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On the Offense

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The Browns' offense has thrived off unpredictability, continues to evolve

Cleveland is running one of the most efficient offenses in the league thanks to Kevin Stefanski’s methodical game prep and play-calling

The Browns' offense has been one of the most predictable and unpredictable units in the NFL, and last Sunday was a perfect example.

Cleveland is second in the league with 139 rushing attempts, just one carry behind the New England Patriots, and 28th with 116 pass attempts. The Browns have run the ball on 63 percent of their plays from scrimmage, and all four of their defensive opponents have prepared for the onslaught of runs by stacking the box with linebackers and defensive lineman.

On Sunday, though, the Browns were successful on two trick plays that changed the game — the first was a touchdown pass from WR Jarvis Landry, and the second was a 50-yard touchdown run from WR Odell Beckham Jr. Cleveland also rushed for 307 yards even though RB Nick Chubb left in the second quarter with a knee injury. The Cowboys had no answers for anything from the Browns, who scored 49 points for their highest output in a game since 2007.

It's no secret the Browns love to run the football, but their offense has maintained a successful balance of unpredictability to find big-play success. For the last three weeks, no defense has been able to contain them.

And that's a credit to Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.

"It's about understanding our guys," he said. "I think I'm getting a better grasp of what our guys are good at, and we have to double down on those things and protect those things. We have a bunch of guys who are working hard and want to contribute to this."

Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Dallas Cowboys yesterday by the Browns photo team

Since their current win streak started in Week 2, the Browns have touted one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL. They rank fourth in the league with an average of 31 points per game and are the only team to average more than 200 rushing yards per game. Their red-zone dominance — no team has scored more than the Browns' 12 red-zone touchdowns — is a big reason why Cleveland is 3-1 for the first time since 2001.

The quick offensive explosion seemed unlikely after the Browns opened the season with a six-point performance against Baltimore. Since then, though, they've found a perfect blend of utilizing their talented rushing attack to pound opposing defensive fronts and keep defenders guessing on when they'll mix in a pass attempt.

Last week, Beckham was targeted eight times and made five receptions. Those numbers don't jump out on a stat sheet, but all five of those receptions were meaningful. Three of them went for first downs, and the two others went for touchdowns.

That's also the case with Landry, who made five catches on six targets for 48 yards. Four of those catches, though, went for first downs.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield, meanwhile, owns a 93.7 quarterback rating, which is tied for his career-best mark from his rookie season. The passing offense is humming at an efficient pace, and Mayfield gave all of the credit to his coach when he explained why. 

"I appreciate keeping the defenses guessing and not knowing what we are doing so they can't exactly pin their ears back," Mayfield said. "It's easy for me when we do have certain plays and I can just go through our reads and not worry about how many people they are going to bring because they don't know what we're going to do. We have such a well-balanced attack right now, obviously heavier in the run game than in the pass, but the thing about our passing game is it's extremely efficient right now. 

"That's because of the timing of play calls and the scheming up."

Everything about the offense has been methodically planned by Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. They know opponents will prepare for the run and have used it to their advantage. 

One of the best examples is from Beckham's 50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to seal the win over the Cowboys. The play started with a fake handoff to RB Kareem Hunt, a likely candidate to receive the ball from the backfield as the Browns attempted to drain the 3 minutes left on the clock. The Cowboys were prepared for the rushing play and already had two defenders on the left side waiting for Hunt.

Then, right guard Wyatt Teller moved to the left side, too. He was acting as a pull guard on the play, which means he was tasked on leaving his position on the right side of the field to provide additional blocking on the left. The Browns have used Teller as a pull guard on several successful rushing plays so far this season, so two Cowboys linebackers and a defensive back on the right side hurried over to the left once Teller began his sprint.

Four defenders were ready to tackle Hunt once they crossed the line of scrimmage. They were all wrong.

Instead, the Browns conducted a play they've never run this season, and it ended with Beckham finding a clear path to the end zone because a chunk of the defense had a late start catching him.

The play went just as the Browns had hoped, and not just because Beckham scored. They posited a fake handoff to Hunt and a pull-guard bluff from Teller would be enough to make the Cowboys bite in the wrong direction. 

Those plays are what gives the Browns offense an edge despite their run-heavy tactics, and they come after several days of pregame prep from Stefanski and Van Pelt.

"We work really hard on Monday and Tuesday to put the game plan together," Stefanski said. "You have to have a lot of conversations throughout the week about what we're going to show first and what's coming second. Luckily, Alex Van Pelt and the rest of the offense have a great feel of that."

That's what has made the Browns unpredictable, and their offense is only going to continue to evolve. Stefanski has learned more information about himself, his players and the Browns' opponents after each week, and he knows how to tailor that information into an unpredictable game plan based around predictable schemes and formations.

It's a recipe that has led to plenty of success so far. Stefanski, however, is just getting started.

"We've learned a lot about ourselves," Stefanski said. "I hope to be evolving each week."

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