What to expect from Hue Jackson’s new offense

Browns fans should have every reason to expect big things out of the offense Hue Jackson is bringing to the team.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

By Joe Gilbert

The arrival of new head coach Hue Jackson brings a whole new way of life for the Cleveland Browns. Jackson will bring in the offensive scheme with which he had so much success in Cincinnati. Which elements of his Bengals offense can we expect to see in Jackson’s new offense in Cleveland? Let’s take a look at the film and showcase some of the main elements of Hue Jackson’s offense we will see this coming season from the Cleveland Browns. (Last week, I took a look at the players who should be excited for the arrival of Jackson’s new offense.)

Downfield Passing

Hue Jackson’s offense is big on making plays downfield through the passing game. In Cincinnati this past season, the Bengals ranked fourth with 63 completions of over 20 yards and were tied for fifth with 13 passing plays of over 40 yards. Jackson loves throwing downfield. (HavingJosh Gordon back would certainly help.) Here is an example of this element.

This four verticals play has four receivers running streak routes deep downfield. The two inside routes are V routes, where the player runs slightly diagonally towards the sideline and then changes direction to run slightly diagonally inside. The only short option is the running back slipping out of the backfield.

As you can see above, the four verticals look puts pressure on the corners to go one on one and forces the safety to choose whom to help out. The quarterback (perhaps Jared Goff next year?) just chooses the matchup that is open. In this case the open man was A.J. Green, who beat his single coverage. Such downfield routes are a staple in Jackson’s offense.

Power Running

The main running style of Hue Jackson’s offense is a power running scheme. He has orchestrated successful running games throughout his career. In Cincinnati as offensive coordinator, his team ranked 13th last season in total rushing yards, and sixth in 2014. When he was Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2010, his team ranked second in total rushing yards; when he was head coach in 2011, his team ranked seventh in total rushing yards. Here is an example of his power running game.

This play is a straight running back dive handoff with an overloaded line. The Bengals are in an I-formation with two tight ends lined up on the right end of the line. Running back Jeremy Hill runs right behind the fullback between the center and the right guard.

The Bengals seven blockers on the line initially block the four St. Louis defensive linemen, with double teams on the defensive tackles. Once the linebackers crash toward the play, Bengals right tackle Andre Smith (No. 71) and left guard Clint Boling (No. 65) break off the double teams to take care of them. The key blocks in this play are those on two interior defensive linemen and then on the linebacker that tries to fill in the hole where Hill is about to run through. Bengals H-back Ryan Hewitt (No. 89) blocks the oncoming linebacker so that Hill can go through the gap without any real threat of being tackled. It was great power running from the Bengals offense.

Pulling Linemen

Another element of Jackson’s offense is his tendency to pull linemen on running plays. He likes to use his offensive linemen and other blockers in multiple ways to guide his runners. He runs many plays where he pulls a guard or even a tackle to open a hole. Here is an example of his propensity to pull linemen on run plays.

This play is successful because of the pulling guard. The play is a designed run to the left by running back Jeremy Hill, led by the pulling right guard, Kevin Zeitler (No. 68). Zeitler pulls from his right guard spot and sets up his block on the outside of the tight end on the left side of the line. Hill patiently follows Zeitler and cuts inside him where a hole is formed. Hill gains 12 yards because of the hole formed by the pulling guard.

Alignment Shifts

Once you take a look at Hue Jackson’s offense, you immediately notice the number of shifts the offense makes before the snap. Jackson likes to rotate and shift alignment before the play to keep the defense on its toes. The offense could call for just one or multiple players to shift, depending on the play. The alignment shifts help the quarterback read the defense and figure out what kind of set the opponent is in (for example, man or zone coverage). Here is an example of the shifts.

This play shows the benefits of the pre-play shifts in Jackson’s offense. Before the play, the Bengals shift four players to different positions, along with quarterback Andy Dalton moving from under center to shotgun. The re-alignment causes mass confusion to the Browns defense. (Shocker.) Dalton reads the confusion and quick snaps the play when he approaches the center. He sees the interior of the line vulnerable and so he runs right up the middle for a touchdown. The shifts were the key to the success of this play.

Trick Plays

Hue Jackson likes to make big plays on offense, and trick plays are among those he uses to create them. He uses reverses, double reverses, receivers passing, and plenty more interesting trick plays. Here is an example of such a play by Jackson’s Bengals.

This play is sort of a double reverse. Quarterback Andy Dalton hands the ball off to running back Gio Bernard going left to right. Bernard then tosses it to receiver Mohamed Sanu, who is running the opposite way. The play completely fools the Browns defense, giving Sanu an easy trip to the end zone. The trick play became a huge play for the Bengals offense.

Interesting Player Alignments

Hue Jackson loves to put his players in different spots depending on the player’s skillset. He puts offensive linemen as tight ends, receivers as quarterbacks or running backs, and running backs as receivers. He loves players who have versatile skills that allows him to play them in different roles. Here is an example of his interesting player alignments.

One of the players Jackson used in multiple ways with the Bengals is receiver Mohamed Sanu. Sanu lined up as receiver, running back and quarterback during the 2015 season. On this play, Sanu is lined up as the quarterback. He takes the shotgun snap and runs to the left edge, scoring an easy touchdown for Cincinnati. Sanu’s versatility to throw and run the ball puts a lot of pressure on the defense. Jackson loves using players with these skills in as many different roles and alignments as possible.

Exotic Formations

Along with putting his players all over the formation, Hue Jackson’s offense has a lot of exotic sets that try to confuse the defense and cause mismatches. He calls these formations to help the quarterback diagnose the defense easier and find the vulnerabilities of the defense. Here is an example of his exotic formations.

Jackson likes using a form of this formation in almost every game. The premise is to have three down linemen in the middle of the field, while the tackles line up wide on the outside of the either side of the line. Then a combination of the skill players line up behind the tackles. The offense sometimes shifts back to a regular formation if it doesn’t like what the defense is giving. Otherwise, the quarterback has an option to throw a quick pass to the outside to pick on a mismatch the formation created. Jackson’s formations are numerous and exotic, creating a lot of headaches for the opposing defense.

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After looking over the film of Hue Jackson’s offense, I am really excited and happy to see that he will be calling the plays next season for the Browns. Count me as one of his biggest supporters in choosing to call his own plays as head coach.

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