Heading into the 2019 NFL season, a lot of hype surrounded the Cleveland Browns’ offense thanks to the ridiculous amount of offensive firepower that Baker Mayfield had to work with on paper.
Guys like running back Nick Chubb, tight end David Njoku, and receiver Jarvis Landry were joined by star receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. in an offseason trade with the New York Giants. That offensive firepower, along with a terrific defense built through the front seven, had expectations sky-high for the Browns.
It’s been a disappointing year, to say the least, for Cleveland so far. Beckham Jr. hasn’t been able to make as much of an impact as many expected him to with Mayfield, while the offensive line has been an abject disaster in pass protection, causing Mayfield to run for his life.
All that said, when Mayfield has time, he seems to have the most success connecting with Landry, who is in his second year with Mayfield, which has led to some serious production out of the slot for the veteran receiver.
Play the Slots
Throughout his career, Landry has been an absolute force out of the slot. He’s not an explosive player that will run away from defenders in his route, but he’s a master technician in tight thanks to his footwork and short-area quickness.
He knows how to find the soft spot in the zone and will whip his head around to show Mayfield his numbers.
This won’t look like much to fans, but it’s important to watch the way Landry recognizes what’s happening around him on this crossing route on a play-action pass.
Once Landry gets a clean release off the line and sees the Baltimore linebacker coming downhill on the play-action fake, he immediately gets his head around, allowing Mayfield to lock eyes with him as the first read, connecting on the strike for the first down.
Younger receivers would continue this crossing route over the middle without getting their head around right away, but Landry is a savvy veteran that knows how to read zone coverage.
On this read-option here against the Ravens in Week 4, Landry is supposed to cut this across the middle underneath Kenny Young. However, he sees Young is backpedaling on his heels. Landry is able to step around Young without losing speed or depth in his route, extending the route up the field a few extra yards.
Mayfield sees this and fires a bullet between the two Baltimore linebackers for another chain-moving first down while also protecting Landry with the throw to his back shoulder. These two connect really well, especially over the middle of the field.
The same thing happens here with Landry and Mayfield in the Week 8 road game in Foxboro against the New England Patriots.
Landry does get away with a slight push-off, but his timing is impeccable with Mayfield. As soon as Landry is at the top of his stem, he whips his head around as he’s breaking inside, getting eyes on the dart from Mayfield to move the chains.
Mayfield can make all the throws a pro quarterback needs to make, but when he’s throwing over the middle to Landry, the ball just comes out differently in a good way. It’s an absolute laser.
Down the Field
Throughout his career, Landry has made a living working in the short and intermediate areas of the field in the passing game, as evident from his 10.8 yards per reception mark for his career.
However, when he’s asked to push down the field he’s a successful receiver. He’s not going to rip off home-run plays at a high clip, but he’ll make the tough catches thanks to great hands, helping the Browns move the chains.
Against the San Francisco 49ers, Landry helped get the Browns going early thanks to a 25-yard hookup with Mayfield in the first quarter.
Watch at the top of the screen how Landry’s footwork allows him to get a quick, clean release off the line, stacking Richard Sherman before losing him on the in-breaking route into the middle of the field for the easy hook-up.
Then, a few weeks later against the Seattle Seahawks, Landry was able to adjust his route accordingly, breaking off the post route to work back outside towards the hash-marks for the pitch and catch with Mayfield.
A lot of that is just general smarts and the ability to adjust in the middle of his route to find open space to show his quarterback his numbers.
How do the Broncos Stop Landry?
The Broncos will most definitely assign Chris Harris, Jr. to Beckham Jr. on Sunday in the Mile High City, but maybe they’ll need to consider shadowing Landry with CHJ when Landry is in the slot.
Justin Simmons could certainly see some work as the cover man on Landry in the slot, should the Broncos opt not to put CHJ on Landry.
Denver did a really nice job quieting Zach Pascal last week when in the slot, holding him to just one catch in the game. Denver will have to do the same with Landry, but the real key will be the pass rush.
As I mentioned earlier, Cleveland’s offensive line is one of the worst in the league when it comes to protecting Mayfield. This should be a big game for guys like Von Miller, Malik Reed, Derek Wolfe, and DeMarcus Walker to really get after the passer. Should Denver be able to do that, they’ll be able to negate the impact Landry could have on this game.
If not, expect to see Landry running open across the middle of the field throughout the day.