Cleveland Browns' X's & O's - Anatomy of a Scoring Drive #11: Stretching the Field with Floods

In part #10 of the OBR's ‘Anatomy of a Scoring Drive: A Play a Day’ series, the Bengals' offense went to the air off play action for the first time this drive with a 'Swap Boot' concept. On 2nd down we stay with the passing game to analyze a clever split-safety beater using a boundary flood.

Play #10 Recap

Down/distance - 1st and 10

Field Position – Right hash of the Browns’ 14-yard line

Formation – Pistol Pro Wing Left Z Nasty

Concept – Swap Boot

Result - Incomplete pass (Dalton throw away)

Facing a 1st and 10 Bengals' offensive coordinator Hue Jackson stayed in the air, attempting to catch Browns' defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil leaning towards 
"run" with a play action 'Swap Boot' concept.

The Browns' defense did a great job executing by quickly reading their run/pass keys and playing their coverage responsibilities--Craig Robertson and Paul Kruger stood out--leaving Bengal's quarterback Andy Dalton with nowhere to go with the ball expect the stands. Dalton ultimately threw the ball out of play, giving the defense their first true win of the drive and setting up a 2nd and 10.

Trends through ten plays:

  • After running the ball four of the first five plays, the Bengals' play calls have balanced out to a 5/5 run/pass mix.
  • The defensive front-seven alignment continues to create large run bubbles
  • Hue Jackson has attacked the outside gaps three out of five running plays with the Counter OF (C-gap), Pin-and-Pull (D-gap), and Outside Zone (D-gap). He has also attacked large interior run bubbles with the Iso/Lead on two of the previous three running plays
  • The offense has consistently created numbers at the point of attack via well-designed blocking schemes 
  • NT Danny Shelton has yet to prevent a scoop to the second level when he is combo-blocked (three plays). As a result, the Browns' linebackers are unable to freely scrap to the ball, leading to solid gains on the ground. Jaime Meder's single appearance this drive resulted in the nose tackle bullying his blocker into the backfield, altering the tailback's path to the hole and likely saving the defense some yardage.
  • Hue Jackson is now attacking match-ups through the air. In three of the previous seven plays he has schemed one-on-one coverage in space via alignment and concept for Tyler Eifert, A.J. Green, and Marvin Jones. The aggressive coach is creating opportunities to get the ball out in space to his skill position players.


Play #11

Down/distance - 2nd and 10

Field Position – Right hash of the Browns’ 14-yard line

Formation – Gun Trey Left X Nasty Back Weak

Concept – Boundary Flood/Backside Levels

The Bengals' offense returns to a 'spread' formation, showing 'Trey left' (two receivers and an inline tight end) with the boundary X receiver aligned in a 'nasty' split (reduced distance to the formation to create space for his out-breaking route). The defense counters with their base 3-4 'Under' front, creating a five-man surface on the line of scrimmage by walking the SAM up over the tight end. Behind the front-seven the defense aligns with two-high safeties, indicating a split-safety coverage shell like Cover 2 or Cover 4.

Dalton can further narrow down the coverage with a quick scan of the defense. Notice the strong-side safety aligned with an outside shade, 10-yards off the #2 receiver to the three-receiver side. This is often a cue that the defense is in Cover 4 as the safety is responsible for the middle receiver if he pushes vertical. The cornerback's depth and alignment with the outside foot up and backs to the sideline also point to 'Quarters' coverage. Finally, the lack of rotation as Dalton runs through his cadence indicates he will be facing MOFO (middle of the field open) coverage. The offense can quickly throw out Cover 1 and Cover 3. 

The Browns' defense continues to scheme towards taking away A.J. Green in the red zone, as there is no second receiver to immediately threaten the boundary-side safety. Although most defensive coaches are loath to let defenders 'guard grass' O'Neil has decided to do just that, with his weak-safety playing a pseudo inside-out bracket coverage on the Pro Bowl receiver. Should the offense runs a '3 Verticals concept (the tight end pushes upfield through the seam into the middle of the field), the safety will have to come off Green to rob the vertical route from the #3 receiver.

Bengals' offensive coordinator Hue Jackson decides to stay in the air for the third straight play, running a split-safety beating 'Hi-Lo/Levels' concept in which all five eligible receivers flood the boundary, short-side of the field. While the concept is designed to target Cover 2 and Cover 4, it does have built-in man coverage beaters and hot routes with the tight end shallow cross and the tailback flat route. 

Against a true 2-deep, zone-under defense Dalton will likely look to the 'Levels' concept run by the #1 and #2 receiver. The read is a simple 'hi-lo' on the seam/hook defender. If he aggressively carries the Dig/Skinny Post upfield, hit the five-yard In. If he jumps the short route, hit the Dig over his head. Should the defense shows a hard Cover 2, the speed out should stretch the half-field safety to open up room for the Dig/Skinny. All this information is likely a moot point as Dalton has probably eliminated a Tampa 2 here due to the aforementioned pre-snap reads; when the SAM stays on the line of scrimmage through the cadence (he would need to widen out to carry a vertical by the #2 receiver before the snap) he can confirm the Cover 4 shell.

The 'X' receiver, tight end, and tailback's routes work together to create a three-level 'hi-lo' vertical and horizontal stretch on the boundary curl/flat defender. The quarterback is likely reading the progression as:

  1. Peek the speed out by A.J. Green
  2. Shallow cross
  3. Flat route

The line between 'progressions' and 'reads' becomes blurry as Dalton moves off the peek route to the shallow and flat. While most route concepts are read from long-to-short, Dalton will not read the routes like a robot. Because Cover 4 utilizes curl/flat coverage to each side, this defenders' action may dictate Dalton skip the shallow entirely and move to the flat route. The media perpetuates a very common misconception that progressions are rigid, robot-like reads in which the quarterback MUST look one-two-three in EXACT order. In reality, progressions are fluid and will change based on the defensive coverage after the snap. A quarterback who walks up to the line of scrimmage with a preconceived notion of how he will read his receivers' routes is a quarterback who will be baited into making mistakes.

Notice that Dalton immediately moves his eyes to the right-side of the field. He has correctly diagnosed the Cover 4 shell and wants to target the three-level route concept. The routes are probably designed to align the top of Dalton's drop with Green's break on the speed out. If the first option is covered Dalton will bounce his feet as he moves to the shallow and flat (without the play call it is impossible to say with 100% certainty what the reads are; don't trust anyone that makes absolute claims).

Because the defender's depth and leverage have taken away the speed out, the progression moves on to the shallow and flat. Dalton knows the flat route will widen the curl/flat defender, leaving Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert matched-up with a linebacker in space. Watch how Eifert easily beats SAM Barkevious Mingo's collision and continues across the formation unimpeded. We can see Dalton's trust in Eifert as the ball is out before the tight end crosses the linebacker's face at the right hash.

Eifert makes the reception and is immediately tackled for a 5-yard gain. Although the offense wanted to target Green at the goal line, Dalton did a great job correctly diagnosing the defense, making the correct read, and getting the ball to a playmaker. A tight end of Eifert's caliber could have easily broken the tackle and housed the shallow for six points. While 3rd and 56 is not an ideal down/distance for the offense, it does provide Hue Jackson with more flexibility than a 3rd and 10.

Based on what we have seen thus far, it is certainly a safe assumption that Jackson will create and target a personnel match-up on this key third down play. Tune in for the OBR's next installment to find out who is getting the ball and how it is getting there.

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