The gamebook shows that the winds were blowing at 27 mph on Thursday night. The winds were strong enough that it affected the place kickers. Usually in a game with winds like that, you try to rely on running game to avoid incompletions and/or interceptions “aided” by the wind. Bronco running backs carried the ball twelve times in total (eight runs by Melvin Gordon and four by Javonte Williams). For comparison, the Browns running backs carried the ball thirty times.
In the past when the Broncos have abandoned the run game, many times it has been because the offensive line was getting no push on their run blocks. In other words, the opposing defensive line was owning the line of scrimmage. With so few runs by our backs, I went back to see what happened in all twelve of the runs.
This was our first offensive play after the Browns had absolutely dissected our defense to go 75 yards for a TD on their opening drive in only five plays. Honestly this series set the tone for the whole game.
On first and 10 from our 25 we ran Gordon on an inside zone run - at least I assume this was zone blocking, because the line gets no initial push. The snapshot below is immediately after the handoff. Remember the LOS is the 25.
Gordon chooses to take this left and gets two. Had he waited a hair longer he could have followed the IOL which did eventually get some good push. He most likely would have gained four or five had he run straight up the gut with this (see below). Instead of second and five or six, we have ended with second and eight.
This was the next play relative to run one. Again we give to Gordon, this time from the shotgun. Again there is little initial push, but this is blocked like draw-action so it’s designed to make the defenders think it’s a pass.
Shown below is the decision point by Gordon. He has two paths - left or right - and he chooses to go left (behind Lloyd Cushenberry’s block). It looks to me like their is a much better path to the right, but would rely on Noah Fant to block Jadeveon Clowney well. Gordon chooses left possibly because he has little faith in Fant’s ability to run block.
Gordon only gains one on this run because 43 for Cleveland, safety John Johnson, makes a nice tackle in the hole. I should note that Cleveland had eight defenders in the box here. However, it’s now third and seven instead of third and two or three because of the “yards left on the field” from our first two runs.
The next play would be a dump off to Fant who would gain six and the Broncos would punt. Cleveland would then drive down for a field goal making it 10-0 setting the tone for the game. The Browns realized that our depleted ILB group was going to struggle to fill gaps in the run game, so they committed to the run and it paid off with sustained drives and manageable third down distances. Our depleted ILB group let them run the ball effectively from the start of the game to the end and this allowed them to control the clock wearing down our already depleted defense.
Now down 10-0 the Broncos opened their next drive with a pass to Javonte Williams for 8 (on first and five). This was followed by a run with Javonte Williams on first down.
Williams benefits from good blocking here.
Bolles does a good job of allowing the DE to run himself up the field and out of the play. Risner gets up to the second level and makes a nice block on the LB while LC3 does a good job of reaching the DT to seal him. Williams would gain six on this run. It’s interesting that the Brown’s ILBs appear to be flowing to their left as if they were expecting a play-action fake and bootleg action. This makes them a step slow and allows a nice gain on first down.
This run came on the same drive after two completed passes had gotten the Broncos down to the CLE 31. The Broncos try to run a trap here with Risner pulling to kick out Tackarist McKinley out of shotgun and off of jet sweep fake action. McKinley makes Risner whiff and Williams is forced to struggle just to get back to the line of scrimmage.
If Risner makes the block here, this is set up to gain a bunch of yards as Williams has been very effective running to the edges so far this year. Williams would need to defeat the CB to make a big play out of this, but he has shown that he can routinely run through defensive backs.
The next play would be the interception in the endzone on second and ten.
This run would not come until the two minute drill. With 1:48 left in the half, Melvin Gordon would take the draw handoff from shotgun and run into a defender on a play that was blocked fairly well.
Expecting pass, the Brown LBs are playing 5-6 yards off the ball. Risner pulls and gets on the LBs in the second level. Massie is supposed to push the DT past the play, but he fails to get much movement and that defender forces Gordon to spin.
Gordon has space to the left, but before he can break that way, Massies’s defender beats him across his face and forces Gordon to spin to avoid him. By the time Gordon has turned around, the rest of the Cleveland defense has gotten there stop this for a two yard gain.
This was right before the half with 17 seconds left on the clock and the Browns were more than happy to give up a six or seven yards to kill the clock. The run is blocked well, but any time you run it a must-pass situation you expect to gain at least five yards.
The Broncos got the ball to start the second half and opened with a pass on first down that gained nine yards (to Fant). On second and one, Gordon gets the carry and gains three.
The LOS is the 30 here and the Browns’ defensive line is winning the LOS on this play. Gordon does a good job to gain three here by just ploughing into the scrum.
Similar to the last run, the offensive line of the left does not get much push, while the right side gets a little movement on the double team.
Gordon takes what’s there are gains three again. The LOS is the CLE 42.
Here’s another run where the offensive line is getting little to no movement. The LOS is the CLE 39. There appears to be a hole to the left, but the safety or LB is quickly moving to fill that gap.
Gordon does a good job to get five on this by running through the tackle as the edge defender squeezes down to keep this run from going outside.
This is a redzone shotgun draw from the CLE 19. It is blocked fairly well with the exception of Risner’s man beating him across his face and hitting Gordon.
At the decision point below, Gordon chooses to go left instead of right. Hindsight shows that he probably would have gained more than two yards had he gone right instead of left.
Risner’s man makes a good play on this or Gordon probably gains ten and could score with a broken tackle.
This is our first and only goal-line run of the game. Second and goal from the eight again out of shotgun.
There is little push from the OL and the Browns have plenty of box defenders, it appears at the handoff that there might be been a chance for Gordon to bounce this outside to the right, particularly with Tim Patrick looking to seal block on that edge.
Gordon chooses to to just run this into the middle of the scrum and he gains two which is probably the best decision because Graham Glasgow is being driven into the backfield by his defender who most likely would have kept Gordon from bouncing this outside.
This was first and ten from the 40 with 10:50 left in the game down 17-7. There was still time to use the run game, but this would be the last time either running back would carry the ball for us. This drive would result in a TD for the Broncos, but our defense would be unable to get the ball back for us due to pathetic ILB play. Javonte Williams makes a nice run for six on this play by taking this outside and outrunning the ILB to the edge.
To my eyes (and hopefully to yours) our run game was decent against the Browns, but it was underutilized particularly on a night when the wind made it more difficult to throw the ball.
I know it’s tough to watch the Broncos right now, but if you like this type of “film” review, particularly of us run game, I can do more of this as the season progresses. Let me know in the comments.