All 22 Breakdown of How Johnny Manziel Fits in the Cleveland Browns Offense
When the Browns drafted Johnny Manziel the franchise got a much need injection of life and attention with his celebrity status and dynamic play making ability. With the earlier addition of Kyle Shanahan, the former Redskin Offensive Coordinator, the Browns are seemingly on a path to building a similar offense to the RGIII centered attack that shredded defenses in 2012. The question then arises will Shanahan be able to learn from his mistakes in D.C and build a sustainable offense that Manziel can thrive in. To answer that question let’s look at the All-22 film from the past two seasons in D.C to find out just how Shanahan utilized the unique skill set of RGIII and the potential areas for improvement going forward.
It is likely that the Cleveland Browns will have yet another different starting quarterback this season after selecting Johnny Manziel in the 1st round. With the massive personnel question answered, Browns fans can start wondering how new Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan will build his offense around the dynamic talents of Manziel.
Shanahan hiring is particularly interesting because of his recent work in D.C with RGIII– a quarterback with a very similar skill set to Manziel– where Shanahan had his fair share of ups and downs. In the short span of two seasons the Redskins made the leap from a high potential team with a rookie quarterback to a surprise playoff team with a top 5 offense—a massive improvement from the middle of the pack Redskin offense the year before Shanahan and RGIII’s arrival– built around a dynamic young quarterback. In 2013, the honeymoon came to a disastrous end as Shanahan run heavy offense led to multiple injuries to RGIII and the general disfunction of Dan Synder’s Redskins overwhelmed the franchise leading to a 3-13 record.
This drastic rise and fall of Kyle Shanahan’s offense is a great case study for how the Browns offense will look with Manziel and areas for Shanahan to learn from his mistakes. So in order to understand how Shanahan will maximize the immense talents of Johnny Football lets look back at the game film from the Redskins past two seasons.
The first area where Kyle Shanahan’s experience with RGIII and the Redskins will be noticeable with the Browns and Manziel is the zone read. Shanahan was one of the early adopters of the zone read and used it as the backbone of Washington’s offense, transforming the NFL’s 25th ranked rushing attack into the best rushing attack in RGIII’s rookie season. Now part of the Redskins improvement was attributable to NFL defenses being unprepared to handled the zone read but Kyle Shanahan maximized the potential of the zone read by sprinkling subtle changes that allowed RGIII to take advantage of his incredible rushing ability.
The most noted example of this was the use of the arc block on the inside zone read. On this play the fullback slips out of the backfield to gain outside leverage to block the play side linebacker. The goal of this maneuver is to seal the defense inside and allow the quarterback—RGIII in this case—to get to the outside where he can maximize his speed and use the sideline as protection.
Let’s look at an example of the Redskins uses the arc block in 2012.
As soon as the defensive end commits inside RGIII knows he will be able to get outside into the open field because of the arc block taking away the contain defender. Expect Shanahan to build in some arc blocks for Manziel as he has similar explosiveness and elusiveness to RGIII. With that natural athletic ability Manziel will be able to gain the edge and exploit the open space, but the most important part of getting Manziel outside is the ability to get out of bounds.
Due to his size—again similar to RGIII—Manziel wont be to play 16 games if he is subject to the big hits that come with running the football in the NFL. But if he can get out of bounds and avoid hits—something the arc block and other zone read wrinkles can provide—he should be able to stay in the lineup for longer.
Obviously, that didn’t happen with RGIII. Kyle Shanahan ran him into the ground with too many zone reads and scrambles. It also didn’t help that RGIII always went for the extra yardage and exposed himself to more hits than he had to—something that Manziel did in college.
But that doesn’t mean it will happen again. Hopefully for Browns fans Kyle Shanahan has learnt something from his time in D.C and Manziel can use RGIII’s running style as a cautionary tale. Either way Shanahan will use Manziel rushing ability as a weapon and as a threat to open up inside running lanes for Ben Tate. Hopefully Shanahan will continue to bring in the arc block or other creative changes to keep defenses off balance and give the smaller Manziel a better chance to protect himself.
Play Action Pass Game
Another staple of bringing along a young quarterback is the utilization of the pass action pass. During the Redskins breakout season no quarterback threw more play action passes than RGIII as he over 30% of his passes were off play action. And with Kyle Shanahan’s track record of establishing the run game the Browns should expect to feature a similar run heavy/play action pass offense.
A staple in that playbook is the use of the bootleg. First, it gets the defense flowing one way and the quarterback the other way, providing valuable protection. Secondly, it usually limits the number of receivers and therefore reads —often creating a half field read—something that makes life easier for a young quarterback. Finally, it gets the quarterback on the move which is an area where Manziel thrives.
Similar to the arc block on the zone read, Kyle Shanahan likes to sprinkle in small subtleties to make life even easier for his quarterback. Last season the Redskins often gave RGIII an additional sense of protection by sliding a full back with his bootleg—essentially giving him a personal protector.
Let’s look at a good example of this unorthodox blocking scheme that Kyle Shanahan employed in D.C.
While RGIII butchers the play fake by going the wrong direction the critical element—sliding the fullback—is evident. This move allows RGIII to stand tall and not worry about the weak side contain player crashing down on him. It also limits his exposure to anther hit.
Plays like this should help ease Manziel transition into the NFL passing game where decision need to be made faster, windows are tighter and a clean pocket is a rarity. With Manziel’s skill set it is also a no brainer to get him outside the pocket on play action passes because it plays to his strengths—throwing on the run, dual threat and general play making ability—while limiting his weaknesses—operating from the pocket, seeing over offensive linemen and progressing through multiple reads.
Given Shanahan’s success with the play action pass in D.C combined with Manziel’s style of play the Browns will certainly feature the play action pass early and often. But what will make their offense dangerous is if Kyle Shanahan can draw up more plays similar to this where he gives Manziel additional protection/time to find his vertical threats downfield. With Jordan Cameron, Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon–if he isn’t suspended– Cleveland has the deep threats to maximize Manziel’s ability to create big plays. The play action passing game should just help grease the wheels of Manziel’s development by getting him into a situation where he succeeds.
While the two previous examples are particular plays/play types the most impactful change Kyle Shanahan will likely bring to Cleveland is some spread concepts. Now I don’t expect Shanahan to go crazy with a lot of 10 personnel—four wide receivers and one back–, I would expect him to spread the field at times and get Johnny Manziel into his comfort zone in a shotgun empty set.
After all Shanahan’s adoption of the spread/pistol offense that RGIII came from in Baylor was a big factor in his early success. Instead of forcing his young quarterback to learn a completely new offense, Shanahan brought in some of the same formations/plays RGIII had been running for three years at Baylor.
Better yet Shanahan toke the relatively simple Baylor playbook—this is not an insult as Baylor like a lot of NCAA spread teams sacrifice complexity for tempo—and elevated them to a NFL level.
Let’s look at a quality example of this on a bubble/middle screen that has two sources of misdirection.
It all starts before the snap by motioning the running back across the formation creating a jet sweep possibility. That threat gets the playside OLB—Matthews in this case—to crash inside when he normally would have gotten up field. That opens up the throwing lane to the screen and allows the left tackle to get downfield at the snap and crush the inside corner instead of cutting Matthews and leaving the slot wide receiver to handle blocking the point of attack.
But Shanahan doesn’t stop there as the inline tight end leaks out to the far side while the far receiver turns inward giving an additional screen look to far side of the field. Again this motion doesn’t shift the defense too much but it causes enough hesitation—just look at MLB Hawk take a step inside and allow the right guard to gain inside leverage– that the Redskins have a 4 on 3 blocking advantage for WR Garcon to exploit.
For Manziel these spread concepts are great for two main reasons, he is already comfortable and familiar with them and it is a single read easy play that allows his playmakers to do the majority of work for him. The question is whether Manziel will have the services of the NFL best wide receiver outside of Megatron in Josh Gordon. If he doesn’t these simple plays lose some of their effectiveness but should still be present to take some of the burden off Manziel offensively.
Kyle Shanahan’s time didn’t go all that well in D.C but the Redskins offense did have it moments of brilliance—particularly how well Shanahan utilized RGIII’s running ability both as a weapon and as threat. If Shanahan can refine that approach and continue to add in small yet effective changes like misdirection or arc blocks while Manziel learns to protect himself better, the Browns offense could be in for a drastic improvement.