Tackling is now the Cleveland Browns' sore thumb and Achilles' heel. Is there a doctor in the house?
For the second straight week, the Cleveland Browns were upended late in a winnable game by a new bugaboo tackling technique in need of major adjustments. The three missed tackles on Santonio Holmes' last-second overtime touchdown catch, and then the tackling nightmare on the short pass to Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew with 2:27 left in the game that turned into a 75-yard near-touchdown pass by way of five missed tackles.
As we discussed in the Jags preview last week, Jacksonville will often use interesting route combinations to set up running and shorter passing plays. The Jones-Drew play was a great example of this. The Jags set up with three wide against Cleveland's 4-2 nickel defense, and quarterback David Garrard did a great job with initial read misdirection at the snap. He looked to his left, first targeting receiver Mike Thomas (80) before turning his attention to the right for the quick pass to Drew. Based on the route concepts, nobody on the Jacksonville coaching staff expected a big play out of this one – Thomas ran a straight yardless out route, Kasim Osgood (81) went short upfield, and Chris McGaha went vertical on the other side.
But the bubble screen look to Thomas took linebacker Matt Roth (53) out of the play, and the free pass rushers gave Garrard the opening needed to get the ball to Jones-Drew, who then scooted through the Browns' defense. That was the concept; the execution was far worse. Because we don't have playbook software which can successfully diagram a 75-yard play in which half a defense whiffs on the way, we'll just do the blow-by-blow.
By my count, Shaun Rodgers was the first to whiff, followed by cornerback Raymond Ventrone (outrun) and safety T.J. Ward (bad angle). Sheldon Brown was the next to tackle air, as Jones-Drew moved from his right to his left. Cornerback Joe Haden was first blocked out by McGaha before regaining his footing, but before that could happen, we had to endure the performance of safety Abram Elam, who fell into two Jaguars. Kudos to Haden for regaining his position and tackling Jones-Drew at the one-yard line, that kind of effort is something for the team to build on, However, the tackling and positioning on that play was the kind of thing that can ruin any chance a team has of getting to the next level.
On the next play, running back Rashad Jennings (we're assuming Jones-Drew must have been gassed after that long journey) bounced out to the right side, and two more Browns blew tackles -- linebackers Davis Bowens and Eric Barton – before Ward brought Jennings down just short of the end zone. Jones-Drew did come in on the next play, and scored the touchdown that put the Jags ahead for good.
We've discussed the fact that on a performance versus won-loss record basis, the Browns may be the unluckiest team in the NFL. However, there's no luck, bad or otherwise, in the one thing that plagues this team more than anything else right now, and it's the main reason that're 0-2 in their two last contests. There's no question that this franchise is on the right path. And young defenses often have this problem. You have to assume that more and more, everyone from Eric Mangini to Tom Heckert to Mike Holmgren will be looking to Rob Ryan to get this thing fixed.