Wide receiver Corey Coleman, the Browns' first-round selection in the 2016 draft broke out in a big way with five reception for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
After a disappointing preseason and first game that saw the Baylor product play with tentativeness and display poor hands on several occasions, the rookie showed flashes of being the explosive playmaker Browns' brass thought they were drafting.
While one game does not make a career, Coleman's second game was a huge step in the right direction as he displayed the route running, use of hands, COD skills, and strength he showed in college on the way to leading the FBS Division with 20 receiving touchdown his final college season. If the Rookie of the Week candidate can continue to translate the positive elements of his college game - while continuing to work on his inconsistent hand and running the full NFL route tree - the Browns may have finally nailed a first round pick after several recent high-profile swing and misses.
Coleman opened the scoring last Sunday with a flash play, catching a 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Josh McCown to cap a 9 play, 75-yard drive.
Facing 3rd-and-10 from Baltimore's 31-yard line, head coach/offensive coordinator Hue Jackson dialed up the 'Split-Dig' (a longtime Jackson favorite) to the three receiver side, leaving the rookie to run a backside (away from the strength of the formation) 9 route against an obvious MOFC (Middle of the Field Closed) coverage shell.
This was likely a targeted shot due to both alignment and concept. Even in a zone defense, most teams check to some form of man coverage on the backside of a three-receiver surface (Barnidge is aligned in a Y-off, but will be treated as an inline tight end) to create a 4-over-3 match to the strongside. This puts the speedy receiver in a one-on-one matchup with cornerback often playing press technique while forcing the deep safety to cheat the three-man routes away from the 9. Even with deep help available on the grease board, the coverage plays out like Cover 0 because the safety simply has too much distance to cover in order to make a play at the bottom of the numbers.
While the touchdown certainly brought Browns' fans to their feet, the beautiful part of the play occurred at the line of scrimmage as Coleman used a 'Gain 2' release to set-up the cornerback before breaking vertical.
Many coaches teach the 9/Fade/Go route using an MOR (Mandatory Outside Release) rule. Rather than attempting to beat the cornerback outside using a standard 'In-Out' release one generally sees from the 9, Coleman uses a savvy move often utilized when running slant routes to open the defender's hips to the sideline before cutting back across his face to push upfield.
The 'Gain 2' is run with three hard steps angled towards the sideline. This gives the appearance of the standard MOR rule, forcing the corner to open his hips away from the route's ultimate direction as the receiver will stem back across the defender's face on the third step receivers align with their inside foot on the line of scrimmage for a variety of reasons; one being the ability to create proper spacing for a slant route by ensuring the third step is taken with the outside leg).
The defender takes the outside release bait hook, line, and sinker, immediately opening his hips away from the route's break, putting himself in such poor position to turn and run that he makes a 270-degree turn in an attempt to catch Coleman.
Notice how Coleman uses his hands as he crosses the defender's face. Although unnecessary due to the cornerback's poor body position, the pass-catcher executes the outstanding club/swim move that impressed many OBR writers (including this one) during his college days.
McCown looks off the safety just long enough to keep him out of the play and Coleman does an outstanding job tracking the ball, securing the catch, and ensuring he gets both feet in on a ball precariously close to the backline of the end zone.
Coleman's second touchdown of the afternoon came off another designed throw, a simple 'Now' screen, that showcased the pass catcher's open field quicks and strength as a runner.
On a 1st and 10 play from Baltimore's 11-yard line, McCown simply turned and threw to Coleman as the cornerback's depth prevented him from making a play on the ball. From there it was all Coleman
I believe the Browns' offense came to the line of scrimmage with both a run play and a pass play. Because the defender started 7 yards off the ball, the screen is practically stealing if completed.
This is an easy pitch and catch, particularly with the ball on the left hash.
The defender does himself no favors, as he makes the mistake of stopping his feet as he breaks down in space to make the tackle. Coleman turns the corner and absorbs a solid hit at the goal line for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
The Run Game
While the lack of execution remains a significant issue in the run game, the offensive unit did manage yards on 23 attempts, including a spectacular 85-yard touchdown scamper by tailback Isaiah Crowell.
While the per-rush-average admittingly does not look as pretty without Crowell's burst, the team did manage six carries - out of the remaining 22 attempts - over 5+ yards and were a block away from significant yardage on several other plays.
Let's start with Crowell's career-long touchdown run, a beautifully executed gap-blocked 'Power' concept featuring outstanding down blocks and pulls.
Aligned in a 'Heavy' formation with seven blockers on the LOS and a fullback, Jackson dialed up the old-school favorite to create numbers at the point of attack and a clear hole for his tailback to hit on first down deep in his own territory.
The concept is designed to attack the C-gap run bubble between left tackle Joe Thomas and tight end Gary Barnidge. If Thomas and left guard Joel Bitonio can move the 3-technique (aligned over the outside shoulder of the guard) off his spot and Barnidge can avoid being beat across his face by the EMLOS, the offense will be able to account for every defender with a blocker after the fullback and puller arrive to the party.
Start with the tackle/guard double team. It appears that the defensive tackle was stunting away from the play, allowing Bitonio to wash him down the line of scrimmage away from the ball. After initially stumbling due to the run stunt, Thomas recovers inside to wall-off the scrapping linebacker to seal the right side.
Barnidge *almost* lets the play get blown up by failing to log the edge rusher into the backfield due to poor blocking technique (slow first step, no power base, no punch, drops his head, and lunges), but he does get enough of the defender to keep him out the play.
Next, move to the fullback and right guard.
Fullback Malcolm Johnson does a phenomenal job kicking out Ravens strong safety Eric Weddle (#32) and driving him out of the screen. The right guard pulls and meets the filling linebacker at the line of scrimmage with force, completing the concept's ability to put a hat-on-a-hat when running at bubbles in the defensive line.
Outstanding play call to take advantage of a schematic weakness, but even better execution by offensive line and backs. It almost brings tears to the writer's eyes.
A second run-game concept that has shown up on film multiple times in the first two games is the 'Pin-and-Pull', a zone/gap variant that is often used to attack odd frontsJackson leans on to attack odd fronts.
The play has been run with mixed success so far, with individual breakdowns in blocking (specifically the tight end) leading to negative gains. Several times this season the play has demonstrated that there is some truth to the cliche "a block away" as a single block has prevented the play from hitting for chunk yardage.
Nursing a 20-19 lead midway through the third quarter, Jackson dialed up the Pin-and-Pull out of 21 personnel (two tailbacks, one tight end) on second and long, likely looking to catch the Ravens playing the pass.
The OBR has previously analyzed the specific blocks and techniques used to execute the play concept, so for brevity's sake we'll leave a link here for a more detailed explanation.
The goal of the play here is to seal the playside 5-technique (aligned on the tackle's outside shoulder) with a tight end, allowing a combination of the tackle/guard to pull and lead the tailback into the alley.
The tackle will block the EMLOS playing 'force' in this alignment, with the guard leading around the corner to block the first threat to cross his face from the inside. The fullback will attempt to reach the alley fill, often a safety, putting a hat-on-a-hat and creating leverage at the line of scrimmage like the previous play.
Arguably the most important block will come from the tight end, as he must pin the 5-technique inside while holding his ground to avoid disrupting the pullers.
While Barnidge has (and will remain) maligned for his poor blocking, he hits a homerun here by not only sealing the defender inside but holding his ground so the guard and tackle can take the correct path on their pulls, creating positive blocking angles.
Crowell does the rest, properly cutting off the Joe Thomas block (cut in whatever direction the blocker's rear end is pointed) and scampering for 15 yards to keep the drive alive.
Joe Haden Interceptions
After a disastrous 2015 campaign, cornerback Joe Haden has much to prove and many questions to answer in light of the $67.5 million dollar contract extension he signed in 2014.
Haden played a great game Sunday, receiving a grade of 87.2 from PFF while primarily guarding wily vet Steve Smith Sr. The former Pro Bowl cornerback recorded two interceptions and one pass defense on nine targets, not a bad afternoon in light of the grease fire that was last season.
Haden recorded his first of what will hopefully be many more interceptions this season on the Ravens' second drive, showing outstanding off-man coverage to jump a slant pass intended for Steve Smith Sr.
While defensive coordinator Ray Horton's off-man coverage has already provided fans plenty to yell about this season, the technique did work to perfection on Haden's first pick of the afternoon.
Before getting into the play the I want to note that the defense may have been in zone here. It is hard to tell due to the stack alignment at the top of the screen, but it appears the defensive back closest to the line of scrimmage is playing a curl/flat drop. Without the play call we will never know 100%.
With that said, Haden's depth allows him to 'read' the receiver through the three-step game, putting him in position to jump hitches, curls, and slants. When the technique does not work (as we have already seen many times this season), the defensive back arrives late to the ball and generally makes a tackle after a solid gain. In this case, Haden's transition from a backpedal to a break leads to a pick.
The key here is the cornerback's eyes. He is reading Smith's route looking for a stem that indicates a 3-step drop route. In order for the technique to work however, the defender must have both route recognition and the closing speed to make a play on the ball.
Haden easily beats the veteran receiver to the spot, making the pick and setting up the Browns' third touchdown of the afternoon with a 9-yard return.
The Run Defense
After two games, a unit that was expected to be a major weakness has turned in two solid performances, albeit against rushing attacks that can hardly be described as potent.
To the surprise of many, the run defense held the Ravens' ground attack to 80 yards on 26 carries for a 3.1 yards-per-attempt average. The unit currently sits tied with Carolina at 17th in the NFL, giving up 106.5 yards per game. After two seasons of the Pettine/O'Neil "we don't' play gaps" scheme, any incremental improvement is a sight for sore eyes, particularly against outside runs.
Facing 11 personnel on their side of the field, the linebackers and secondary showed excellent play recognition, pursuit, and toughness to stifle a tailback Sweep run to the boundary (short-side of the field).
Like the aforementioned Pin-and-Pull, the Baltimore offense wants to seal the 6-i technique (aligned over inside shoulder of the tight end) while using multiple pullers to block the secondary force and pursuit players.
Let's see how the defense stops the play:
The play starts with linebacker Christian Kirksey making a quick, accurate read of his run/pass and directional key, allowing him to quickly scrap over the top to the ball while avoiding second-level blocks.
Based on the defensive alignment, free safety Jordan Poyer (#33) likely has cutback responsibility while cornerback Joe Haden must play 'force', sending the ball back inside to the pursuing linebackers and defensive line on any weakside runs.
While Haden has shown periods of inconsistency (double moves come to mind) throughout his career, his commitment to the run game should be unquestioned. Watch as he does not hesitate to make the business decision of cutting a pulling offensive lineman who outweighs him by more than 100 pounds here.
By cutting the puller Haden creates a pile for the tailback to navigate, allowing the scrapping Kirksey to make a solid tackle behind the line of scrimmage for a short loss.
Ray Horton's Blitz Package
Through two games, Horton has done little but provide more of the same with a supposedly "exotic" blitz package that lacks disguise (analyzed in last week's X's & O's) and fails to get home. Last Sunday's game provided several examples of manufactured pressure not getting there, forcing the defensive backs to play man coverage in less than ideal circumstances.
Facing a 3rd and 6, Horton shows three down lineman with three linebackers and a safety in the box as potential blitzers. The Raven's counter with a Stack formation to the top of the screen and two wings aligned to the formation's left side.
Before getting into the blitz itself, let's focus on the stack receivers for a moment as their route combination was well-designed to take advantage of the defender's pass coverage rules.
Against two receivers in close proximity, many defenses will play a 'Banjo' or 'FIFO' (First in, First out) technique in order to avoid the pick routes that have become so common in today's NFL. This technique requires both defenders to read the releases of both receivers in order to correctly execute to concept. When it works correctly, the coverage plays out like a match-up zone in basketball.
The rules are relatively simple:
- The outside defensive back will play the first outside breaking route
- The inside defensive back will play the first inside-breaking route
- If both receivers release vertical past a pre-determined number of yards, the defensive backs will man-up the receiver across from them.
Baltimore correctly anticipates this concept and attacks the concept with a clever 'Smash" route combo that forces the inside defender to play an outside-breaking route, a difficult task for a defensive back of any caliber.
Ignore the blitz for the moment.
Notice how the outside receiver initially runs directly at the slot defensive back, dictating that the defender now has him in man coverage before breaking back outside on a nice corner route. This is what predictability gets you. Even though both defenders correctly read the route disbursement and matched accordingly, the slot defender was in poor position to play the corner route through no fault of his own.
This predictability leads into the Horton blitz package.
Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz was able to identify and check into blitz beaters several times during week 1 due to lack of disguise and Horton's overreliance on interior blitzes and TEX (tackle/defensive end) stunts.
This blitz is designed to hit the boundary B-gap by attacking the center, left guard, and left tackle, opening a hole for linebacker Demario Davis as he loops around and through.
Unfortunately, as we will see below the offense has correctly guessed where the pressure is coming from and modified the blocking scheme to block anything coming through the A or B-gap.
While the blockers are occupied by the nose tackle, defensive end, and linebacker, the offense runs what appears to be BOB (Big on Big) man protection with the tailback in to pick up a linebacker. The extra blocker correctly reads the defenders inside-to-out (interior pressure is generally more dangerous than pressure off the perimeter as the quarterback can simply step up in the pocket to avoid the extra rusher) and picks up Davis, giving quarterback Joe Flacco enough time to hit his corner route for a first down and yet another 3rd down conversion.
As mentioned previously, while the offense did rip off several positive gains, consistency in the run game continues to be an issue as players show poor technique and awareness.
Our fist example occurs early in the first quarter as the offense attempts to attack the field with a weakside 'Counter' concept, a gap-blocked play that utilizes two pullers and a hard jab step from the tailback to false key linebackers reading back flow for play direction.
The play is designed to hit the C-gap outside the right tackle as the combination of down blocks and pullers will allow the offense to create leverage at the point of attack. The key block here is the right tackle/right guard double team on the 2i-technique. After securing this defender the right tackle will climb to the inside linebacker (#57). leaving two remaining defenders to be blocked by the pullers.
The play starts out well with center Cam Erving walling off the tight 3-technique and the 2-i shooting inside away from the play. The pullers have a clear path to the ball due to lack of defensive penetration and *should* get to their blocks with little trouble.
The play breaks down as the nose tackle (#99) does a great job fighting with pressure and demonstrating textbook hand usage (violently push with the left arm while pulling the right arm) to shed the right guard's block.
Crowell is left with nowhere to run and is tackled for a loss as the defender easily fills the hole after defeating the block. This is a great example illustrating how a single player's lack of execution can blow up an entire play. All 11 must hit their assignment to gain consistent yardage.
Our second play circles back to the Jackson-favorite Pin-and-Pull.
As we previously stated, the key block here is the tigh end pin on the 5-technique. If the tight end does is beat across his face or knocked into the backfield, the puller's paths will be altered and the play's timing will break down, generally leading to bad results.
There isn't much to say here. Barnidge is destroyed at the line of scrimmage and pancaked back into the pullers, tripping right guard John Greco and forcing Crowell to slightly bubble his path backward and run East-West well past the point he should be pressing the ball upfield through the alley.
While the defensive backs continue to show poor technique, notably in press-man coverage, cornerback Jamal Taylor provided a glaring example of awful awareness and technique on receiver Mike Wallace's second touchdown of the game.
Facing a 2nd and 7 on their own 17-yard line, the Cleveland defense elected to run a "safe" Cover 3 call, with each cornerback and the MOF safety responsible for a deep 1/3. In theory, the coverage shell should protect against vertical routes while remaining stout against the run with a drop safety, but as we have seen over and over a single breakdown compromises the entire structure of the play.
Focus on the bottom of the screen.
Taylor is aligned over Wallace in a "plus" split, lined-up outside the numbers. A traditional spot-dropping Cover 3 would dictate that Taylor align in outside leverage (over the receiver's outside foot) with his inside foot slightly back to tilt his body towards the backfield, but he is likely using a 'divider' rule here to account for the receiver's wide split.
If Taylor were to align over the receiver's outside foot, he would create a large seam between himself and the deep safety that smart coordinators will exploit all afternoon long. To prevent this seam and put Taylor in position to squeeze a post route, he is likely coached to take inside leverage with the caveat that he CANNOT LOSE SIGHT OF THE #1 RECEIVER AT ANY TIME!
Note that Taylor appears confused before the play as he raises both hands before appearing to get the play call from the slot defensive back.
At the snap we see the former Miami Dolphin correctly make a zone turn to create a line of site into the backfield and on both receivers, but for some reason he takes his eyes of Wallace and bends his drop inside, breaking the cardinal rule of not losing site of the #1 receiver.
The speedy Wallace still has enough gas in the tank to bend the fade route outside behind a Cover 3 cornerback who appears lost, resulting in any easy six points.
This is a simple case of a defender not doing his job. With no threat to the flat on this side of the field, the curl/flat defender (the slot defensive back) can carry the #2 receiver's vertical all the way downfield. Taylor should know this.
A young, inexperienced squad cannot allow these gimmes (unless Taylor is all in on the tanking effort). Inexcusable
This is an inexcusable example of lack of technique and awareness.
Can Someone Please Cover The Tight End?
Our final play comes from a systemic issue seen in Horton's defense wherever he goes; an inability to guard tight ends and tailbacks.
This Achilles heal is particularly frustrating as it often rears its' ugly head on third downs, when linebackers and safeties are asked to play man coverage behind the defensive coordinator's blitzes.
Facing a 3rd and 6 with a chance at decent field position, Horton runs a six-man pressure with the defense playing Cover 1 behind.
With six defenders rushing the quarterback (although the defender on the far left-side is likely playing a 'blitz-peel' technique in which he blitzes unless the tailback runs a route, in which case he peels off and covers) free safety Jordan Poyer must drop down to cover tight end Dennis Pita, a thorn in the Browns' side who recorded 9 catches for 102 yards.
The pass play is simple but effective; a 'Pole' concept that utilizes a clear out by the outside receiver and a speed out by the slot.
While Poyer is adequate at his job, his lack of closing speed and awareness doom him here. His break on the ball is late (he should be reading the tight end's hips to key him to the route's direction) and he compounds the error by attempting to undercut the route with minimal help deep.
Pita presses vertical after the catch and only a nice open-field tackle by the deep safety stops him from going in for six. Pita ends up with a 30-yard gain and the Raven's offense sets up for a first down play in Cleveland territory.
Until the linebackers and safeties improve reading route stem keys and increase their situational awareness when in man and zone coverage, these types of explosive plays will continue into the foreseeable future. A consistent pass rush would greatly benefit the secondary as well; the quarterback can't throw the ball if he is hurried and knocked on his rear end.
While the blown lead and eventual injuries to Josh McCown and Carl Nassib were disheartening, the game did showcase the playmaking talent currently on the roster. Noteworthy defensive standouts included Nassib, Emmanuel Ogbah, Demario Davis, Christian Kirksey, and shockingly Danny Shelton. Derrick Kindred continues to look like he belongs.
On the offensive side of the ball Duke Johnson Jr. has picked up where he left off last season a weapon out of the backfield (one could argue he is underutilized in the run game) and Terrell Pryor continues to hone his craft as a full-time receiver, running several nice routes on the way to three catches.
Expect a topsy-turvy season as this young roster not only adjusts to NFL size, speed, and concepts, but a new head coach determined to turn around the losing culture that has surrounded the organization since its return.