Impactful Plays and Players Game Film Review: Season Review

January 4, 2024

Tony Camino

10 Best Plays From Browns’ 2023 Season

What a year 2023 was for Browns fans after a rocky start at the end of last season. While fans weren’t entirely encouraged by the play of Deshaun Watson to end 2022, the hopes were high for 2023, and the team has delivered, to say the least. The defense has been the best in the NFL by a considerable margin and has achieved some historic feats, thanks to a Defensive Player of the Year campaign by Myles Garrett. Offensively, star players coming in and out all year limited how good they could be, but we had some very good games from Watson and are experiencing the revival tour of Joe Flacco. Overall, the Browns are 11-5 in the 2023 season and have secured the fifth seed in the AFC. Despite injuries unlike any other team in recent memory, the resilience of this Browns’ team has them very much alive heading into 2024.

Watson’s best throw of the day (Week 3)

So much went right for the defense once again, but we shouldn’t overlook the solid performance by Deshaun Watson on Sunday. He wasn’t flawless, but he played at an above-average level and even performed very well at times during the game. Right after another defensive stop by the Browns following halftime, they had an opportunity to widen the gap on the scoreboard.

It’s 2nd and 1 in this situation, and Kevin Stefanski seizes the chance to take a downfield shot. The Browns line up in a three-by-one formation, with David Njoku, the number three receiver, extended to the field from the core. The Titans appear to be in a man-to-man defensive look, and the Browns execute a launch route concept. In this concept, the number one and number three receivers run hitch routes, while the number two receiver runs an outside release vertical route. This concept is particularly effective against cover two defenses because it pulls the flat zone away from the hitch routes, while also creating a back-shoulder opportunity against man coverage.

Donovan Peoples-Jones does an excellent job of showing late hands here, meaning he refrains from reaching for the ball until late in the play, preventing the defender from anticipating the pass and making a play on it. The ball is perfectly placed, allowing DPJ to make an impressive contested catch for a 29-yard gain, crossing midfield.

The Browns went on to score another touchdown on this drive and plays like this were instrumental in an 11-play, 85-yard march down the field. The passing game performed admirably, especially in a game where the Titans played tight coverage and left few receivers open. Watson rarely threw to open receivers because of coverage, but his precision placement allowed his receivers to make significant plays.

Myles Garrett tackle for loss (Week 6)

Myles Garrett is a world-class pass rusher, but Sunday might have been his best game defending the run. The 49ers are running an inside zone play here, with every blocker moving to their right while McCaffery takes the run to the backside B-gap. Garrett is lined up in the C-gap and is responsible for the B-gap to the right of Williams (#71)

With incredible athleticism, Garrett slides under Williams and beats him to the spot. To beat any lineman in a situation where he’s blocking to his right and a player gets to the gap on the other side is truly remarkable. Once he fits his gap and reaches his spot, enough of the play is disrupted to finish this run because Takitaki fits it well and allows Delpit to make a play in space.

Tackling McCaffery is never an easy task, and Garrett goes the extra mile to disengage from Williams and make a tackle in the backfield for a loss. This came on the play after the Owusu-Koramoah breakup and set the 49ers up for a third-and-long in the third quarter. Garrett makes his living getting after the quarterback, but dominating the run game against an All-Pro tackle is what sets him apart from other greats.

Myles Garrett Strip Sack for Touchdown (Week 7)

Just another game where the entire film review could be a Myles Garrett highlight reel. The dominant edge rusher had a DPOY-caliber performance, turning in nine tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, a pass breakup, and a blocked field goal. One of those forced fumbles went for a touchdown, highlighted here.

Garrett is lined up in a nine-technique outside the tight end. From the jump, both the tight end and right tackle are assigned to slow down Garrett, with the tight end getting a significant chip right at the snap.

Despite having two defenders tasked to slow him down, the All-Pro hardly breaks stride here and gets to the quarterback with ease. He sacks Minshew and does a great job of getting the ball out in a pivotal situation. The ball is loose in the end zone, and the Browns’ defense jumps on it for a touchdown late in the half to take a 24-21 lead with under two minutes left in the half.

This touchdown was probably the most meaningful play of the entire game, giving the Browns a lead despite the offense struggling. The defense got another stop right after and managed to get a critical 27-21 lead right before the half. Winning those last two minutes of each half is essential to winning games, and the Browns executed perfectly in this one.

Throw Of The Day (Week 9)

Offensively, all the biggest positives of the day came from the return of the quarterback. Unfortunately, the run game took a step back after their breakout performance at Seattle, but the passing game picked them up. After the game, Cooper and Stefanski talked about how this massive completion was drawn up by Watson and Cooper based on the looks they saw with this coverage all day. Watson quickly identifies the look, and you can see him audibling and getting everyone in the right place.

The Cardinals were constantly showing pressure with their safety in the box to Cooper’s side, but never blitzed him and instead bailed to bracket Cooper. However, Cooper noticed on one of the earlier routes that the two defenders were only trying to bracket him from an in or out-breaking route, and they wouldn’t react to him just going vertically through it. He knew there would be an opening if the ball was delivered perfectly, and Watson put it exactly where it needed to be for a very pretty completion.

This kind of trust between the receiver and quarterback, along with the IQ to even notice something like that, is why the Browns spent a lot of capital to get these two. This is a high-level adjustment we aren’t used to seeing in Cleveland, and this duo can be really special for the rest of the season if they can stay healthy. The passing attack had its hiccups, as expected, in Watson’s first game back, but there were so many positive signs that things were going in the right direction.

Power With a Late Push (Week 10)

Right after the huge scramble from Watson, the Browns were on the brink of field goal range while managing the clock perfectly. If they could have a few successful runs, they would eat the rest of the clock and set up a game-winning chip shot. They run power here, which has all the linemen blocking to their left while the backside guard pulls and kicks out the defensive end on the play side.

Joel Bitonio starts this play beautifully, pulling across and opening the initial lane for Jerome Ford to run through. There isn’t a ton of space for Jerome Ford to navigate but he does a great job reading his blockers and working through traffic to have a nice gain on first down. The Browns, again, could’ve done better getting to the second level to open up the chance for a bigger run, but five to seven-yard chunks are always a good thing on early downs.

Right as Ford appears to be getting tackled, the entirety of the offensive line, David Njoku, and even Elijah Moore hustle in and start pushing the pile to gain a huge extra chunk on this play. The execution to start was very solid, and then the pure effort and determination from the rest of the team was evident, as they imposed their will on the Ravens here.

This play will be remembered by Browns’ fans for a long time, as it shows effort and toughness to the max. Despite everything that happened in this game and all the tough injuries to the offense, they kept fighting and just overpowered a team that has notoriously bullied them in the past. This felt like a real changing of the tide moment, where the Browns truly showed they aren’t the same team that would be pushed over like in years past.

Myles Sack Disguise (Week 11)

The Browns’ defense continues to evolve for the better, and it was on display in their dominant win over Pittsburgh. On the first play of the game (which should have been a safety), the Browns are blitzing Grant Delpit off the edge. More importantly, the defensive backs are walked down onto the receivers, which is a clear indicator of man coverage.

Since the Browns are typically so man-heavy, Kenny Pickett is already thinking he knows what the defense is going to play. Instead, the corners bail immediately and it turns into a fire zone covering three blitzes. With an elite pass rush like the Browns where they are bringing an extra man, the ball has to be out almost instantly to have any sort of a chance.

Garrett wins inside easily, and nobody picks up Delpit’s blitz off the edge. Najee Harris has two guys he needs to pick up and already was getting the free rusher in Delpit, which allows Garrett to easily get to the quarterback and pin them on their goal line.

This evolution from the Browns’ scheme will make them nearly unstoppable, as Pickett talked postgame about how the Browns were confusing him with the different looks they showed. Combined with blitzing with a dangerous pass rush, buying that extra second of confusion will do wonders for the defensive line and make quarterbacks’ lives miserable against this unit.

Big Stop On 4th Down (Week 15)

Into the fourth quarter, the Browns trailed 17-7 with the Bears threatening to add more points on the board. They have a fourth-and-one in Browns’ territory and elect to go for it to try and get in better scoring position. The Bears motion a receiver away from the play to influence the linebackers and get them flowing opposite of the action. They fake the handoff to get all the linemen down blocked inside and bootleg the quarterback outside of the pocket.

The play design is great, as Greg Newsome has to cover the receiver after he cracked the end, which leaves one blocker for Cameron Mitchell and one yard needed to convert. The receiver had leverage on Mitchell, but the rookie nickel evades the block and just clips enough of Fields’ foot to trip him up and stop him short of the line to gain.

If the Bears put up points on this drive, the game is likely over if they were trying to come back from a 20-7 or 24-7 deficit. This is truly a game-saving play by the rookie stepping up and changing the momentum at the time. Mitchell has had some impressive reps at the slot cornerback position this year, and his ability to make plays in space like these shows why he has a future playing a big role on this team.

Flacco to Cooper Magic TD (Week 15)

The entire film study before this focused on the defense and how well players have stepped up to the challenge after a dominant day in the win. The offense wasn’t pretty in this one, as they seemed to consistently be one player away from getting to where they wanted to go. Play calls were getting receivers open, but the decimated offensive line caused issues all game.

Down 17-10, the passing game had success in the short range and then had a nice bomb to Marquise Goodwin but couldn’t find much success anywhere else. The Browns run a double move from Goodwin at the top, while Amari Cooper runs an over route to the other sideline. Elijah Moore is just running an inside release fade to try and create space in the backend of the defense.

The Bears are in a two-deep coverage here, and the Browns wisely pull the backside guard to create an extra second of protection to get the ball off. The edge defender must think the play is trying to get outside him, and he backs off and doesn’t rush the passer. Joe Flacco then sees Cooper hanging around the middle linebacker, and he said he knew there was another defender over there, but he felt there was just enough space to fit the ball in. He rips it with great anticipation, and the placement is beautiful and just a bit lucky, as it fits right in between three defenders. Cooper then tightropes down the sideline and scores to tie the game.

The offense struggled for most of the game, but they came through just enough to pull out another gutsy win. While improvements need to be made in the run game and the intermediate passing game, their ability to stay composed and make big plays when things haven’t gone their way is very impressive. As the unit gets healthier and they get more comfortable playing together, the offense will look to make strides every week.

Great Route From Amari Cooper (Week 16)

Amari Cooper had some sort of day on Sunday, setting the record for yards in a game by a Browns receiver and becoming the first Brown to ever have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Plays like this are exactly why he can achieve both those feats, as he’s elite at creating separation and making contested catches.

The Browns have an interesting route combination over the middle of the field that looks wrong, but they have Amari Cooper running a double move on the outside against a deep-third cover corner. Cooper releases inside and stems like he’s running a dig route, only to break outside and run a sail to the sideline. The defender gets his hips and feet committed to the in-breaking route, and it’s all over at that point. Cooper gets plenty of separation, but the ball was a little late and high. He makes a great leaping catch and hauls it in for a nice chunk to move the chains.

Cooper might have cemented himself as the best Browns’ receiver ever on Sunday, and the talent is unreal from the veteran. He continued to create insane separation anytime they left him isolated, and he even made plenty of plays even when he was covered well. The star receiver has had another tremendous season and is a huge catalyst for the Browns’ passing attack. If he and Flacco can continue building on this connection, the passing game should be enough to carry this unit.

Big Completion to David Njoku (Week 17)

The first-time Pro Bowler has been maybe the best tight end in the entire NFL over the last few weeks, and he delivered on Thursday when his team needed him most with Cooper out. On the first drive of the game, Njoku came through with a massive catch and run on third-and-long, putting the Browns on the move. Two plays later, the Browns were in a second-and-long situation, running a scissors-like concept over the middle of the field. Elijah Moore ran an outside release runoff, and Flacco was looking for the crosser with the most room after clearing the backer.

The route from David Bell looked bracketed by the safety and corner, but there seemed to be a window to Njoku when Flacco decided to throw it as the one safety was too far back to make a play. The ball barely went over the middle linebacker’s head and was placed behind Njoku to shield him from the other defender. Njoku made a tremendous adjustment mid-air to snag the ball behind him and reel in another big conversion.

Njoku’s year-after-year development has been really impressive, and this year he has truly become one of the biggest leaders and best players on the team. With so many other key contributors going down, he has been crucial in making big plays to keep this offense going. His development in all phases of the game has turned him into one of the league’s best, and we’re lucky to have him representing our city.

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