The Browns are 1-1 after two weeks, thanks in part to a stifling defense and timely scoring plays. That’s something we haven’t been able to say since 2015.
Take it in for a brief moment. Savor it.
OK, now that that’s over, allow us to acknowledge that while the Browns scored 23 points Monday night, they realistically could have broken 30. Cleveland settled for field goals three times, with only one coming from significant distance just before the end of the first half. The first attempt from Austin Seibert resembled more of an extra-point attempt in the NFL pre-2015.
Credit the rookie for posting a perfect kicking game. As we all know, it’s an important phase of the game. But so is scoring touchdowns.
That’s why we’re taking a look at the tape to reflect on the Browns’ two trips to pay dirt Monday night, enjoying the execution and attempting to understand exactly why the plays worked.
First up: Nick Chubb’s 19-yard touchdown run.
This play was as much the product of persistence as it was execution. Sure, the Browns were able to get multiple blockers to the second level, clearing open an opportunity for a big gain, but they’d been just as limited on similar attempts earlier in the game. Their persistence, an unrelenting dedication to mixing the run with the pass, allowed for Chubb to score.
After New York strung out similar zone stretch plays for the first 19 minutes of the game clock, the Browns went right back to it on first-and-10 from the Jets’ 19. That’s when Cleveland took advantage of C.J. Mosley’s absence for the first time.
Lined up in a 1-technique (shading the center’s shoulder), defensive end Leonard Williams offered the potential to shoot a gap and blow the play up in the backfield. But Browns center JC Tretter quickly took two lateral steps to his left to get in front of Williams on the play side, and as Williams attempted to take the path of least resistance through Tretter’s right shoulder, he’d already taken himself out of the play. Tretter did his job in three steps, finishing his part by maintaining the block once Williams realized he was already too deep in the backfield.
Meanwhile, right tackle Chris Hubbard completed a similar task, shooting his entire torso across the face of nose tackle Steve McLendon, who was lined up at the 5-technique. Hubbard won the inside race and then pivoted in time to keep McLendon away from closing the distance to the run on the opposite side.
Then, the really good stuff happened.
On a zone run, the majority of the offensive linemen (especially the frontside blockers) take the same angled path, working upfield and blocking whoever crosses their face. Left guard Joel Bitonio did this, meeting rookie linebacker Blake Cashman at the second level and driving him within the flow of the play and out of reach of Chubb. Eric Kush’s block complemented Bitonio’s in that they both sprung Chubb for the score.
Kush followed a path similar to Bitonio’s from the backside of the play, working upfield to the second level, where linebacker Neville Hewitt was moving within the flow of the action. Hewitt hesitated slightly before choosing outside leverage, forcing Chubb back inside and causing Kush to take Hewitt where he wanted before Hewitt, now aware of the mistake he’d just made, attempted to fight back across Kush to attempt a tackle. Kush maintained his block just long enough before removing his hand and sticking it in the air to avoid a holding call.
It was perfect timing.
Defensive back Brian Poole, who had lined up in the box as a pseudo third linebacker, maintained backside contain against pre-play Odell Beckham Jr. motion to the right, as if he could receive a reverse handoff. That responsibility made Poole late to return to provide run support against a Chubb cutback. By the time he caught up, Chubb ran him over at the 5 and stumbled into the end zone for a score.
The Browns’ second score was drastically different in method, distance and time of possession.
While Chubb’s touchdown came on a five-play, 53-yard drive that lasted 3:07, Beckham’s trip to the end zone — his first as a Brown — arrived via a one-play, 89-yard, 11-second drive. Beckham gained all of the yards by himself.
Starting at their own 11, the Browns exited the huddle in a four-wide set with trips to the left and Chubb in the backfield to Mayfield’s right before he motioned to Mayfield’s left. With no defender lined up directly across from Beckham, Mayfield adjusted the play, which was a run-pass option, saw the linebacker on the front side of the run fake step into the hole to fill, saw the other linebacker essentially freeze in his read step and fired a bullet into the exact window he thought he’d get before the ball was snapped.
Beckham caught the pass and took off, outrunning the second level of the Jets defense, leaving only safety Marcus Maye as New York’s last hope between a tackle and a Beckham touchdown. Maye took an understandable pursuit angle, but turned his head in an effort to run to a predetermined point. Beckham saw Maye turn his head away and cut back across the field, leaving Maye to float away like a plastic bag in the wind.
All that was left was for Beckham to finish the sprint to glory (with a little help from Damion Ratley).
The Browns hope to find the end zone more than twice a game, of course, but Monday night was an encouraging first sign of what could be ahead for this offense. As they continue to work out the kinks, we can reflect on these touchdowns as proof of the possibilities.