If you are a fan of The Princess Bride, you may be familiar with the phrase, but I feel it is a good axiom to describe the few plays that were run by the Browns this past game against the Atlanta Falcons from the “Wishbone.” In this version of the wishbone, two players were lined up in the “Pro Set” with a third player behind the quarterback. The Browns used this formation as well as a modified version with QB Baker Mayfield in the shotgun instead of being under center. This was a formation made famous in the 1970s and 1980s, so the question is why is it back with the Browns?
For the wishbone to be effective the team needs a quarterback who can run. One of the plays run out of the wishbone was a pass to Baker Mayfield. While it ended up being an interception, schematically, it showed that Mayfield has the ability to run well. In the case of this specific play, many people are looking back and saying it was the wrong call. While that might be true, it helps to show that all four players in the wishbone backfield need to be accounted for.
Another aspect of the wishbone is that defenders do not know where the ball will be coming from. Depending on who is in the backfield with the quarterback it is possible that any of the players might get called on to make the play. Additionally, just because one player starts the play with the ball in their hands does not mean that that is how it will end. One of the plays was a handoff to RB Duke Johnson. When he was in the process of getting tackled for a short loss he pitched the ball back to RB Nick Chubb who gained a couple yards. Was it a game-breaking play? No, but it was something the defense needed to account for and had Chubb got around the defender, he could have had a huge gain.
As the wishbone is typically seen as a running formation, the defense starts to sneak up and add defenders to the box. This is when a quick pass to a receiver is called for. On the drive that the Browns kept lining up in this formation, the Falcons defenders started playing closer to the line of scrimmage and Baker Mayfield was able to connect with WR Breshad Perriman for a 17-yard completion on a quick slant.
One last thing that came out of the formation was passes out of the backfield to the likes of RBs Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard. Due to the fact that all three are back there, the Browns can mix and match which one stays in to block and which go out to catch passes in the flat. Also, if they prefer to put one of the tight ends back there it lets them release into their route in space instead of coming off the line where the defender can disrupt their timing.
Since there are so many options of plays that can be run from the wishbone I started this article with the phrase “as you wish” to say that whatever the Browns wish to do from this formation it is available to them. Also, there is the obvious play on words with the formation being known as the wishbone.
One final point, the timing of this is no coincidence. The Browns will go into their Bye Week with the opportunity to work more from the wishbone and improve if they so choose to. Furthermore, the teams that will be playing the Browns after their Bye will now have to spend time practicing against the wishbone which may open up other opportunities from more traditional formations.