Cleveland Browns Film Room: Week 3 Crossing Routes

Each week this season, we’ll take a seat in our very own WFNY Browns film room and break down a little tape from the previous week.  Do enjoy.

This week I thought we’d take a look at one of the Browns’ favorite plays. There are many different routes that a receiver can take, but it is the combination of the routes that can help create separation and a small window for the QB to deliver the ball. A staple of the ‘West Coast Offense’ (invented by Paul Brown, not so much a west coaster) is the short crossing route. Against Miami the Browns ran crossing routes from several formations, but we’re going to look at one in particular. We have a successful and a not so successful example to work with.

Here we have a shotgun formation with a back lined up on the weak side. The tight end on the right side (or top of the screen) makes that side the strong side, where as the left side of the line has no tight end. That would be considered the weak side. Josh Cribbs is the WR on the far left (bottom) and inside of him is Greg Little. Mo Mass is the WR at the top of the screen on TE Ben Watson’s side. Hardesty is in the backfield.

Josh Cribbs goes in motion, lining up right next to Little. Why do receivers go in motion? Sometimes putting a receiver in motion is done to see what kind of coverage might be on. If you’ve ever seen a WR go in motion about five steps and then turn around and motion back to where he was, chances are that is what was happening. Sometimes the motion is used to get a more favorable match-up. For example the Browns might motion Cribbs inside of Little if they wanted to ensure he was covered by the safety instead of the corner. Sometimes the motion is because the QB wants to change the play or route to a more favorable one for that defense. Given Cribbs’ route here, he was getting closer to the ball in order to shorten the length of the cross.

On this third and 6 play, the Dolphins had 8 defenders in the box. They brought a blitz to the TE side. Fortunately for the Browns, the defensive end ran a stunt to the inside of the line. You can see Hardesty read the blitz and start to make his way to pick it up. You can also see Ben Watson get off the line without much interference.

Here we see the beginnings of the routes. Little and Massaquoi are both running deep routes. They have a simple job, which is to create some space underneath. Cribbs is ducking behind Little on his way to the middle of the field. The first down is about the 18 yard line.

The protection is decent, as Hicks (75) is able to pick up the blitzing DB. Remember the stunting DE? That’s him pushing the DT at the 10 yard line. He has essentially taken himself out of the play. Watson and Cribbs are crossing over the middle. They are both being covered by linebackers. Ordinarily, this situation would favor Cribbs getting the ball. However, his man is much closer to him, and Watson is a bit deeper on the field, and closer to the first down. On third and 6 the smart play is Watson.

And that is exactly where McCoy goes with the ball. Watson needs the 18 yard line, and he has at least 4 yards on his defender when he catches the ball. Not a problem for the big TE who stiffarms a DB and gets up to the 26. First down. Now let’s take a look at a not so successful cross.

Same formation, same play, just with the Browns driving the opposite way. This time we have a third and 9. The Dolphins are again bringing 5 rushers, but this time they get a push on Ben Watson at the line of scrimmage slowing him just a bit. You see Cribbs at the top of the screen jumping inside of Little at the snap.

Here’s a better look at Watson getting jammed. That’s him tangled with a LB at the 49. This time the DE does not stunt, and he is working against Oneil Cousins at right tackle. Hardesty picks up the blitz between Thomas and Pinkston on the left side. Since the Browns have to get 9 yards instead of 6 the crossing routes need to be a few yards deeper, which means more time is needed for McCoy.

And he doesn’t get it. He is hit as he throws by Cameron Wake (91). This time McCoy was probably trying to get the ball to Cribbs, as Watson was late in the route because of the bump at the line. The ball would deflect to the 45 yard line, being ruled incomplete.

What are the key differences in these two plays? Why is one successful and the other isn’t? First off the distance needed to get a first down plays a role. The longer the routes, the more time is needed to pull them off. Second, a ‘clean’ route- meaning one in which there is nothing impeding the receiver makes the timing better. Finally, the protection has to be there. It was there in the first example giving the Browns a shot to convert. No such shot in the second.

  • RyInCBus

    Good stuff once again Rick. Just goes to show how a little luck in guessing right against the defense can go a long way. Had the DE in the first example stayed true and not stunted with the other DE jamming Watson at the line, the play would’ve ended just like Example #2. Good job by MIA recognizing the formation and making adjustments.

  • Chris

    Excellent breakdown, Rick. These are definitely always treat.

  • deg4

    I like seeing that Hardesty is doing well picking up blitzes, after very little time on the field in actual games. Good read.

  • Rick

    Sorry no arrows Chris. Was really up against a time crunch on this one.

  • Scott

    Part of me wonders what Cribbs could have done with that ball if McCoy led him enough. The other part of me is glad Watson’s a machine, nabbed the first down and the Browns won the game.

  • Rick

    One thing to keep in mind Scott, is that there is a safety in the middle of the field just off screen. The corner on that side of the field seemed to be watching the play pretty closely as well.

  • Lyon

    What would help the 2nd play , and all plays is our RTs not getting manhandled into the QB. That seems to be a recurring theme so far this season.

    Once again, great job Rick.

  • Josh Stein

    @#1…so this means Tecmo really IS realistic!

  • chris

    @Josh: so all McCoy should need to do is drop back to his own endzone and throw a 110 yard bomb for the TD.

  • chris

    @Rick: your descriptions were quite detailed and I managed to pick up on most or all of what you were describing.

    Evidently I still need to read up on basic terms like box, and coverage schemes and routes. Anyone know a good resource? Preferably with pictures galore?

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    I liked the look from behind the line (QB viewpoint). Can you throw more of those in there? They help us see what Colt sees (obviously), which I think is way more insightful.

    Also, great choice of topic. Crossing routes seem to be all this team does. I yearn for the day where we talk about deep straights. Shurmur, you listening?

  • Rick

    @Foghorn- Unfortunately, I am limited to what the replays and such use. Would love the end zone view for most plays, except to show WR routes.

    @Chris- perhaps I’ll put something together soon for those types of terms.

  • Ezzie

    Great stuff, Rick. I know I’m late to the party, but as a resource for those who asked I’d recommend watching’s Playbook, which is a fantastic, moving version of this post (albeit rarely re: the Browns) and most especially Anatomy of a Play, which picks out and breaks down a “top” play from that week, often showing examples before it which helped set it up.

    It’s actually my favorite part of, but to see someone doing the same with Browns’ stuff here!? That’s just awesome. :)