Cleveland Browns X's & O's - Five Positives from an Overtime Loss

Despite a 30-24 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphin, the Cleveland Browns flashed signs of competency and gave fans a glimpse of what could be for the second straight week. Join The Orange and Brown Report in the film room for a breakdown of five positive takeaways that could elevate the offensive and defensive units to greater things this upcoming season.

Jarvis Landry, three missed field goals, Austin Pasztor, run-game abandonment, too cute on offense, an inconsistent pass rush.

Now that we have the bad and ugly out of the way, let's go to the film room to look at five positives from Sunday's overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Briean Boddy-Calhoun Can Play...

Waiver-wire pickup Briean Boddy-Calhoun recovered nicely after a rough start in which he gave up an early first quarter touchdown reception to wide receiver Davante Parker. The former Minnesota Gopher more than made up for his early miscue, posting a solid stat line of four tackles, one pass defensed, and a pick six in his first game as a pro.

After going undrafted this offseason, the former All-Big Ten cornerback signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and made it through the summer before being cut after the final preseason game.

The Browns immediately swooped Boddy-Calhoun up, and after spending two weeks on the inactive list the rookie turned in a solid first performance playing in the place of injured cornerback Joe Haden.

Let's start with the rookie's splash play, a mid-2nd quarter 27-yard interception return for a touchdown off Dolphins' quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Facing 3rd and 3 for their own 21-yard line, the Dolphins aligned in a 'Trips Left' formation with a tight end closing the boundary. 

The Browns' defense countered with five potential rushers on the line of scrimmage in a stand-up position to "show" a blitz, although defensive coordinator Ray Horton ultimately elected to send four rushers.

At the snap, the defense rotates into a standard Cover 4, or 'Quarters', shell, a zone defense that is designed to protect the deep part of the field with four defenders while using three underneath defenders to handle short-game routes.

Notice that Boddy-Calhoun does not have a split out receiver across from him in this formation. Most teams will align a zone cornerback towards a closed tight end 6-7 yards off the line of scrimmage and 1-2 yards outside the offensive player. This alignment allows the defender to look inside and diagnose any threats to his deep quarter while creating enough depth to turn and bail on vertical routes.

The Dolphins' offense elects to run the common 'Mesh' concept to target the underneath shallows for a quick pitch-and-catch. Mesh can challenge a zone defense as the underneath defenders must communicate effectively in order to seamlessly pass off the crossing routes. 

 As the tight end stems inside, notice that the rookie identifies that concept likely makes a loud "In" call to alert the linebackers that a receiver is coming inside. He also appears to point to the dig route from the #3 receiver, altering the boundary safety that the route will cross his vision. Great concept recognition and communication by a rookie playing his first NFL game.

As Boddy-Calhoun gains depth and continues to scan the field for threats fellow rookie defensive end Tyrone Holmes has beat the right tackle with an outside speed rush, using an explosive get-off to bend the edge and dip to turn the corner. Focus on Holmes' inside shoulder as he turns the corner and dips so he can touch the ground with his inside  hand in order to create maximum bend.

The Montana product finishes the play by hitting Tannehill's throwing arm on the release, causing a floater that Boddy-Calhoun easily pulls down because he is where he is supposed to be in the coverage. 

From there we see the rookie's open field speed and vision as he crosses both hashes and turns the corner for the Browns' first touchdown of the afternoon.

Boddy-Calhoun proved to be an asset in the run game as well, recording four tackles including a nice third down stop on a receiver running a crossing route out of a stack formation.

The offense shows an 'Empty Left', with three receivers aligned to the field and two aligned to the boundary. After initially lining up outside numbers, the boundary #1 motions to create the stack look, often an indication of a rub or crossing route.

Notice that Boddy-Calhoun immediately resets himself to create a 'levels' look that will prevent the slot defensive back and himself from running into each other should the receivers run a pick concept. His depth requires him to make a quick, decisive read and get his foot into the ground quickly if he is going to play any inside-breaking routes, which the stack receiver ultimately runs.

With the defense in a Cover 1 'Robber' shell, the Golden Gopher can expect no help on any short or intermediate routes. He has to make the play on his own here. We see the route recognition and quick read needed to break on the receiver from a difficult position. Boddy-Calhoun takes a great path to the pass catcher, coming at a flat angle to stay over the upfield shoulder of the receiver while avoiding the rub route coming from the other side of the field.  

Although Tannehill is able to successfully deliver the ball, Boddy-Calhoun's angle allows him to make a solid diving tackle for an all-important third down stop, getting the ball back for his offense in what should be decent field position.

The Run Defense Looked Good Again...

While the Dolphins did enter the game with one the worst run offenses in the league, the Browns' run-stopping unit looked very good for a second consecutive week, allowing 115 yards and preventing Miami's stable of tailbacks from stringing together any momentum after the first few drives of the game.

Early in the first quarter, the defensive unit demonstrated outstanding individual and team execution to stymie an Inside Zone play out of a heavy alignment utilizing extra offensive linemen and tight ends.

Based on the blocking scheme, it appears the tailback's aiming point is the B-gap between the right guard and right tackle. If the B-gap is not there he will read frontside A-gap to backside A-gap (left-to-right across the GIF) looking for a cutback opportunity.

Start with Danny Shelton (#55) at the 1-technique (shaded over the center). We see a decent first two steps, solid hand placement inside the center's shoulder pads, and great upper body strength to lock out the arms and shed the block to pursue down the line of scrimmage.

Defensive lineman Jamie Meder (#98) puts on a clinic demonstrating how to play a double-team by attacking the base block from the right guard with heavy hands, getting under the blocker's pads, and dropping his pressure leg into the play-side gap when he feels the double-team. Notice that by swinging his hip into the gap, Meder prevents the right tackle from climbing to linebacker Demario Davis (#56) and getting a second level block, allowing the MIKE to cleanly scrape to the ball.

On the far left side, strong safety Derrick Kindred (#30) executes a run stunt by shooting inside the EMLOS, leaving the outside gap and force responsibility to cornerback Tramon Williams (#22) or Davis (it is impossible to say for certain without the play call; I'd bet on Davis).

Regardless of the responsibility, Kindred's run stunt and Shelton's penetration force the tailback to cut the ball outside into the waiting arms of Davis, with Williams two yards behind to clean up if necessary. 

Good team defense leverages pursuit players to push the ball outside and force players to push the ball inside, meeting in the middle to leave the ball carrier nowhere to go. We see a great example of the concept in action here.

While he is no Cam Newton, Tannehill is a mobile quarterback that can successfully execute designed runs. Head coach Adam Gase attempts to utilize his quarterback's legs in our next clip, running Inside Zone with a read on the backside defender.

Defensive coaches initially countered the zone read with run slants and gap exchanges, but with the evolution of RPO's new ideas were needed. Right now the go-to concept used to alleviate the stress placed on the read defender by zone read concepts is a technique known as the "Squeeze and Pop".

Via Chris Brown's outstanding Smartfootball blog, Michigan Wolverines' defensive coordinator Don Browns analyzed the basic tenets of the technique at a 2016 coaches clinic:

Defending the Spread Run Game: In terms of defending zone option, Coach Brown will use a PUP technique for his defensive ends, also commonly referred to as squeeze and pop. The defensive end being read will play the QB and the bend (RB cutback) on zone. The unblocked defensive end will stay square and shuffle flat down the line of scrimmage to close the space on any zone cutback. If the Quarterback keeps the ball, then the defensive end is chasing the QB from the inside out to his help. Coach Brown stressed that you have to get the defensive ends help versus zone option. You can’t just assign the DE to the QB with no help and expect him to take away the zone cutback and be able to run down a Quarterback like Deshaun Watson.

Like most techniques in football, it all starts with the stance:

PUP Technique

Notice the athletic demeanor of the ‘read’ defensive end (#93). His hips are low (eyes and nose over the toes), his feet are shoulder-width apart, and his arms are out to create a solid center of gravity for balance. When the defender recognizes he has become the 'option' player, he will execute the stance and shuffle laterally down the line of scrimmage towards the mesh point using quick steps. The defender should keep his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage in order to allow a ‘two-way go’.

The read man’s responsibility is two-fold: He must squeeze inside under control in order to play a cutback by the tailback while still remaining in position to play the quarterback pull, with help from a secondary force defender (often a defensive back).

We will start with concept recognition. As soon as linebacker Nate Orchard (#44) recognizes the right tackle’s climb the second level, he immediately enters his stance and squeezes the backside C-Gap using quick, lateral steps to remain under control.

Because Tannehill can see Orchard's numbers (a common keep key) from this stance, he elects to pull the ball and bootleg around the corner. However, he has no chance of beating Orchard's technique and athleticism, as the linebacker forces the ball back inside and squeezes to make the tackle for a minimal gain. 

Due to the edge defenders' disciplined technique, the Dolphins were unable to utilize Tannehill's legs in key situations at any point during the game, a win for the defense as the quarterback will often pull the ball in short-yardage situations and near the goal line.

Gary Barnidge Caught the Ball...

After a very quiet two weeks, Pro Bowl tight end Gary Barndige finally made his presence felt in the passing game, hauling in five receptions for 66 yards while creating simple, safe reads for rookie quarterback Cody Kessler.

Barnidge's first big reception of the game came via the AirRaid staple "Y-Cross" concept, a 3-level flood that utilizes a vertical route, an intermediate cross, and a flat to overload the pass defenders. The quarterback will generally read the concept from long-to-short, or "touchdown-first down-check-down", although coaches will often instruct the quarterback to throw the flat route immediately for an easy completion. The progression is further simplified as the concept requires only a half-field read, allowing the quarterback to scan a single side of the field without the need to look off defenders.

As we will see, the concept is particularly deadly when used in conjunction with play action, as the run fake often distorts pass zones and coverage due to poor eye discipline.

Rather than keep extra blockers in, head coach Hue Jackson elects to run his five eligible receivers on pass routes. The key routes that create the "triangle read" are the deep comeback, crossing route, and flat from the boundary tight end. The field receiver (top fo the 50-yard line) will run a route designed to hold the deep safety while tailback Isiah Crowell runs a flat route to the opposite side of the flood. While Crowell's route may seem like a throwaway, Jackson and his coaching staff will look for linebackers who are slow to react to the motion and push Crowell upfield on a wheel route.

The key routes that create the "triangle read" are the deep comeback, crossing route, and flat from the boundary tight end. The field receiver (top fo the 50-yard line) will run a route designed to hold the deep safety while tailback Isiah Crowell runs a flat route to the opposite side of the flood. While Crowell's route may seem like a throwaway as it is not part of the progression, Jackson and his coaching staff will look for linebackers who are slow to react to the motion and push the tailback upfield on a targeted wheel route (look for this in future games).

The effects of the run fake are immediate and speak volumes about the danger of Jackson's running game, as all four second-level defenders step towards the line of scrimmage. Barnidge is able to easily clear the defenders and make an uncontested catch for a 26-yard gain.

Perhaps more important than the catch is the thinking that led to the play call, as we see a coach setting up plays with his run game while creating simple reads for an inexperienced quarterback, much like Eagles' head coach Doug Pederson did for rookie Carson Wentz in week 1.

Barnidge's second explosive gain of the afternoon was the result of a beautifully-designed play action concept. 

While the routes differ from the previous play, when put together they again create a simple, defined half-field triangle read for Kessler.  This time around we see Jackson keep an extra blocker in to utilize "slide" or zone protection by the offensive line.

Barnidge is hidden between the right tackle and EMLOS in order to slip him through the second level while the linebackers' eyes are in the backfield. Jackson takes the disguise a step further by using the fullback to false key the defense to the play direction (teams will often key the fullback's 'flow' for the direction of the play).

Focus on the fullback and observe his initial path as he releases like a lead blocker in Outside Zone, before pivoting back towards the flat. The false key likely pulled the boundary linebacker (standing above the logo) away from his coverage responsibility (Brarnidge) as the defense appears to be in man coverage.

Everyone bites on the play action, allowing Barnidge to run an easy corner route for his second explosive gain of the afternoon.

Hue Jackson's Running Game is Both Diverse and Creative...

The Browns' running game continued to pick up yards on Sunday as the offensive unit gained 169 yards on 32 attempts for a 5.3 YPR average.

Crowell recorded 79 yards on 15 attempts for a 5.3 YPR average, while tailback Duke Johnson Jr. gained 69 yards on 10 attempts for an impressive 6.9 YPC average. Both recorded longs of over 15 yards, with Johnson ripping off a 17-yarder while Crowell broke free for a 25-yarder that could have gone the distance.

Even more impressive than the rushing totals were the variety of run-game concepts and the manner in which they were deployed by the Browns' respected play-caller.

Johnson's afternoon long was the result of a Jackson-favorite, the gap-blocked 'Power' concept.

As the OBR has broken down previously, Power is an old-school classic that utilizes down blocks and a puller to create a hole for the tailback. Power is especially suited for Crowell as the play has defined aiming point and only requires the tailback to read the block of his pulling guard.

The play here is of particular interest because it demonstrates Jackson's awareness and response of and to the defense's scheme and rules for responding to the concept.

Before getting into the details, stop and count the box numbers. This is a win for the offense before the play is run. 

Next, pay attention to the arrows showing the paths of the left defensive end and linebacker after the snap. The defense is running a simple run stunt at Barnidge, hoping to get the end into the backfield by crossing his face. Because the end is pinching into the C-gap, #55 will scrape outside to replace the pincher as the D-gap and force defender.

Jackson appears to have anticipated this stunt and dialed up a wrinkle to his Power concept that will take advantage of the situation. How does he do it?

When Jackson runs Power towards his tight end he generally aims the tailback towards the C-gap between the tight end and tackle. The tight end will attempt to kick out the defender while the guard pulls through the hole.

Because the Miami defense is aggressively squeezing the C-gap to reduce the size of the hole and blow up the pulling guard in the backfield, Jackson alters the aiming point of the play to the D-gap outside the tight end. This accomplishes two important things:

  1. The tight end can let the pincher cross his face and use his momentum against him to wash him down the line away from the play
  2. The puller can block the scrapping linebacker in space, rather than attempting to fit through a tiny hole that may be full of the pinching defender

Although the right tackle/right guard double team on the titled 3-techniuqe is less than ideal, left guard Joel Bitonio easily pulls around the edge to pick up the force defender (Johnson Johnson can bounce the ball outside.

While the wrinkle is minor on paper, this is a prime example of in-game adjustments and the offense conflicting the defense's scheme rules that has been severely lacking in recent seasons.

Our second play, the Jackson-favorite Iso Weak concept, demonstrates the offensive line's ability to adjust to a run stunt on-the-fly as the defense stutns the entire front seven.

The Browns have leaned on the Iso concept early in the season, running it several times per game to varying degrees of success. Sunday was certainly the offense's best game to date, as the play hit for good yardage several times.

Iso utilizes man-on-man base blocking, double teams, and the fullback to lead the tailback through the hole and isolate a single linebacker. Like the aforementioned Power, the play has a specific aiming point although sometimes the tailback is required to read the block on the play-side interior lineman.

Jackson wants to attack the weakside run bubble in the B-gap created by the tilted nose tackle and wide 9 defensive end. The gap sets up an easy double team on the nosE tackle by the center and right guard, while creating a large hole for the fullback to insert through on his way to the WILL (#53). 

At the snap, the play-side defensive linemen shoot inside while the PS linebackers come downhill to replace their gaps.

The right tackle does an outstanding job washing the defensive end (#84) out of the play while the right guard correctly bypasses the double team on the nose tackle to block the MIKE (#47).

The fullback adjusts his path to execute a physical kick out block on the force defender (#53) and Crowell quickly presses the hole to clear the line of scrimmage. Note how Crowell "gets skinny" by narrowing his shoulders as he fits off the fullback's block, ensuring that he will not run into the back of his blocker (sound familiar?).

The SAM (#55) does a great job evading the left guard's block to force Crowell outside into the perimeter defender. If Bitonio can hit that block Crowell is one-on-one with free safety. Despite the yards that were left on the field, outstanding execution in responding to the stunt by the entire line and fullback.

Our final run game concept, Outside Zone, has traditionally been an afterthought in Jackson's offense as he prefers the Sweep or Pin-and-Pull when attacking the perimeter.

Jackson appears to be attacking the right defensive end's inside tilt by utilizing a double team to pin him inside before the tight end peels off the attack the first threat to cross his face from the inside. The rest of the line wants to create lateral movement in order to create cutback lanes for the tailback should the double team not wall off the EMLOS.

The tailback will read the block on the EMLOS, with an initial aiming point of the tight end's outside leg. From there, he will read the blocks outside-to-in as he looks for a lane.

Left tackle Joe Thomas and Barnidge do an outstanding job securing the edge for Crowell. Notice how quickly Barnidge is able to come off the double team and pick up the first inside threat. Thomas pivots 90 degrees to wall off the edge defender, taking him out of the play and creating a nice lane for his tailback.

This play is yet another example of good, but not perfect execution.

Notice that Barnidge is pushed into the fullback's path as he makes contact with the linebacker. This pushes the ball towards the sideline when it should be pressed upfield. If Barnidge can hold his ground, the fullback will fit up #24 in the open field and Crowell will have huge alley lane with a blocker on every defender.

After countless seasons of offensive ineptitude, a 7-yard gain is nothing to sneeze at, but this play could have hit for ALOT more.

Terrell Pryor is Gonna Be a Star...

We saved the best for last as we breakdown Terrell Pryor's superhuman effort that saw him haul in 8 reception for 144 yards, rush 4 times for 21 yards and a touchdown, and complete 3 of 5 passes for 35 yards.

In light of the injury situation and depth chart, there was speculation leading up to Sunday that Pryor would see some snaps at quarterback, but very few predicted his dominance and overall impact.

It all started with Pryor taking snaps at quarterback early in the 1st quarter.

Pryor's first run came from a Shotgun Wishbone formation. The alignment is very versatile as it allows Hue Jackson to run a variety of run game concepts including Power, Counter, Inside Zone, Outside Zone, and even Triple Option while integrating backside reads.

The former Buckeye's long rush of the day came off a basic Split Zone concept with window dressing.

Pryor is reading the wide 9 left defensive end. If the end stays wide Pryor will hand the ball off to Crowell on a dive, however if the end pinches inside (as he did), the former quarterback will pull the ball and run through the vacated area.

The tailback to Pryor's right will cut the defensive end if Pryor should pull the ball while the tailback to Pryor's left will arc release into the alley looking to block the first threat to his inside shoulder.

The defensive end comes parallel down the line of scrimmage, creating a simple "keep" read for Pryor. The end is easily cut and fullback Malcolm Johnson does a great job peeling back to wall off the scrapping linebacker, creating a huge running lane for his quarterback.

Pryor does the rest, making a nice cut to the edge and protecting himself by getting out of bounds for a solid 15-yard gain.

The Pryor show continued as he punched the ball in for six points using the popular "Quarterback Counter" of Ohio State/Clemson/Carolina fame.

Counter is another Jackson-staple that utilizes down blocks, two pullers, and an element of misdirection - a hard jab step away from the play's direction by the runner - to create numbers at the point of attack.

The aiming point is the C-gap between the left tackle and tight end. The tailback will kick out the EMLOS while the pulling guard blocks the filling linebacker in the hole.

Pryor does not follow his blocks here, choosing to bounce the ball outside for a touchdown. He can't be faulted because he did score, but if he had taken a hard jab step away from the play and put himself in right guard Alvin Bailey's hip pocket, he had the C-gap.

This scoring drive took one too many plays to put the ball in as Pryor bounced the previous play outside despite the offense winning the C-gap. 

While the result was a touchdown, you can bet Hue Jackson will not take a result-oriented approach to evaluating the play. There is always room to improve.

The Pennsylvania product's evolution as a wide receiver continues as he showed savvy route running and great recognition skills on the way to 8 receptions.

Our first example shows Pryor's awareness as a wide receiver while running the popular "Snag" concept.

The outside receiver's job is to work his way inside and sit down in the first open hole he finds. Against most zone coverage, this hole will be near the hash as the curl/flat defender works his way outside.

Focus on Pryor's route after he recognizes the hole as the curl/flat defender attacks the tailback's flat route. He correctly throttles down, turns towards his quarterback, and makes himself available for the throw.

While the snag route may look easy, it takes time and practice to master, a testament to the work he has put in.

Our final example looks at an outstanding slant route from the same "Gain 2" release that Corey Coleman used on his first touchdown during the Browns 25-20 loss to the Ravens.

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. 

Pryor's release is identical, but instead of pushing vertical upfield he crosses the corner's face as he runs a slant route

The release creates almost 3 yards of separation, a massive amount of room by NFL standards. Because the cornerback has opened his hips away from the route's direction, he must make an awkward turn in order to follow Pryor to the middle of the field. This play was over at the snap of the ball as the route was so well-run.

An 0-3 start, a slew of injuries, and a young roster does not inspire much confidence, but there may be more to this Browns team than meets the eye. Young talent on both sides of the ball is developing, playmakers are emerging, and a motivated Josh Gordon could create a downright scary wide receiver corps. While execution has not been perfect and "fancy play syndrome" has manifested itself at times, fans have seen evidence of competent game planning and coaching in both the run and pass game.

While the roster is still a long way from completion, a core group of young players that are clearly being coached up and put in the position to succeed. The organization appears to have finally hired the right man for the job.  

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