Kyle Shanahan is at it again.
As Washington Redskins play-caller two years ago, Shanahan slow-played the other 31 NFL teams in August, only to unfurl a masterpiece of pistol formations, run-option reads, play-action fakes and screens designed to take advantage of Robert Griffin III's unique talents.
Shanahan's scheme was so successful that football's éminence grise, John Madden, deemed RGIII the "best player in the league" in the former Baylor star's first professional game. The Redskins would ultimately lead the league in yards per play (6.2), yards per pass attempt (8.3) and yards per rush (5.2).
Shanahan rarely asked RGIII to go through reads and progressions. Leaning on power back Alfred Morris, Griffin commandeered an efficient, conservative attack with an ideal combination of big plays and careful decisions.
Griffin would go on to capture Offensive Rookie of the Year honors as a reward for the best rookie season by a quarterback in league history.
Now overseeing the Cleveland Browns' offense, Shanahan is performing the same magic tricks in an effort to pull Brian Hoyer's surprise breakout season out of a hat.
The Browns recruited veteran power back Ben Tate, who flashed in Shanahan's offense with the Houston Texans. They drafted Terrance West and signed Isaiah Crowell, two rookie backs tailored to fit the zone-blocking scheme.
Despite using three different starters at running back in six weeks, the Browns are third in the NFL in rushing yards per game. They are second only to the Cowboys in rushing attempts per game, while rivaling Dallas for the most dominant offensive line in football.
It's the same groundwork that Shanahan laid not only in Washington but also in Houston, with Arian Foster and Steve Slaton paving the way for Matt Schaub's boot-action attack that averaged over 8.0 yards per attempt and a 67 percent completion rate.
Hoyer is now doing his best Schaub impression, repeatedly running play-action to take advantage of linebackers stepping toward the line of scrimmage and leaving open windows at the second level of defense.
In Cleveland's 31-10 clinic against the Pittsburgh Steelers, five of Hoyer's completions went for 24, 31, 31, 42 and 51 yards. All five of those throws came via play-action or boot-action.
That was not a one-game aberration. Hoyer has 26 passes that have gone for at least 20 yards or a touchdown this season. Only one of them has come out of a formation with Hoyer under center and no variation of play-action.
Hoyer's 138.9 passer rating out of play-action leads the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. His 12.0 yards per attempt out of play-action is second only to Kirk Cousins' 13.0.
For contrast, Hoyer is averaging 5.4 more yards per attempt on play-action. His passer rating is 55.0 points higher. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is 5:0 on play-action compared to 2:1 on other throws.
With an island of misfit toysat wide receiver, Hoyer is the NFL's most efficient deep passer this season. He can stave off regression to the mean when Josh Gordon -- the NFL's most dangerous downfield playmaker a year ago -- returns from suspension next month.
As NFL Media's Bucky Brooks pointed out this week, the Browns' offense is a successful marriage between scheme and personnel. Shanahan is minimizing Hoyer's weaknesses and amplifying his strengths. That's good coaching.
Hall of Famer Steve Young has compared the job of a quarterback to tending a Japanese garden because of the high level of care, time and intricacy of work required to find lasting success.
It's time for the younger Shanahan to start being mentioned in the same breath with noted gardeners such as Marc Trestman, Bruce Arians and Jim Harbaugh.
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