NFL Throw of Week 4: Josh McCown to Duke Johnson

A quarterback can do his job and still lose the game. Mark Schofield reviews the film each week, looking for the throw of the week, and despite Cleveland’s loss, Josh McCown to Duke Johnson takes this week’s award.

The Cleveland Browns dropped to 1-3 after their 30-27 loss in San Diego to the Chargers. However, you cannot pin the loss on quarterback Josh McCown, who turned in a very strong performance, completing 32 of 41 passes for 356 yards and two scores. He made a number of smart decisions with the football as well as some great throws in and out of the pocket. Even though the Browns lost the game, there are encouraging signs for the future.

On this second and five play from the San Diego 34-yard line, Cleveland breaks the huddle with 21 offensive personnel. Given the down-and-distance, and the offensive personnel, the Chargers keep their 3-4 base defense in the game.

But before the play, the Browns shift into an empty backfield, putting running back Duke Johnson (#29) and fullback Malcolm Johnson (#42) into a slot formation left, while tight end Jim Dray (#82) and wide receivers Travis Benjamin (#11) and Taylor Gabriel (#18) set up in trips to the right:

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In response, the defense shifts to Cover 1 in the secondary, sliding out inside linebackers Manti Te’o (#50) and Donald Butler (#56) to cover the two running backs, with Butler over the speedy rookie.

As you might expect, the RB runs pst the ILB, gaining separation as he nears the end zone. McCown drops in a perfectly timed and placed throw in the back corner, and Johnson runs under the ball, gets both feet down, and the Browns have the early lead:

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This is a concept more teams are using with speedy running backs like Johnson, or versatile tight ends like New England’s Rob Gronkowski. This play mirrors a play from late in the first half of Super Bowl XLIX, when the Patriots put their TE wide to the right, found him matched up on a linebacker in man coverage, and Tom Brady found him on a vertical route for the score. These pre-snap shifts force a defense to either roll the dice with a linebacker in coverage, of use a defensive back on the player outside, likely creating a mismatch somewhere else on the field. On this play, San Diego rolled the dice with Butler on Johnson, and McCown made the Chargers pay with a perfect throw.

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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