Leave the labels at home with Browns’ 2019 offense

Freddie Kitchens took his shot at the Senior Bowl, feigning as if he’d never heard of the Air Raid. Baker Mayfield threw his verbal jab at the Cleveland Sports Awards, pondering whether the Browns might have to nudge new offensive coordinator Todd Monken into handing the ball to Nick Chubb every so often. 

Mayfield and Kitchens were poking fun at Monken’s Air-Raid-based system, concepts from which have been used in the college game for years. It’s starting to spread across the NFL, too, though not quite as fervently. It’s known for relying heavily on the pass game (hence the name), sometimes to the detriment of the run game. 

Monken used the term “Air Raid” with finger-tip quotation marks during his introductory press conference. After learning the offense under Dana Holgerson at Oklahoma State, Monken carried those concepts with him at ensuing coaching stops. But that playbook is not his football bible. 

“Really what I took away from it was being able to throw to win,” Monken said. “That really to me was the Air Raid. You had a certain amount of run game, you ran a lot of the same concepts and you could throw to win. That was really it. Like any offense, it works a lot better if you have good players.”

A lot of football fans confuse “throwing to win” with “abandoning the run.” And Monken’s context-less offensive numbers from Tampa Bay wouldn’t dissuade those opinions. The Buccaneers finished 31st in yards per carry and 22nd in rushing attempts last season. But Monken said those numbers balance out when you consider the Buccaneers were forced to throw because they were often behind. He said their first-quarter rushing numbers were on par with the rest of the league.

Besides, his idea of a balanced offense isn't based on counting run and pass plays. 

“Balance is multiple skill players touching the football,” Monken said. “To me, it is not always just run-pass (balance).”

The Buccaneers certainly checked that box last season. Five skill players accounted for 700 or more yards, and O.J. Howard probably would’ve been the sixth had he played the entire season. In the end, the Buccaneers were one of the most prolific offenses in the league, first in passing yards and third in total yards.

But it’s fair to ask why there’s so much fuss about Monken’s system in the first place. After all, Kitchens said the Browns would retain his system heading into next season. That doesn’t mean it’ll look the same as it did before, however.

Remember, Kitchens earned play-calling duties midseason. He didn’t get to install his vision of an offense with a full offseason to work with. 

So this season, the Browns offense will be a blend of ideas from Kitchens, new offensive line coach James Campen -- who came from Green Bay and will have input in the running game – and Monken, whose Air-Raid based system was similar to what Mayfield executed to perfection at the University of Oklahoma.

Browns general manager John Dorsey said in January that it’d be special to sit in on offensive meetings this season. Monken brings additional unique ideas and perspectives to an offense that was already among the most creative in the league last year. 

So there’s no use in trying to label the offense Kitchens, Monken and the rest of the offensive staff will piece together during this months-long brainstorm. And that suits the anti-labeling Monken perfectly.

“I think everything gets clumped into Air Raid just like a lot of years it got clumped under West Coast offense,” Monken said. ‘“Oh, it is a West Coast offense.’ What does that mean? It is the efficiency of what you do, being explosive, not turning it over and scoring touchdowns. That is what it is really about.”

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