24 Oct 2006
It's usually a bad idea to fire an offensive coordinator in mid-season. Many times, the coordinator is just a scapegoat, and the team's problems have more to do with personnel or overall management than with the specific scheme they run or the plays they call. A week ago, Keith Rowan and Jim Fassel took falls for offensive-minded head coaches who haven't been able to field productive offenses.
But Maurice Carthon is different. Carthon had a very specific problem that he never seemed capable of solving. Carthon had a case of the Third-and-Short Clevers, or TSC, a disease that prevents a coordinator from handing off to his best running back in short yardage situations.
Early in the season, Carthon made rookie fullback Lawrence Vickers the team's short-yardage specialist. Vickers only carried three times for six yards and caught four passes for 5 yards in the preseason. Apparently, those were 11 impressive yards. Vickers got two chances to convert third-and-short opportunities in the season opener and was stuffed twice. A few weeks later, the rookie attempted an option pass on third-and-short. That didn't work either.
On Sunday, after spending the bye week trying desperately to save his job by spackling the holes in the Browns offense, Carthon's case of TSC resurfaced. He called two Charlie Frye rollouts in short-yardage situations in the first half. On one play, Frye rolled toward the coverage side of the field (the side where all of his receivers were bunched) on fourth-and-short. The defenders converged, and Frye was stopped for a loss. In the second quarter, Frye rolled left on third-and-2, got flushed, and threw an off-target pass. The Browns finished the game 1-of-10 on third down conversions.
What's wrong with a little bit of third down creativity? Nothing, if it's a little bit of creativity. Football Outsiders has been researching short-yardage strategies for years, and we have confirmed the obvious: the best thing to do when you need one yard is give the ball to your top running back. Sure, a rollout here and a play-action bomb there is necessary to keep defenses honest, but those plays should be wrinkles, not the basis of a short-yardage strategy. The Browns average 4.6 yards per carry on ten rushes in 3rd-and-1 and 3rd-and-2 situations. Reuben Droughns carried the ball in most of those situations. He did get stuffed once against the Broncos, but the 220-pound Droughns is clearly Cleveland's best short-yardage weapon. Unfortunately, Carthon wanted to outsmart everyone, and the Browns paid the price.
Jeff Davidson, the Browns offensive line coach, is now running the whole show. He is in no position to make wholesale changes. But he can help the Browns offense by keeping things simple in short yardage situations. Hopefully, we've seen the last of Lawrence Vickers, wannabe quarterback.
1 comment, Last at 26 Sep 2011, 3:55am by gfaga
Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.