Kizer was directly under center. Two tight ends, Seth DeValve and Randall Telfer, dotted each side of the offensive line. Running back Isaiah Crowell was 5 yards deep in the backfield, directly behind Kizer. To Crowell's immediate left was second-year wide receiver Corey Coleman, and to his right, free-agent acquisition Kenny Britt.
Up in the booth, the announcing duo of Greg Gumbel and Trent Green was more infatuated with a cheesy picture of Green in a suit being used for a television graphic than what was taking place on the field. At that moment, Jackson was resurrecting Walter Camp's ancient T formation from the 1800s, with a modern twist. Both Britt and Coleman ran short flare routes, with Coleman succeeding in taking one Steelers defender out of the loaded box. Crowell ran ahead for a gain of 5 yards.
It was a microcosm of a story we've seen developing in the NFL over the last few seasons. Coaches are turning to more exotic pre-snap looks in order to create mismatches or, in the Browns' case, level the playing field for rookie quarterbacks working against a defense expecting the run (taking even one of the nine defenders Pittsburgh had within 5 yards of the line dramatically helps the success of a run play). Whether it's a continuation of Mike Mularkey's ballet of shifting running backs, receivers and tight ends in Nashville or Andy Reid's inspired new rolodex of formations used to accentuate unique talents like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill in a dominant win over the Patriots, fans are being treated to an exceedingly complex and beautiful part of the game that occurs before the ball is even placed in the quarterback's hands.
As two-time Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator and current NBC analyst Kevin Gilbride pointed out to me, this is nothing new, though the evolution of the pre-snap game has been fascinating to watch.
"You do it for a lot of reasons," Gilbride said. "The simplest form is just to put a running back out [wide as a receiver], like you've seen New England do for years, and bring him back into the backfield, just to see whether the defense is running man or zone coverage. You can tell based on whether the defense pushed a corner out to cover or a linebacker. The odds are better than 90 percent that you know it's man or zone to start with.
"Or, if you don't have a quarterback who [has the power to change plays], you use a lot of shifts and motions, hoping that the defense gets misaligned. Maybe you gain a slight advantage.
"When I had certain quarterbacks -- and I won't mention any names -- that were not able to recognize what was going on defensively, then there was no sense in being stationary to let [the defense] see it or use basic revealing shifts that would clarify something for them. So, you might as well try and see if you can cause confusion -- get them to line up in one direction and cause confusion."
With the Browns and Kizer taking on blitz-happy Baltimore this week, these techniques could be on full display. The same could be said for Jared Goff's matchup against the Redskins, who feature a far more formidable defense than the Indy unit he saw Week 1. Even the smallest of advantages can help atone for what some are viewing as a rapidly dwindling list of NFL-caliber starting quarterbacks. Coaches will never sit idly by and accept that a Peyton Manning or Cam Newton doesn't enter the draft once a year. In the absence of a generational talent, they'll simply rig the chess board.
Four more storylines that will define Week 2
1) More Adrian Peterson for the Saints in Week 2? Peterson was on the field for just nine snaps in Monday's loss at Minnesota. But perhaps more troubling was what those snaps looked like. Peterson has been pigeonholed by some analysts as a running back who can only succeed out of an I formation or single-back setup with the quarterback under center. That's exactly how New Orleans deployed him in Game 1.
By my count, Peterson was used just once out of the shotgun, but split out wide. On that play, Brees was sacked. It creates what seem to be minor advantages for an opposing defense. When the Saints took Peterson out of the game on a third-and-3 and replaced him with versatile rookie Alvin Kamara, wouldn't any defensive coordinator guess that New Orleans was passing? (They did, and Kamara was tackled 6 yards behind the line.) If not, why not keep one of the most tenacious runners in NFL history in the game?
I would expect this week's Saints offense to look vastly different. Sean Payton is one of the league's most inventive play-callers, and Peterson was clearly jonesing for more opportunities to get on the field. Something has to give. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who is traveling to the Superdome this week to face the Saints, suggested as much during a press conference on Wednesday. Remember that Payton's Super Bowl team was also a prolific rushing unit with multiple components.
"Sean does a good job of forcing the defense to defend everything," Belichick said, via comments distributed by the team. "Inside runs, outside runs, short passes, deep passes, big people, little people. He pretty much gives you a pretty broad spectrum of things you have to get ready for and defend defensively, and you're going to see them, too. It's not like they did it one game a bunch of games ago. It's something you can kind of count on seeing every week, some version of that. Anywhere from 25 to 30 different personnel groupings depending on -- I mean, obviously, those groupings could be the same grouping but change the back, or change the receiver or change the tight end. Well, really it's the same grouping, but it's a little bit different, depending on which guy it is that's in there, which skill player is in there. When you look at the whole composite of it, you're looking at, like I said, they call 25 groupings per game. That's a lot."
2) A big problem in the Big Apple. Living in radio range of New York City's lively talk radio scene, it's easy to take a quick and accurate temperature of fans, especially after the Giants lose to the Cowboys in prime time, scoring just three points. It was the seventh straight game, dating back to last season, in which the Giants have scored fewer than 20 points. Eli Manning was sacked three times for a total loss of 22 yards (according to NFL Research, the Giants are 1-11 since 2014 when they give up three or more sacks), and the team gained less than 3 yards per rush.
The talk radio callers in New York were not so kind. Ben McAdoo, a former offensive line coach, was advised to do everything from trading for Joe Staley to cutting Flowers. Both of those suggestions are ridiculous. Outside of maybe swapping former first-round pick D.J. Fluker into the lineup at tackle, though, there aren't many options. (The Giants have said repeatedly that Fluker is a better guard, and guard is not their problem right now.)
I'm watching to see if the Giants can get themselves back under control against the Lions on "Monday Night Football," or if McAdoo employs a different look offensively to give Manning extra protection at the line. First-round pick Evan Engram was not as shoddy a blocker as I expected coming out of the draft, so perhaps we could see him hanging back to help Flowers.
Starting 0-2 in the NFC East seems like a death wish. If the offensive line does not give Manning time to get the ball out this week, it might stop sounding so ridiculous to trade a high pick for a veteran offensive tackle.
"I think there's more urgency to go out there, and do what we need to do," Flowers told NJ.com. "We're ready to put out what we know we can put out. We know we can, and we get another opportunity this Monday."
But what does that mean in practical terms? Last season, according to NGS, Wentz averaged 8.5 intended air yards per pass. On Sunday against the Redskins? 12.2. Without Eric Berry in the lineup for the Chiefs, one might expect Pederson to continue his aggressive streak and challenge Kansas City's second and third corners to run with Smith and Nelson Agholor for 60 minutes.
4) Green Bay's overlooked strength. We did not talk enough about the Packers' run defense last season, which finished 2016 ranked eighth in yards given up and 10th in rushing TDs surrendered. We also did not talk enough about defensive tackle Mike Daniels or linebacker Nick Perry after the Packers' dissection of Seattle's offensive line last Sunday.
While Green Bay, prepping for a Falcons rematch this week, handled Atlanta's rushing attack well in last year's playoff loss (Devonta Freeman had just 42 yards on 14 carries, while Tevin Coleman got 29 yards on 11 carries), the 392-yard, four-touchdown performance put on by Matt Ryan negated any good vibes and lumped all Packers defensive players into the same narrative.