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Scouting out the Browns' offense

When you think of the Cleveland Browns, a good offense doesn't exactly come to mind. But you might want to think again.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

At 1-3, I know the Ravens are not underestimating the Cleveland Browns. Joe Flacco said as much during his post practice press conference yesterday when he said the Ravens are basically in playoff mode.

But some fans might see this Sunday’s home game against the Browns as an easy win. It would be easy to look at this year’s team as "the same old Browns," but I think that would be a mistake. I know the defense hasn't played well, but the offense with Josh McCown at quarterback has been sneaky good the last 2 games.

While their 1-3 record might not reflect it, the Browns have some playmakers on offense.

RB Duke Johnson is a weapon

I really liked Duke Johnson in this year’s draft. I thought he would be a really good fit for the Ravens zone run game and he’s an excellent receiver. Over his last 2 games, he’s received 17 passing targets. Johnson converted those targets into 15 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown. Let’s take a look at the touchdown play from last week’s Browns v. Chargers game.

This play is good example of using personnel and formation to create favorable matchups. The Browns come out in 21 personnel (1 RB, 1FB, 1 TE & 2 WRs). Their initial formation gives the defense a run look, i.e. i-formation with the WRs in tight splits (i.e. closer to the line of scrimmage).

Then they shift to an empty set with QB Josh McCown alone in the backfield. Now the Browns have the 2 WRs and the TE on one side of the formation (top of the screen) and the RB and FB on the opposite side (bottom of the screen). The formation shift leaves RB Duke Johnson in the slot left (bottom of the screen) 1-on-1 with a LB. There is a safety in the deep middle of the field, but he’s unable to help the LB on Johnson’s deep fade route. Why?

When the ball is snapped, McCown uses his head and shoulders to move the safety slightly towards the passing strength (side with the most receivers). He then turns back towards Johnson’s side of the field and makes the throw for a 34 yard touchdown.

Travis Benjamin is more than a deep threat

WR Travis Benjamin is really fast! His 4.36 40-yard dash time tied for the fastest 40 at the 2012 NFL scouting combine. But the Browns use Benjamin as more than just a deep ball specialist.

This play is another good example of how the Browns use formation to create a favorable matchup for one of their most explosive players. The Browns are in 11 personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WRs). They line up in a shotgun formation with 3 receivers (1 TE, 2 WRs) on the offense’s right side (top of the screen) with Benjamin as the lone receiver on the opposite side.

Notice Benjamin’s split? He’s line up right on the bottom of the numbers (here, the 40 yard line). This gives him room to set the corner up with an inside stem and then break towards the sideline.

The corner initially shows a press coverage look, but then retreats to an off coverage look before the snap. The safety on that side of field is going to drop down into a "lurk" coverage (shallow middle of the field), so the corner knows he probably will not have deep help. Benjamin is so fast that he eats up the corner’s cushion, gets right into his body and then breaks to the sideline for an easy 15 yard completion.

The Browns will also use Benjamin on crossing routes against zone coverage. This typically gets him matched up on a LB who just doesn’t have the speed to run with Benjamin if he catches the ball in stride moving across the field.

Benjamin is line up as the outside receiver on the offense’s left side (bottom of the screen). He runs a crossing route in front of the LB playing as the hook defender in this zone coverage. Benjamin makes the catch and out runs the LB easily. More impressively, Benjamin out runs another defender, with a better angle to make the tackle coming from just across the 50-yard line at the top of the screen.

Poor tackling? Probably, but with his speed, Benjamin can destroy what appear to be good tackling angles.

The Ravens need to ensure they locate Duke Johnson and Travis Benjamin whenever they are on the field. If the defense gets caught sleeping on these two, it could be a long day at M&T Bank Stadium.