break to cover his out route. It nearly works out the way the defense drew it up.

As Manziel pulls out of the play action fake to Crowell, the play-side safety is breaking on the Barnidge and Hawkins is stride for stride with Cox, and looks to be breaking open:NFLReview2ClevelandPlay2Still3

But there is just one problem. OLB Brian Orkapo (#98) has beaten left tackle Joe Thomas (#73) to the inside and has a line on Manziel. The QB pulls the ball down and climbs the pocket, allowing time for the weak-side safety ‒ Griffin ‒ to recognize the play and break towards Hawkins. The safety converges on the receiver, and helps Cox break up the play:

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If Manziel were able to release this throw when he wanted to, Griffin does not get over to help in time, and this play might have been successful.

Although this pass falls incomplete, it is an indication of how the Browns were able to generate chances deep working off play action and design. It remains unclear if Manziel will start this Sunday, or if veteran Josh McCown will be cleared to play after his recent concussion. Regardless of who starts, the play action game is a facet of their offense that will serve them well as the 2015 season rolls on.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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