Browns-Eagles X's & O's: Autopsy of a Loss

With the Cleveland Browns suffering their 12th consecutive season-opening loss at the hands of the Philidelphia Eagles, The Orange and Brown Report performs an autopsy to determine what went so wrong.

"It's like déjà vu all over again."

~Yogi Berra

In the wake of a 29-10 defeat to the Philidelphia Eagle, the excitement Browns' fans felt over a new front office, coaching staff, and group of young players should be tempered as more of the same is likely on the way. 

Despite a competitive first half that saw the squad head into the locker room down only six points, an errant Cam Erving snap led to the downward spiral fans have become accustomed to, as the unit was outscored by 13 points in the second half (Did we mention by a rookie quarterback the team elected to pass over during the 2016 draft?). The offensive unit also managed to lose starting quarterback Robert Griffin III for at least six weeks due to a hard hit delivered during a meaningless drive, ensuring the never-ending quarterback carousel continues, as history has shown new starter Josh McCown is extremely unlikely to stay healthy for an entire season.  

Ain't it great being a Browns' fan?

The Orange and Brown Report has performed an autopsy on both sides of the ball to determine where scheme, personnel, and technique fell apart, leading to yet another soul-crushing opening-week loss.

The Offense

The offense was hampered by a lack of consistent drives, leading to several three-and-outs. Even worse, the unit was only able to maintain possession by hitting explosive plays, something that cannot be counted on to happen on a week-to-week basis. The first ten plays (scripted by the offensive coaching staff) lacked continuity and seemed to have little flow, leading to minimal gains in the run game and obvious third down passing situations.

Although the team did attempt to establish a run game early, missed assignments and poor execution led to very short gains or losses, effectively tying the offense's hands behind its' back on second and third down.

Early on the offense attempted to "read off" a run defender using a "Power Read" concept with Terrelle Pryor at the quarterback position.

Football is often a game of numbers. The unit that can bring more numbers to the point of attack - known as "leverage" - will generally win the play. 

Coaches love leverage at the point of attack.

It is that simple. 

The OBR previously broke down RGIII's success in reading off defenders as part of a larger film study of his 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign.

The 2012 Redskins’ bread and butter between-the-tackles run concept was basic Inside Zone with a backside read of an unblocked defensive player (usually a defensive end or stand-up outside linebacker). The idea behind the concept is simple; leave a box player unblocked to rebalance numbers at the line of scrimmage in the offense’s favor. Anytime an offense can put a blocker on every defender at the point of attack, the play will likely lead to positive yardage. Due to Griffin’s natural speed and athleticism, as well as his familiarity with the play concept from his college days, Inside Zone proved to be exceptionally successful.

Inside zone is likely the simplest zone concept to block and run. Each offensive lineman is assigned a certain ‘area’ to block. If there is a defender in that area (known as ‘covered’) block him using zone technique (short lateral/45 degree step towards the play, aiming for the defender’s outside number). If there is no defender in that area (known as ‘uncovered’), start with a lateral step and read the next near defender. If the defender moves outside (Figure 1) climb to the second level looking for a linebacker. If the defender moves inside (Figure 2), double team him by engaging the near shoulder, getting hip-to-hip with the other blocker, and moving the eyes to the second level in case a linebacker shows (note there are MANY ways to teach inside zone blocking technique; each coach has his/hers own preference).

The running back will read the block on an interior defensive lineman (these rules vary by coach) to determine which hole to hit. Generally, the read moves the tailback's eyes from:

  1. Playside B-Gap
  2. Playside A-gap
  3. Backside A-gap

    The ‘option’ component of the play comes when the offense elects to leave the backside (away from the play) EMLOS (End Man on Line OScrimmage) unblocked, allowing the quarterback to read the defender’s movement at the mesh point. The quarterback has two choices with the read:

    1.  If the read man pinches inside to play the running back, pull the ball and run outside through the area the defender has vacated.
    2.  If the defender stays wide to play the quarterback bootleg, hand-off to the running back, eliminating the chance of the read man chasing the play down from behind.

    In our first example, the Redskins’ offense comes out in a balanced formation, using 12 personnel (number of running backs and tight ends) from the Pistol formation. The read man is the 6i defensive end (#84) aligned over the inside shoulder of the tight end.

    Remember, if the read man holds his ground by staying square to the line of scrimmage Griffin will give to the tailback running Inside Zone. If the read man pinches inside, Griffin will pull the ball and run through the area the defender just vacated.

    Focus on the read defender in the GIF below:

    Let's slow down the tape to watch the read again. 

    Notice how the defensive end not only pinches inside, but turns his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. He has put his body in a position where he cannot turn his shoulders and hips to run with the quarterback should he pull the ball. Griffin makes a quick, decisive read and uses his athleticism to cut inside the cornerback for six.

    Before getting into the play, it is important to note that the decision to use Pryor in lieu of RGIII in this position is questionable at best.

    Rather than run a traditional Inside Zone/Backside read combination, head coach Hue Jackson dialed up a play designed to attack both the perimeter and interior by reading the play-side defensive end.

    Power Read relies on a combination of down-blocks, pulls, and a frontside read to create interior and perimeter running lanes. Against an aggressive defensive line, the concept can punish edge defenders who shoot upfield while the puller influences linebackers away from the play if the quarterback pulls the ball.

    The read man is the left defensive end (#75) aligned in a wide-9 technique. The defender's alignment should cue the quarterback pre-snap to three important factors:

    1. The read will likely be a "keep" as the lineman's width will prevent him from squeezing the quarterback keep through the A-gap
    2. The play-side linebackers will likely scrape HARD to the outside as the read the guard's pull,which will open up the A-gap
    3. The lineman's width will put him in great position to force the tailback inside to the pursuit should the quarterback give the ball

    These factors lead to one conclusion; unless the defensive line shifts before the snap the quarterback should be prepared to carry out the mesh and pull the ball. The tailback will rarely get outside the wide-9 successfully.

    Let's see what happened:

    Start with the read man. Notice that the right tackle and right guard immediately double-team the 3-technique (#91) before moving to a linebacker, as #75 should have been optioned off.

    Move your eyes to the interior linebackers, #53 and #58. When they read the down-block from the right tackle (#53) and the pull from the left guard (#58) both aggressively execute their run fits, leaving a large running lane in the middle fo the formation. If Pryor pulls this and gets downhill as designed, he would likely have gained positive yards here. 

    Instead, tailback Isaiah Crowell is forced to widen his path towards the sideline instead of attacking the alley between the hashes and the numbers, leading to a one-yard gain and a pass-heavy tendency second-and-long. The Browns' lack of talent and experience cannot survive these predictable down and distances.

    Pryor did not execute here, but the coaching staff did not put the offense in optimal position to succeed. 

    With that said, the offensive woes cannot be solely placed at the feet of the quarterback.

    The Browns receiving corps dropped several catchable balls, including Pro Bowl tight end Gary Barnidge on a well-thrown back shoulder fade.

    Jackson showed his desire to create personnel mismatches by placing the talented pass catcher on the backside of a 3X1, or Trips formation, forcing the Eagles secondary to cover him with a smaller defensive back in obvious man coverage.

    Watch teams with above average tight ends like the Patriots and Chiefs and you will see the same formation and match-ups. The tight end will use his height, weight, and frame to box out the smaller defender on quick game routes like slants and vertical routes like 9s.

    Although the pressed defensive back does not get a hand on Barnidge at the line of scrimmage, he does a good job sticking to the hip while maintaining inside leverage. This is the perfect situation for the backside throw, as the defender cannot go through the body of the receiver to make a play at an outside-thrown ball. RGIII puts the ball exactly where it needs to be, but the normally sure-handed Barnidge fails to make the catch. The offense worked extensively on back shoulder throws during summer camp, making the lack of execution that much more infuriating.

    Early in the second quarter, Jackson attempted to manufacture a catch for first round draft pick Corey Coleman via the "Emory and Henry" formation, in which the offense places the tackles in a "stack" formation on the edges of the field to clear the inside.

    Jackson was notorious for his use of the formation during his tenure as the Bengals' offensive coordinator. The alignment is a great change up because it forces the defense to play a numbers game (remember leverage?) on the stack formations to prevent Now screens while also accounting for possible tailback and quarterback runs in the middle of the field.  

    The press defensive back immediately attacks the tight end due to the tackle's block, which provides a free release for Coleman to run his slant route.

    The play action pulls the invert (#98) and MIKE (#58) towards the line of scrimmage to create a beautiful throwing window for RGII and Coleman to exploit. Unfortunately, Coleman's suspect hands lead to another dropped pass as he lets the ball get into his body instead of using his hands to snatch it out of the air.

    At the very least the speedy receiver could have moved the chains with a first down catch. If he makes a man miss, who knows how far he goes from there?

    Our final play from the offensive side of the ball looks at poor pass protection.

    It is important to note that although the pass protection was not good, RGIII was rushed or hit several times when he should have stepped up into the pocket as he moved from the first read in his progression. Offensive linemen take angles in their kick-steps trusting that the quarterback will be at the correct spot (the Joe Thomas "sack" come to mind).

    The Eagles defense needed no help from RGIII's lack of pocket awareness as right tackle Austin Pastzor demonstrated his limitations as a pass blocker on the edge as the right side fo the offensive line was blown up on the way to one of three sacks recorded on the afternoon.

    Facing a wide-9 defensive end, the blocker must take a DEEP kick step in order to gain depth and put the body in position to alter the rusher's path. From there continue stepping to the point where the defender will bend inside for the quarterback. The offensive lineman's body should slightly turn so the hips and shoulders remain aligned to maintain the power base. Aggressively punch the inside shoulder of the rusher. If he continues inside apply more pressure with the inside hands. If the defender attempts to bend the edge by going outside, push him past the quarterback.

    Pasztor commits the cardinal sin of letting his hips and shoulders get out of alignment, leading to a loss of power and balance. His shoulders are slightly turned at the point of contact, his feet are off the ground, and he receives the blow instead of delivering.

    With his balance and power compromised he is easily slammed into the turf, tripping the right guard and allowing the 2-i defensive tackle to make the sack.

    The Defense

    As many expected, the defense fared poorly against the pass, allowing 278 yard and two touchdowns to rookie quarterback Carson Wentz playing his first game as a pro.

    Cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Joe Haden were both victimized for long touchdown receptions, a scary sign for a team that will lean on a man-coverage heavy scheme this season.

    Wentz's first touchdown came off a well-executed "Slot-Fade" combo, a Man-Hi killer that uses a short route from the outside receiver to clear out room for a fade route from the slot receiver.

    One of, if not the best NFL writers in the business, ESPN analyst Matt Bowen explained:

    "When Wentz comes to the line here, empty formation, sees both corners pressed outside, sees a single-high safety over the top," Bowen said. "The weakside safety, you can tell he's walking down. You can tell right before the snap just by his stance, by his alignment, where he is over No. 2 [receiver], that he's coming down [to cover him]. So Wentz, the first thing he knows is he's got man coverage. He's got man coverage the entire way."

    He went on to say:

    "So Wentz knows, I have a one-on-one matchup and I have a lot of room to work with. What I have to do here is give a quick look off to the free safety just to hold him for a second, then I have no help over the top for the defense, and it's all about the ball placement now. It's all about the ball placement. Because he's fading to the outside, I want to put this throw on the upfield shoulder away from the defender's leverage because Matthews beats him off the snap, fades outside, and now the defensive back is stuck inside."

    Let's see Matt's excellent breakdown in action:

    Because Williams cannot press the receiver from a slot alignment, he must rely on quick hips and make-up speed to play any vertical route. With little gas left in the tank, the cornerback is easily beating by the wide receiver, who catches a dime from Wentz. Big bank takes little bank.

    Even more concerning, Wentz's second touchdown pass came against the units "best" cover cornerback, Joe Haden, on a simple 9 route.

    The cornerback's press alignment have likely alerted the North Dakota State product to man coverage, as defensive coordinator Ray Horton's defenses rarely play Cover 2 or Cover 3 with press-bail technique. 

    Knowing that he has his receiver on a vertical route with little chance of over-the-top help, the rookie again holds the safety with his eyes before delivering another dime to his receiver.

    While the quarterback did deliver a beautiful ball, the play was over at the line of scrimmage as Haden bit on a nice In-Out release by the Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor.

    Agholor wants to win an outside release towards the sideline, ensuring that his quarterback can deliver a ball that only he can catch. If the quarterback where to overthrow the pass, the ball simply ends up out of bounds and the offense lives to run another play on the Browns' side of the field.The In-Out release is a three-step move in which the receiver pushes off the front foot towards the defender's crotch, jab steps inside with the second step to

    The In-Out release is a three-step move in which the receiver pushes off the front foot towards the defender's crotch, jab steps inside with the second step to sell an in-breaking route like a slant, and pushes back outside across the defender's face. The move is often accompanied by hand-fighting techniques such as the club/rip or club/swim to clear the defender's hands.

    The second-year player did not need to bring his hands to this fight because Haden likely did not read his key - the receiver's hips - causing him to take a false step (watch his left foot) and then overcompensate by opening his hips away from the route's direction.

    From there, Agholor correctly bends his route towards the sideline, ensuring that Haden will have to go across his body to make a play on the ball, likely leading to a pass interference call if the catch is not made.

    Our final play demonstrates the lack of disguise and predictability Browns' fans have come to expect of a Horton-coached defense.

    Early in the first quarter on a first and ten in his opponent's territory, a rookie quarterback is able to diagnose a run blitz, check into a play attacking the blitz, and execute for nine yards!

    Take that in for a moment.....

    In the clip below, watch the inside linebacker tip the blitz, allowing Wentz to check into a play action concept towards the blitzer's side of the field. The direction of the concept is important because the stand-up rusher will likely have the quarterback on any bootlegs, leaving the tight end free to slip into the flat for an easy pitch-and-catch.

    At the snap strong safety Ibraheim Campbell drops into the box, replacing the blitzing linebacker in pass coverage. The Eagles' offensive line, quarterback, and tailback do a great job selling the run action, causing the Northwestern Wildcat to take several steps towards the line of scrimmage before recognizing the pass.

    Wentz does a great job squaring his shoulders and delivering the ball to tight end Zack Ertz on the edge, leading to a great first down gain and an eventual score.

    With a reclamation project at quarterback and a squad full of first and second-year players, expectations should have been tempered. After the first game of the 2016 season, expectations might need to be tempered further as both sides of the ball show serious deficiencies in talent and experience. Even moral victories may be hard to come by this season, but with an owner committed (supposedly) to a long-term plan, a slew of draft picks in 2017, and a core group of young talent to be developed, fans might yet have a glimmer of hope

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