Preseason Game #3 X's & O's: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Orange and Brown Report brings you your weekly dose of chalk talk as we examine the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Cleveland Browns' 30-13 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Without further ado, let's go to the film room....

The Good

1. Wide receiver Josh Gordon made a splash in his 2016 preseason debut, catching his only two targets for 87 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown.

In his first action since December of 2014, the troubled but talented wideout showed exactly why the team chose to stand by him throughout his multiple suspensions. displaying outstanding speed, strength, technique, and tracking on his way to two explosive plays.

Gordon's first catch came off a beautiful 'out-and-up' double move in which he quickly broke the Cover 3 cornerback's cushion, stemmed to the sideline to give the appearance of an outside-breaking route, and pressed back upfield as the cornerback lost track of the route.

Subtleties sell routes. The set-up for the double move starts at the line of scrimmage as Gordon releases inside (towards the center of the field) to give the appearance that he needs to create room to run a speed out or comeback towards the sideline. Gordon displays nice footwork as he pushes off the outside leg to cut back upfield, forcing the cornerback to make a 180-degree turn and creating instant seperation. The top-five receiver (when playing) then shows outstanding ball skills as he tracks the ball and catches it with his palms up and his thumbs together.

Later in the first half the oft-suspended receiver continued to flash, as he showed a veteran's savvy to create room on a slightly underthrown ball, hauling in his second target for a 44-yard touchdown.

This throw was probably going to Gordon all the way as head coach Hue Jackson likely targeted the Baylor product on a 9 route to exploit the personnel mismatch created by man coverage with a single deep safety.

The route itself was unspectacular. Gordon did a good job as released outside to put himself between the defender and the sideline, and he broke the cushion fairly quickly. The  veteran move came as both players approached the seven-yard line. Focus on Gordon's arms in the clip below:

In order to create separation at the top of the route, receiver's are taught to use a subtle push if the defender is hip-to-hip or overtop as we see here. Even a slight nudge will accelerate the defender's momentum further downfield, creating an opportunity to catch the ball unimpeded.

Focus on the hands again. In order to avoid a pass interference call, Gordon needs to simply avoid extending his arms. If the receiver keeps his hands tight to his body this will never be called. Ever.

After creating separation with the nudge, we again see Gordon track the ball and make a great catch for a much-needed touchdown midway through the second quarter of play.

2, Running back Isaiah Crowell has looked more explosive through three preseason games, likely due to enhanced agility/balance drills in the offseason and a running scheme that does not force the former Georgia Bulldog to make multiple reads at the line of scrimmage.

At the 8:58 mark of the second quarter, Jackson dialed up a well-designed tailback sweep concept designed to get the third-year player into the wide-side alley.

The 'Tailback Sweep' is a variant of Jackson's bread-and-butter 'Pin-and-Pull' concept. The play is designed to crack block playside linebackers with wide receivers while pulling a combination of guards, tackles, and even centers to block the force man and alley fill. If executed correctly, the concept will consistently result in explosive plays as the blocking scheme accounts for the defensive line, linebacker, and alley defender.

Notice that wide receiver Terrelle Pryor and tight end Randall Telfer both execute outstanding crack blocks on the left defensive end and SAM (strongside linebacker). Because the SAM has been crack-blocked, the defense must execute a 'crack replace' concept in which the cornerback now has responsibility to set the edge, forcing the ball carrier back inside to the pursuit. The pulling tackle gets just enough of the charging cornerback (who should have chopped the lineman's legs to create a pile) to push him past the play while the guard fits the safety at the 40-yard line..

Crowell's run was impressive because as was often seen last year, when forced to make quick changes of direction or take minimal contact, the tailback often lost his balance when there were yards to be gained. Crow's second cut near the 41-yard line showed his improvement over last season as he not only kept his feet, but accelerated past the safety to gain another seven yards. This is not necessarily a play he would have made last year and hopefully points to a more effective runner come regular season.

The Bad

1. The Brown's secondary continues to give up consistent pass receptions in man coverage, particularly on intermediate-level throws (10-20 yards) Gilbert displayed poor man fundamentals on an 18-yard gain to receiver Vincent Jackson.

Gilbert starts the play in good position, countering the receiver's 'Nasty' split (tight to the line of scrimmage and often an indication of a crossing route) with off-man coverage and outside leverage. As Jackson moves past the area of the field in which three-step routes like slants and hitches will be thrown, the cornerback turns inside to get hip-to-hip with the pass catcher (known as being 'in phase'). Gilbert's breakdown occurs as Jackson crosses the 30-yard line.

Focus on the cornerback's helmet and eyes. He is clearly reading the receiver's shoulders, a huge blunder when playing man coverage. Good receivers will dip and shake their shoulders away from the route in order to trick the defender into opening the wrong way.

Whether in press position at the line of scrimmage or running with a pass catcher, cornerbacks are taught to read the hips. Like the lovely Shakira says, "the hips don't lie". The body must move in whatever direction the hips are pointing. It's that simple. 

Gilbert takes extra steps upfield and then almost stumbles as he adjusts to Jackson's drag route because he was not reading the receiver's hips. His angle to the receiver was poor as well, although the point is moot as the cornerback was already beat.

2. While the running game has looked very good in spurts, the lack of improvement in blocking from the tight end position in very disconcerting.

Down 3-0 the offense elected to run the gap-blocked 'Iso Strong' concept. The important blocks are the center/right guard double team the nose tackle in a 1-technique (shaded over the outside shoulder of the center) while the fullback will insert through the B-gap to block the MIKE. 

Focus on tight end Gary Barnidge (#82), aligned in a three-point stance on the left side of the line and notice who makes the tackle.

A cardinal rule of blocking the backside of any gap concept is to not get beat across the face. Barnidge manages to do exactly that, even with the advantage of the defensive end aligned on his outside shoulder. If the pass-catching tight end can cut off the inside lane, forcing the defender to attack his outside shoulder and rush through the D-gap, the end is not running this play down from behind.

Barnidge's form is very poor. He does not take two hard steps inside to put his body between the defender and the C-gap, his punch is non-existent (thumbs up, two hands to the chest plate, and aim for the playside number) and he lowers his head (you can't block what you can't see). The defender easily sheds the tight end's hands and knifes into the backfield to hit Crowell at the line of scrimmage for a minimal gain, putting the offense in a predictable third-and-long passing down.

Telfer's rise up the depth chart is directly attributable to his ability as an inline blocker. Barnidge needs to step up his blocking game immediately if he wants to be more than a flex tight end in Jackson's offense.

The Ugly

1. While pass protection has been adequate through two games, Thursday night's dress rehearsal exposed several weaknesses along the offensive line ,as starting quarterback Robert Griffin III was sacked five times during the first half.

As The Orange and Brown Report contributor Sobo analyzed in this week's Musings article, the right side of the offensive line miserably failed to pick up a simple 'NUT' stunt, executed between a nose and defensive tackle.

The NUT stunt is run with the nose tackle pinching inside to make contact with the center and/o guard, while the defensive tackle will loops around opposite the nose's pinch. If executed correctly the nose will hold up the tackle's blocker, preventing the offensive line from exchanging rushers and leading to a free run at the quarterback.

Let's see the twist in action:

We see the right interior lineman (#91) pinch inside to make contact with the right guard and center, while the left interior lineman (#93) takes a step back and moves laterally to cross the pinching lineman.

The left guard and center take the looping lineman while the pincher works across the center's face and finds himself with a clear lane to the quarterback.

While center Cam Erving was widely blamed for this sack, this one *might* not be on him (keep in mind it is impossible to say for certain without the exact line call; this is a best guess).

Assuming BOB (Big on Big) protection, with the offense utilizing two backs to keep seven blockers in the backfield right guard John Greco has no need to turn and help with the edge rusher as the left tackle and tailback have him handled. On the other hand, if the line is running a zone-based slide protection in which each blocker is responsible for a specific gap, Erving must come off the initial contact to pick up the pincher coming through the A-gap on his right side.

If I was a betting man (Okay I am), I would say the offense ran a zone-based protection based on the fact the tailbacks do not appear to read inside-to-out as would be expected for most man-based pass blocking schemes. If this was the call, the breakdown falls squarely on Erving's shoulders as he did not protect his gap.

2. While several young players have put consistent pressure on the quarterback and recorded sacks through two games (Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah come to mind), the first-team defensive line has been unable to generate a consistent pass rush, whether rushing four or running defensive coordinator Ray Horton's blitz package.

Facing first down, the offense attempts to overload the left side of the Bucc's offensive line in order to create a clear lane for the MIKE. Justin Gilbert is left in press man coverage to the backside of the trips formation on the top of the screen with the goal of disrupting the wide receiver, eliminating the short game and giving the blitz time to get home.

In what has become a regular theme this preseason, the blitz fails to reach the quarterback and the defensive back is beat off the line for another explosive gain. Horton's pass-rush scheme requires ends that can get to the quarterback and defenders (particularly linebackers) that can play man coverage. So far the defense has not shown the ability to do either. Expect a VERY UGLY season on the defensive side of the ball if the unit cannot manufacture a pass rush via scheme and extra rushers. Through three games fans have seen very little to expect a magical turnaround once the regular season commences.

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