“Playbook” Crew Highlights Key Plays from Thursday

During the Baltimore Ravens’  23-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns on “Thursday Night Football,” several key moments of the game left a lasting impression on the “Playbook” team.

The first notable play was Torrey Smith’s 18-yard touchdown reception, which put Baltimore ahead 7-0 early in the second quarter.

After a huge 34-yard reception by Smith, the Ravens found themselves at the door step of the goal-line. But after a false start and first-down play resulting in a 4-yard loss — the Ravens faced a second-and-goal from the Browns’ 18-yard line.

The Ravens presented an interesting personnel grouping — one tight end, three wide receivers, and two quarterbacks! Joe Flacco was where we expect him — behind center — but backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor was split out wide at receiver.

The Browns played a Tampa 2 defense, which is a Cover 2 zone with the middle linebacker occupying the deep middle of the field. The design of the play here was to hit Smith down the middle of the field on a skinny post.

Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was forced to open up toward the three-receiver side and was also influenced by Flacco’s initial eye movement. Jackson’s commitment to the backside, along with the backside safety rolling over the top of the three-receiver side, leaves Smith with inside leverage against rookie safety Tashaun Gibson. Smith does a great job running at the safety, thus holding him in his place and disguising the direction of the route.

Gibson, who is a half-field player, must be able to close on the route down the seam of the defense. The spacing of the zone was compromised by the formation and Flacco’s manipulation.

The other key play of the game that turned the momentum was the Cary Williams interception returned for a touchdown in the second half – just when the Browns began to put together a drive and build some steam offensively.

Late in the third Quarter, the Browns were driving into Baltimore territory. Brandon Weeden faced a third-and-5 situation from the Ravens’ 43 yard line – with Baltimore leading the game 16-10.

Weeden was looking for rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin on a three-step drop speed out.

A three-step-drop passing attack is about timing. On this particular play, we took note of several inefficiencies.

Firstly, the X-motion to a speed cut directly at the first down marker is a predictable play call, and cornerback Cary Williams anticipated the route and broke the on the ball beautifully. However, Benjamin must make more of an attempt to break his route back downhill, eliminating any opportunity for the defensive back to undercut the pass pattern.

Lastly, Weeden’s mechanics and footwork were less than stellar. The three-step speed cut is a fundamental route; it’s practiced daily and should be a muscle-memory routine for any NFL quarterback. Weeden, like many college quarterbacks in this era, comes from a shotgun-spread attack system at Oklahoma State. The technique and fundamentals of playing under center are much different and takes time to develop.

As Weeden takes the snap, notice the first step in his drop from center is with his left foot; for any right hander, it should be his right foot. This is what we call a false step. While seemingly meaningless and petty, it throws off the timing of the play. Weeden takes almost four full drop steps and delivers an accurate throw. But because the timing and rhythm of the route are out of sync, the pass is late to the target. This false step can be compensated for with supreme ball velocity — but Weeden’s fall-away throwing motion did not allow the pass to come out with enough zip. Weeden’s head movement and eyes immediately snapped far left and he stared down his receiver, making for an easily anticipated throw by cornerback Williams and essentially a game-closing interception for a touchdown.

The details are what separate wins from losses, big plays from big blunders. The Cleveland Browns are a promising young football team, but must correct the fundamental errors in order to right the ship.

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