Can Brandon Weeden Continue to Develop Under Norv Turner in Cleveland?
On Tuesday, Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski named Brandon Weeden the starting quarterback for the 2013 season. It's a move we should have expected after the high level of play the second-year pro put on tape over the first two weeks of the exhibition schedule.
But will that production (and command of the offense) translate to the regular season?
Let’s examine why Weeden can continue to develop and execute the playbook under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner by breaking down some core schemes from the preseason.
The Power Run Game
Going back to his time as the head coach with the San Diego Chargers—and throughout the first two weeks of the preseason—Turner is going to lean on the one- and two-back power schemes in his game plan.
Think of the Power O (pull open side guard, fullback/H-back kick-out), Lead Open (weak), Lead Closed (strong), Lead Draw, Counter OF (pull closed side guard, fullback/H-back kick-out) and the Crack Toss. They are all base, downhill runs that test the physicality of the defensive front seven.
And with Trent Richardson carrying the football, the Browns can utilize the running back’s skill set to create manageable third-down situations (3rd-and-2-6) while forcing opposing defenses to drop a safety into the run front. That opens up the top of the secondary (single-high safety defenses) to give Weeden some matchups outside of the numbers.
Here is an example of the Browns' running game from the preseason:
Scheme: Crack Toss
Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Unit Wing Slot (Stack)
They align the wide receivers in a stack look tight to the core of the formation, block down and pull left tackle Joe Thomas. This allows Richardson to test the edge of the defense, square his pads and work off Thomas once he gets to the second level.
It's a tough scheme to defend because the gaps move on toss action. And if your cornerback fails to use a “crack-replace” technique (when receiver blocks down, the cornerback is now the primary run-support defender), there is a soft edge for the running back to expose.
With the edge sealed—and the cornerback chasing inside—Thomas can turn up the field to the second level. That allows Richardson to get vertical and pick up a productive gain on a basic toss play.
Formation Flexibility/Production at the Tight End Position
The tight end is going to be featured in Turner’s scheme, and that provides Weeden with a target inside of the numbers on the short crossing routes, the Hi-Lo combinations and the vertical seam in the red zone. Plus, Turner will use multiple formation alignments with the tight end to create favorable matchups for the quarterback.
Watching the Browns this preseason, I’ve been impressed with tight end Jordan Cameron. He is athletic, displays body control at the point of attack and will high-point the football. And with his size (6'5", 245 pounds), Cameron can create separation on inside breaking routes.
Here is an example of Cameron in the Browns' passing game:
Scheme: OVS (Outside Vertical Stretch)
Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Unit Trump Slot
The “OVS” is a three-level route combination (fade-corner-flat) run from a variety of alignments and personnel groupings. Take the top off the defense with the 9-route (fade), set some bait in the flat and target the 7-route (corner) for an explosive gain.
Here, the Browns use Cameron to create the “OVS” concept to the open side of the formation by bringing the tight end back across the field (takes the place of the 7-route) to expose the Lions' Cover 3 defense (three-deep, four-under). By occupying the cornerback (deep third responsibility) on the 9-route, Weeden can read the depth of the strong safety (curl to flat drop) and target the tight end on the deep crossing route.
Because of Cameron’s size and length, Weeden can put some air under this ball to clear the strong safety. That’s the plan when you have a tight end who can adjust to the ball and finish plays. It's no different from the seam route Weeden threw to Cameron earlier in this matchup for a touchdown. Allow your guy to climb the ladder and make the catch.
The Deep Ball
We talked about the running game and the tight end position, but don’t forget about the vertical passing game. The Browns will be without Josh Gordon for the first two weeks of the regular season (suspension), but we have seen the quarterback target the young wide receiver this preseason down the field on the three-step fade and the seam/corner.
The Browns will take some shots in this offense with the ball in between the 40-yard lines or in the strike zone (opponent's 20- to 35-yard line). Plus, when Weeden can read and identify pressure at the line of scrimmage versus press-coverage, he can attack the secondary down the field.
Here is an example of the deep seam/corner route versus pressure:
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
The Lions show their hand early at the line of scrimmage with a safety walked up to the front in a blitz alignment. Weeden can see this pressure, identify the single-high safety in the middle of the field and target Gordon (aligned in the slot) on the deep seam (or 7-cut).
Look at the ball placement. With Gordon beating the defender’s initial leverage on the release (outside shade) and establishing position, Weeden puts this ball on the upfield shoulder (away from the defender). That’s a big-time throw.
Is the Arrow Pointing Up on Weeden?
Two weeks in the preseason isn’t going to guarantee success for Weeden or the Browns offense when the games start to count. I understand that. But looking at the core schemes the Browns have installed (and executed) this summer, there are positives here that we have to acknowledge.
After a subpar rookie season, Weeden is showing the ability to work through his progressions, identify coverages/pressure schemes and deliver the ball on time. That's a sign of development for a quarterback who is in the right system under Turner.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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