The story for the Cleveland Browns in 2023 has been injuries and lineup changes. For some positions, the team is playing their fourth and fifth-string players, with quarterback being one of those spots. Weeks ago in what was described as a “fail safe” plan, the Browns signed Joe Flacco to the practice squad.
Fast forward to less than a month later and not only is Flacco the starting QB but he's been lighting it up the past two games. So how is a 38-year-old QB in his 16th season reviving what was a dead passing game the past few weeks? To put it simply, it's the play-action passing game.
For those unfamiliar, play action is a type of offensive play where the QB fakes a handoff, making the defense think they are running it and passing it instead. This concept has been Kevin Stefanski’s bread and butter since arriving in Cleveland.
Over the past four years, the Browns have always been top 10 in total rush yards, and only once has play action accounted for less than 35% of the team's total passing yards (2022). In Stefanski’s most successful campaign — which was 2020 — the play-action passing game was responsible for 40.94% of their yardage through the air. Coincidentally, Cleveland had the most points scored, most yards per play, and most first downs under Stefanski that year.
Flacco proved over the past two weeks he thrives in play-action. Among QBs with at least 20 play action attempts, he's fourth in the NFL in passer rating (124.3), 10th in adjusted completion percentage (83.3), and fifth in yards per attempt. His yards per completion in play action (16.38) tops Deshaun Watson by an average of two yards per play. If he keeps on this pace for the final four games of the season, Flacco will surpass him in yards and touchdowns.
Looking ahead, none of this matters if they can’t continue their offensive success. The past two weeks have been the most back-to-back passing yard performances of the season and it's not by coincidence. Fans should be thrilled to see how the rest of the 2023 Browns pan out with Flacco under center. Hopefully, it all ends with playoff success.