July 29, 2014

Micro-Analyzing the Armond Smith Pitch

Everyone knows I was high on Armond Smith coming into the season.  This has nothing to do with that.  I fully realize that Smith wouldn’t have made this roster if not for the Brandon Jackson turf toe injury.  He fumbled the ball away in the pre-season and showed flashes of explosive play, but he would have been on the outside looking in.  Smith was involved in one of the more controversial play-calls from yesterday’s disaster, but I want to defend the playcall just a little bit.

Ultimately it is a fool’s errand to defend a playcall that fails.  I also will recognize what some of the critics, most notably Dustin Fox, were saying that Montario Hardesty should have been on the field instead of Armond Smith.  That might be true, but let’s look at a couple things.

First, here’s the 3rd and 1 play that got blown up by the Tennessee defense.

Here’s the pre-snap look with Hillis on the right and Armond Smith on the left behind Colt McCoy.  You can see just how many players Tennessee has cheating toward the run.  Now the result.

The Titans blow it up completely because they fully expected Peyton Hillis to get the ball.  Nice job by them and not a good job of mixing up the snap count and getting off the ball by the Browns’ offensive line.  Given that, what do you call next?

Should you call the exact same play running Hillis between the tackles? Here’s how the Browns lined up with Hillis as the fullback in the I formation.

The Titans again are cheating bigtime toward the run as you would expect.  They have their big boys cheating toward the right side of the Browns’ offensive line.  Shurmur is probably feeling pretty good right now about his call to fake the handoff to Hillis.

The defensive linemen didn’t do as well this time, but the Titans are still going toward the play.  At the bottom of the screen it looks pretty promising that Armond Smith will have a chance for a decent play, let alone one yard.  Alex Smith is out in front.  Joe Thomas is about to get a body on the closest linebacker.  It will be Armond Smith vs. one Titan safety.

As you can see, Armond Smith had one man to beat, really.


And he couldn’t get it done.  The safety gets enough of Armond that he stumbles short of the first down.  But look at that lane between Joe Thomas and Alex Smith.  Sure, the safety was there, but how many times can you draw up a play so perfect that your running back goes untouched?  That was the kind of lane that Pat Shurmur has been dreaming about all season.  If Armond Smith fights through the tackle he could be 25 yards downfield and maybe all the way into the endzone in a flash.

He didn’t.  He wasn’t. He failed much like the Browns did all day.

So, if you want to say that Pat Shurmur made a bad call, I can say that it didn’t work, that’s for sure.  Did he have the wrong personnel in the game?  Well, it didn’t work, so I guess so.  I don’t think Pat Shurmur has been a world beater.  I even wrote the article questioning whether he should have been given the offensive coordinator duties in addition to being the head coach.  That being said, to say he should have given it to Hillis as a blanket statement ignores the fact that Hillis just failed on 3rd and 1.  It also ignores the fact that the Browns might have had a decent play called but much like the rest of the day, they failed to execute.

  • Lyon

    You’re right, just give it to Hillis is a blanket statement that doesn’t work.

    But trying to run Hillis behind Joe Thomas, just once this year, might actually work, since you know, Thomas is 1 of the few lineman on our team who can block. That’s what I would’ve done here, and on almost every other 3rd/4th & short we have.

    And good breakdown of the play. When I saw it developing, I thought it had a chance, but Fox is right. If you’re going misdirection, go with Hardesty, who has a better chance of fighting for 1 yd than Smith does.

  • Chris

    Point taken, but when you have two name brand running backs, why do you give the ball to Mr. Generic? I suppose it could be that that was to help sell it, but… I just feel that we don’t have the personnel to get that fancy.

    I too thought it had a change to work, and really it wasn’t the worst playcall, but it was a bad decision as far as who should be on the field.

  • Tim

    The play is another example of Shurmur getting a little too cute in these types of situations.

    But some of the reports, specifically Ryder’s on 92.3 this morning are not good. He was speaking of dissension in the locked room, and hinted that Hillis is unhappy not being used like the rest of people in Cleveland not named Pat Shurmur know he should be. And he said he feels some players, again he was hinting it was Hillis and Moore, don’t trust Shurmur to get it right.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    It is still quite disappointing to me that we have the best LT in football, a top-5 center, and Hillis and we can’t get 1 yard on 2 tries. Didn’t think that the rest of the O-line was that bad…but maybe they are. It’s quite obvious to me that we are really missing Vickers in the running game, too.

    I know it seems counter-intuitive given his size and running style, but it also seems to be that Hillis is more effective outside of the tackles than pounding up the middle. His best plays have been once he gets into space and starts running “downhill”. Would like to see a little more of an effort to run him to the outside…

  • Lyon

    Yeah Tim, after the game yesterday Hillis & Moore sound very displease with the gameplan. Which they should be, seeing as them & Watson are our “playmakers” on Offense.

    Why pay Hillis if we’re not going to play him? Same with Moore, if we weren’t going to use him, shouldn’t have signed his extenstion.

  • MrCleaveland

    Too much attention (i.e., second guessing) is always focused on the play call when the real problem is the execution of the play. Also, their safety made a good play. Good defense will make any play call look bad in retrospect.

    The success of any third and 1 and fourth and 1 shouldn’t rest on the play call. The determining factor is execution, talent, and “want to.” If you can’t make a yard when you need it, you can’t expect to win, regardless of which play is called.

  • Tron

    Mr. Cleaveland, taking that into account that execution matters more than play calling, why would Shurmur put a 3rd (actually 4th) string running back in that position? Play calling did have a factor on that, because he called Smiths number. “Give it to Hillis” is a blanket statement, but like Buckeye Dawg said, Hillis gets more yards when he runs outside the tackles and gets a head of steam going. In that specific play, I would ahve had more faith in Hillis to drag the safety for 1 yard, than Smith’s ability to make him miss.

  • mike_964boo

    Why did everyone forget about that insane call with bogus fake reverse\ Cribbs throwing on the 3rd down that almost took us out of field goal range? Are we so bad to play with our best people and just GIVE UP on third and long?

  • Chris M

    If you can’t force your will on the opposing team and gain 1 yard on a rush when you absolutely need it, then there is a coaching, personnel, and an overall failure with everyone involved in this organization.

  • Shamrock

    Lawrence Vickers sure isn’t missed huh?

  • Harv 21

    A step back:

    - Appears Shurmer is still figuring out how to handle the HC and OC chores. He still has a learning curve. Let him learn. Next year if he has an OC he’ll be that much better at handling HC stuff only.

    - Shurmer must figure out what he has personnel wise, what thay can do and how creative he can be. This is ok, it’s the year to do it. This will not ultimately be Mangini’s wonderful offense, all-Watson/all-Hillis All the Time. Three years from now, in a crucial division game when you know what you have I’d maybe raise an eyebrow at a Smith on 4th and 1(Fontenot into the breach, anybody?). He either wanted to see what Smith might do in that situation at game speed against a good defense or he had a brain cramp. This is not the last time he should experiment this year, nor should it be.

    - When you’re playing so many young guys there will be games like this. If the picks are good players you will also occasionally paste a better opponent. These are false negatives and positives.

    It’s game 4 in the Shurmer era and the field and sideline are flooded with newbies. Let’s not overreact. Let it happen, Cap’n.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    That play that Josh Cribbs ran with the reverse and then doubling back is actually designed that way. The team practiced it in training camp and it resulted in a completion to Greg Little with Cribbs throwing the ball. The Titans weren’t fooled.

  • ben

    It’s not nitpicking when you have 2 RBs that would get carries on any team in the league, but the ball is given to one that shouldn’t even be on your own team.

    This was just one of the many coaching gaffes on Sunday. Shurmur needs to get his house in order over this bye-week. He’s had a few months with this team now, and he should have an adequate idea of how to use the personnel on it.

  • ben

    I should note that Im not overreacting or saying “FIRE HIM” or any of that. But there’s really no excuse for more than 50 passes and less than 20 runs. These things need to be straightened out.

  • Garry Owen

    On the bright side, Pittsburgh looks pretty bad. Could it be that as the year advances, our very young team gets better while the Steelers’ very old team gets worse? The eternal sunshine of my Cleveland mind says “yes!”

    I was sort of upset yesterday, but today it feels okay. I’m tired of the Browns repeatedly destroying my frankly reasonable expectations, but I still find reasons to hope. For example:

    Greg Little. I really don’t think it’s a matter of coaches not seeing something that we all seem to see (as some here – on other posts – seem to think). It’s likely obvious to everyone that Little should be starting, from a purely physical standpoint. My guess is that the mental part of the game – the playbook, etc. – is what’s keeping him off the starting 11. Remember, he’s a converted RB; only played a couple of seasons in college (at powerhouse UNC); took a whole year off from football; didn’t have the benefit of a real minicamp or even a conversation with his coaches. He’s going to get better, and so will the Browns.

  • Greg

    this is not preseason anymore which is where a guy like Smith belongs/shines. he is roster fodder and should have no “calls” given to him unless injuries occur during the game–and especially on a crucial 4th and 1 situation. Again, a case of these NFL coaches out-thinking themselves and making the game more difficult than it reall is. How about running behind our alleged All-Pro tackle Thomas once in those two plays? Or a simple QB sneak? Or, if it’s so obvious the titans are stacking the line for a run, how about a play action pass to a TE on 3rd and 1 and then if it fails go to the run with Hillis or Hardesty. When you have a team lacking in playmakers, you have to utilize the ones you do have when it’s time to score or make a key play. using A. Smith, Robo, 3rd string TE’s is just stupid coaching.

  • Shamrock

    Pittsburgh is beat up but Baltimore isn’t going anywhere. The Ravens might be a little long in the tooth but they are loaded. It helps when you sign players with talent.

  • Chris

    But there’s really no excuse for more than 50 passes and less than 20 runs. These things need to be straightened out.

    Especially with our personnel.

    The pass enables the run in the West Coast offense, sure, but our only real recieving threats are our tight ends… one of whom doesn’t even start for some reason. And so, we dink and dunk down the field and don’t open up the middle for runs.

    I understand they want to be a pass-first team, but if you don’t have the people to make that work, then you need to adjust… no?

    I guess the other argument is you want McCoy and the people who will be here next year to learn the system… but how are they going to learn it if no one can execute?

    And yes… shurmur gets way too cute when, like i said, we don’t have the playmakers to get cute.

  • http://serandez.blogspot.com Ezzie

    I thought it wasn’t a bad call, though I do agree it should be Hardesty and not Smith in that position. He had one man to beat and the guy made a nice tackle.

    A couple points that troubled me:
    - Hillis looked miserable and out of it the entire game because he was sitting so often. I think it affects his performance, and while I don’t agree with sucking up to players’ wishes, I think he’s justified on this somewhat: He *should* be in on more plays.
    - Ditto for Moore, to a smaller extent.
    - Shurmur needs to find an OC. I think that his inability to send stuff down or review stuff with his players after a series is holding them back. Did anyone notice that after every drive – including TDs! – they would pan to Hasselback and almost every Titans starting offensive player reviewing pictures with coaches? Meanwhile, the Browns bench was groups of linemen sitting, McCoy pacing, and the WRs looking in pain spread out over two benches. Not a good comparison.
    - The tackling effort on the INT return was horrible. I think it summed up the game well, and it’s why it’s so troubling: The team looked dead, disinterested, and unhappy. That’s not a good sign going forward… it’s like they’ve given up on the season already.

    Only us fans are supposed to do that. :)

  • Carl

    The play didn’t have a blocker on the safety. There was no lane for Smith to run through because the safety was filling the lane.

    Smith probably should have taken it outside and turned on the jets to get to the 40 yard line. If it was Hillis, we could have run over the safety for the first down

  • mike_964boo

    @Craig
    I didn’t question for a second that that play was practiced thoroughly. I’m debating whether it is sane to utilize such a trick play when even minimal loss of yards diminishes your chances of getting at least three points. I’m not saying they should play conservatively at all times, I’m saying there’s time for conventional football and time for trickery, and considering field position that was certainly the former.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    That’s fair Mike. I was just letting everyone know that Cribbs is designed to double back like he did. It wasn’t nearly as busted as some people seemed to think it was.

  • John

    Good points. I guess it all comes down to execution.

    As an aside, I for the life of me cannot understand why everyone thinks Moore needs to be a focus. The guy let a TD pass sail by him with minimal effort in Game 1. We have also run the fade to him at least 4 times that I can remeber on the goal line with no success. One week we ran fades back to back. The guy has OK hands, but he really doesn’t seem to fight for the ball much. There’s a reason NO let him go. He is basically a big slow receiver with decent hands that doesn’t get open much. Hardly a woldbeater. Check the tape if you don’t beleive me. If he becomes a locker room problem I would get rid of him.

  • Vengeful Pat

    I just hated the idea of pitching the ball backwards 7 yards when you only had to gain 1 yard. There are plenty of misdirection plays you can run where you fake the handoff to the fullback (in this case Hillis) and then hand off to the halfback on the other side. This play took way too long to develop and by the time it did, the safety was already deep in our backfield as the pictures show. This is a great play call on 1st and 10 because like Craig said, if the RB beats the defender who is already in the backfield, then he has a big run ahead of him (and this is assuming the safety is in the box, otherwise the play could be even better). On 4th and 1, everyone in the place knows a run is coming so you don’t throw the ball 7 yards backward in an effort to get 1 yard. Smith or Hardesty or whoever should be able to pick up 1 yard when they are just starting to get tackled at the line of scrimmage rather than 3 yards into the backfield. This is why I’m frustrated with the play call.

  • MallaLubba

    Is it just me or does the whole team feel like it’s still in preseason mode most of the time? The majority of the other teams have gotten over the “short training camps” syndrome. If we can’t overcome it, then go back to basics. It’s the basics that have been working for the defense. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think this coaching staff is gelling at all.

    My 2 cents: Shurmur’s acting like he’s unsure of his personnel. Play calling feels like it’s all over the place trying to discover what works. The only thing that works on defense is the ultra-vanilla stuff: whenever we try to go outside the box just a little we get destroyed. The overall game plans have appeared to be completely reactionary to the last week’s failures

  • I

    A few points:

    1. This team made a mistake by letting go of Lawrence Vickers.

    2. There are more than a few times this season where I thought Shurmur got too cute with the playcalling. Was surprised to see Smith get the ball, but this play was not one of them.

    3. As someone who flew back to CLE to go to the game yesterday, I must say I was surprised to see so many plays with Hardesty on the field and Hillis on the sideline. Not for or against it, just surprised by it.

    4. Tennessee is much better than I thought they were. Very curious to see how they play against PIT next week and beyond.

    5. I’ve seen about enough of Usama Young and Sheldon Brown. Young’s missed tackle on the TE’s touchdown yesterday was inexcusable.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    @23, i agree that the play took too long to develop. The fake to Hillis did its job but with 7 yards to run, the safety was able to adjust easily and meet Smith at the line. I dont mind that the pitch went to Smith, but the real problem is that that play is not a 4th and 1 play. Thats a call for 2nd and 8 or 1st and 10. On 4th and 1 you put Hillis behind Thomas and you push forward.

  • saggy

    @ Garry – “starting 11?” haha, this ain’t Man U!! you’ve shown your stripes, old boy.

  • rc

    in the 2nd game, many of us wondered why hardesty was forgotten save for a random series at the goal line.
    in the 3rd game, hillis is out and hardesty plays all game and played pretty well.
    in the 4th game, I feel the coaches (ie HC) overcompensated and left hillis benched often.

    perhaps the coaches can’t multitask when it comes to substitutions when they have so many things to concentrate on. Me thinks they are overwhelmed.

  • Hot Toluene

    Since I’m stuck down in TX now, I can give some insight into those calling for Vickers. He cannot even get onto the field for the Texans. Who just lost a legit fullback in Leach.

    Mind you, I like Vickers and think we have taken a step back in terms of fullback blocking with a rookie in there, but everyone pinning the regression of the entire running game on losing a guy who is now a backup FB in Houston is a little silly.

  • Cleveland12

    Like I’ve said b4, I think shurmur is experimenting and is using this whole season as a preseason! Nothing else explains his use of such idiotic plays. He’s not going to grind out wins but rather will try his luck on a ” mmm let’s try this…. Or I fancy having that” approach. What he underestimates is the lack of confidence in his coaching ability his decisions are having on his team. Or maybe I’m wrong..

  • http://www.onlyincle.com Jake In Ohio City

    Good breakdown of the play, Craig. I would have never looked at it that way otherwise. I just went on my rant cursing the personel.

  • hockeyman

    FWIW, I think the play would have been more successfully run with Hillis, Hardesty OR Cribbs carrying the ball. The reason it was a bad play call is mainly because they decided to “try out” Smith rather than give the ball to a known quantity. Experimentation rather than doing the smart known thing to win games.

  • pepe

    On plays when the outcome of the game swings in the balance, you give the ball to your best player. Period. Every time. In every sport. Always. That is a blanket statement that 99% of good coaches will agree upon.