Cleveland Browns X's & O's - Every Scoring Drive from Sunday's Loss to the Washington Redskins

After a third consecutive gut-wrenching loss, the winless Cleveland Browns sit at 0-4 with the 3-1 New England Patriots coming to town. While last Sunday's 31-20 defeat at the hands of the Washington Redskins exposed (yet again) the teams' lack of talent, depth, and experience, young players continued to flash and the running game looked extremely competent for the third straight week. Join The OBR in the film room as we break down a key play from every scoring drive to answer the questions "Wha

*Note: A key play from all drives that resulted in a field goal will be broken down in lieu of the scoring play*

Score #1 - 1st Quarter 7:45

The tight end position continues to burn the Browns' defense due to inconsistent man coverage at the linebacker and safety position. Washington tight end Jordan Reed became the latest opponent to exploit this mismatch as he gashed the team for 73 yards on 9 receptions, including 2 first quarter touchdown.

Reed's first touchdown came off a well-designed 'Iso' route utilizing a flattened slant (the route usually stems at a sharper angle). Knowing that the defense would likely run man coverage to Trips in the red zone, the Washington offensive staff aligned Reed to the backside in order to exploit and target a personnel mismatch, forcing a cornerback to cover the talented pass catcher in space (much like Browns' tight end Gary Barnidge was utilized in the red zone last season).

When playing man coverage in this situation, the general rule is to press the receiver with inside leverage (defender's outside foot aligned over receiver's inside foot) in order to cheat the slant route. Force the receiver to cross the defender's body and make a play on the ball. It is very important for the corner to get a solid jam on Reed here to disrupt the route's timing and make him earn the inside release. If the defender does let the tight end cross his face unimpeded, the play is likely over as Reed will use his body to box at the defender at the catch point.

If the receiver breaks outside on a fade, the cornerback is betting on his superior hip fluidity and feet to react to the throw. 

Rather than taking a straight backward 'scooch step' (a short hop the cornerback makes at the snap to avoid lunging on the jam) we see the defender hoop outside towards the sideline, giving up an easy inside release to the talented tight end. Because the cornerback has "scooched" away from the route stem, he is in no position to either:

  • Wall-off the route 
  • Deliver a two-hand/off-hand jam

Reed has won the route before he moves a single yard downfield.

The linebacker opposite the tailback opens towards Reed to rob the weak hook, but he is unable to get there in time as Cousins threads the needle for a nice pitch and catch. This play is a perfect example of why getting a jam in press coverage is so important. If the cornerback can slow Reed's route for even a half second, the linebacker will likely be in position to squeeze the throwing window, leading to an incomplete pass as opposed to six points.

7-0 Washington

Score #2 - 1st Quarter :34

Reed's second touchdown of the afternoon came late in the first quarter as he worked the middle of the field on a scramble drill against the defenses 'Red 2' red zone coverage.

'Red 2' is a Cover 2 variant that is often used when the field is vertically compressed in order to create a five-under, two-deep look. The key defender against Reed's route as the #3 in an Empty formation is the MIKE, who will open to the passing strength to attack anything running up the seam. When the defender recognizes a seam threat, he must match and carry the route as he cannot count on help from the split safeties, who may be occupied with outside routes from the #2 and #1 receivers.

Reed is aligned in a 'Nasty' split (close to the tackle), indicating he is likely to attack the middle of the field. The linebacker correctly opens towards Reed and carries his route into the end zone, but because the defense does not get pressure on the quarterback, the coverage falls apart.

Several things happen here to create the throwing window.

The weak safety is run off towards the sideline as he plays the corner route from the #2 receiver, leaving a large void in the defense's right side. At the same time, the weak seam/hook defender jumps the crossing route, creating a throwing window for the scrambling Cousins as he looks for an open receiver.

As soon as Reed recognizes the scramble, he raises his hand and works his way down the backline to provide a target for his quarterback. The linebacker is late to react because his eyes are in the backfield and he likely anticipates outside help from the safety and linebacker. The help is not there due to the route combinations pulling defender's away from the route, leading to the tight end's second score of the day.

The easiest way to prevent breakdowns like this is to get pressure on the quarterback. NFL receivers will find and exploit holes in a zone defense; Cousins simply cannot have this much time to throw. The pass coverage was not bad here, but the lack of initial pressure and pursuit allowed Cousins to work up and outside the pocket to make a play.

14-0 Washington

Score #3 - 2nd Quarter 9:38

After several seasons of run-game futility, the offensive unit's ability to move the ball via the ground game has been a pleasant suprise in light of the patch work offensive line head coach Hue Jackson has cobbled together.

The Browns currently lead the NFL with 142 rushing yards per game while also average a league-best 5.7 yard per rush atempt. Tailback Isaiah Crowell has been the biggest beneficiary of Jackson's patented ground attack, as he currently sits second in the NFL in rushing yards (394) while averaging 6.5 yards per attempt.

The Browns' first score of the afternoon came off a basic one-back Belly/lead concept, run out of a heavy formation using multiple tight ends and an extra offensive lineman.

Because there is not fullback to lead the tailback through the hole, the key to the play's success or failure is the double team blocks on the interior linemen. Because Jackson prefers to run his Led and Iso concepts to the weak side, the C/RG and LG/LT must first get movement on the tilted 1 and tight-3 techniques before climbing to pick up the play-side linebackers (#51 and #53).

The basic double team technique is for the linemen to get hip-to-hip, attack the defender's chest plate and play-side shoulder with four hands, and climb to the linebacker when the defender's hip gives. Because the play is run towards the weak-side A-gap, the tailback must read the block on the linebacker with fill responsibility (#51) to that side. This is not a concept that will result in explosive gains, but it works very well in short-yardage situations against a stacked box.

Crowell punches it in due to the outstanding double teams from both combos. Rookie center Austin Reiter's work stands out, as he attack's the titled 1-techniques hip, climbs off to pick up the filling linebacker, and drives him backward into the end zone.   

Unfortunately, the promising rookie was placed on IR earlier this week after leaving the game with an ACL tear. If he can come back next season healthy and in shape, Reiter will certainly be an intriguing option at the center position.

14-7 Washington

Score #4 - 2nd Quarter 8:03

The offense's second score of the afternoon was the result of a well-executed play action concept that featured max protection and just two receviers running intermediate crossing routes.

Three factors likely resulted in Jackson and Co. dialing up this specific play at this specific time:

  • The Browns' run game has looked good so far, and the team shows a heavy run tendency out of this personnel group and formation
  • Washington cornerback Josh Norman often peeks into the backfield in man or zone coverage
  • Film work probably revealed that the field corner (Norman) will align with outside leverage against a Nasty split by a single receiver

Put these three factors together and you have the making of a successful play.

Due to offensive tendency, the defense is likely thinking "run" here. The run action should hold the linebackers so Terrelle Pryor can run his crossing route without the threat of collision from the second level. if the offense gets lucky the deep safety may take false steps towards the line of scrimmage as well.

Josh Norman's habit of peeking, as well as his outside leverage simply the route for Pryor and increase the chance he can separate from the top corner. Because Pryor wants to release inside, Norman's outside alignment prevents him from both jamming and walling off Pryor's route. From there he will have to play the route from a trail position. In addition, if Norman holds up even a moment due to the run action, he will have to make up ALOT of ground to undercut the route.

As we can see Pryor has no issue winning his inside release and stemming his route across the field due to Norman's alignment. The cornerback does appear to attempt to grab the Ohio State product as he stems across the field at the 5-yard line, but Pryor's acceleration prevents any holding.

The second receiver runs a similar route at a slightly shallower depth, as the offense is attempting to run a pick on Norman. The spacing is not quite right, but the failed pick is irrelevant as rookie quarterback Cody Kessler does not flinch in the face of a free hitter to deliver an absolute dime to the breakout receiver for his first touchdown reception of the season.

14-14 Tie Ball Game

Score #5- 2nd Quarter 7:06

While Washington was forced to settle for a field goal on this drive, the defensive unit was victimized by tight end Jordan Reed for a 26-yard reception after a blown coverage assignment on a 2nd and 7 play.

Facing a 2nd-and-medium, the Redskins' offense elected to break tendency by running a play action "Swap Boot" concept in which the tight end, slot, and outside receiver create a three-level 'flood' to defeat man or zone coverage. Against

Against zone, the flood creates a 'hi-lo' conflict on the curl/flat defender as he must choose between jumping a flat route or gaining depth to play an intermediate route behind him. Against man, the flat route from the slot receiver running underneath the formation is often lost in the scrum and Reed's initial blocking action from the Wing position causes the defense to lose track of him.

The defense is in obvious man coverage. As we see in the clip, the left corner travels with the receiver's motion while the right corner is in a press position at the line of scrimmage Cousins may look to run, or more likely chuck the ball out of bounds. Live to fight another day.

Based on the defense's alignment, one of two players is responsible for Reed here'; ILB Demario Davis or free safety Jordan Poyer. I think Poyer is the culprit as:

  1. Poyer's alignment puts him in better position to play a route from Reed
  2. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton knows his player's strengths and weaknesses; pass coverage is a glaring hole in his ILB's game
  3. The left cornerback is 'leveled off' outside Poyer due to the stack created by the tight end and #1 receiver. 
  4. With the #1 receiver accounted for by the left corner, Poyer has no one to guard if Davis does indeed have Reed in coverage. He is not blitzing here, so he must have a responsibility.

A third possibility is some type of 'banjo' coverage in which Davis and Poyer read the tight end's release at the line of scrimmage. If he releases outside or vertical, Poyer takes him in man and Davis plays the first threat to the flat or robs the hook zone. If he releases inside, Davis takes him and Poyer takes the first threat to the flat. Again, I don't see this as is a likely call because it chances putting Davis on Reed in man coverage.

The Redskins catch a live one as Poyer falls for the run fake hook, line, and sinker. We can see his eyes in the backfield as he reads the tight end for his run/pass key. When read releases down the line of scrimmage in what appears to be an Outside Zone reach block, Poyer charges upfield as his run fit is the D-gap outside Reed's right shoulder.

It should be noted that this is a tough play for Poyer to make. He must play a gap on the run while also playing a top-5 tight end in man coverage. The run action creates run/pass and assignment conflict that takes time to work through. Frankly, I don't like the position he was put in here. nevertheless, he is paid alot of money to execute what is asked of him.

The slot receiver running the flat route runs into Poyer as he comes underneath the formation. Rather than getting his eyes back to the middle of the field to locate Reed, Poyer continues to run with the flat route even though the slot defensive back already has it covered. When you add in Davis, the unit ends up with three defenders on one receiver running a flat route. Clearly not a recipe for success.

We can see the conflict and breakdown from the wide angle as well.

Every receiver is accounted for in the coverage with a deep safety to provide deep help, but with no pass defender guarding the most dangerous threat on the field, the offense puts itself in position to kick a field goal and take back the lead.

17-14 Washington

Score #6- 2nd Quarter 2:00

Our final play of the first half looks at the popular Counter OF, a gap-blocked concept that features down blocks, two pullers, and a hard jab-step away from the play by the tailback to false team keys reading the backfield triangle.

The offense is facing a 1st and 15 due to a false start penalty. While a run is certainly viable here, it must gain 5+ yards to avoid an obvious passing situation on second down.

It's no coincidence that a majority of last Sunday's yards came through attacks on the interior A and B-Ga,p as Jackson ruthlessly exploited run bubbles and misalignments created by Washington's defensive front. We see a great example of Jackson on the attack here, as tailback Duke Johnson Jr. gets the call to pound the weak-side run bubble created by the distance between the 1 and wide-9 technique. 

The run bubble stands out immediately on film, with over 5 yards separating the nose tackle and defensive end. Furthermore, the 1-techniques'alignments create great angles for the C/LG down blocks. With future Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas kicking out the wide-9, Johnson *should* see a massive running lane.

As we move along we see the C and LG wall off the nose and defensive tackle, while Thomas has no problem handling the wide-9's outside rush. The first puller kicks out the fill defender (#36) while the second puller wraps around to pick up the scrapping linebacker. Johnson's read of the puller's block is outstanding as he presses his foot in the dirt and cuts upfield to press the hole with authority.

He is able to run through an ankle tackle by the boundary safety to pick up extra yardage, ultimately gaining 13 yards for a very manageable 2nd and 2

17-17 Tie Ball Game

Score #7- 3rd Quarter 14:20

Our final Browns' scoring drive of the afternoon looks at a clever route concept against the 'Skins base Cover 3 defense.

After receiving the ball to start the second half, the offense has put itself in a bad third-and-long situation as their rookie quarterback must throw the ball on a pass-heavy down.

Cover 3 is a three-deep, four-under zone coverage that often relies on 'spot dropping', or aiming for a landmark on the field in order to ensure proper depth and width in the defender's drops. Jackson takes advantage of this by using vertical routes from his tight end and #2 receiver to distort the zones in order to run a 'Z shallow' underneath.

Pay close attention to the strongside seam/hook defender over the tight end and the weakside curl/flat defender over the #2 receiver, as both routes pull them away from the line of scrimmage.

An accurate throw by Kessler allows the pass catcher to haul it he ball without breaking stride and turn upfield for a solid gain, ultimately leading to another fiedl goal and the Browns' final lead of the afternoon.

20-17 Browns

Score #8- 4th Quarter 10:43

After holding the Washington offense to a scoreless 4th quarter, turnovers finally catch up to the Dawgs' defense

On 2nd and goal from the 6-yard line we see a glaring error in coverage as it appears Jordan Poyer has no idea what coverage the defense is in. When linebacker Christian Kirksey turns around to give him the call the offense runs the play.

The offense is running a simple man-beater concept with the receiver running an inside route to pick the tailback's defender. There is no technique, play design, or concept as the entire unit did not know their assignment. This falls on Horton and the players on the field. It is fairly unusual to see a linebacker setting the backend coverage, as this job primarily falls to a safety. This does not speak well of either safety in the game as they should be communicating the coverage and checks to the other defensive backs.

This poor communication and confusion about role and responsibility was a hallmark of former head coach Mike Pettine's team; I'll give this coaching staff a pass as we have not seen much of this yet.

24-17 Washington

Score #9- 4th Quarter 4:28

Washington salts the game away with a short touchdown run from tailback Matt Jones after the third Cleveland turnover of the second half. The final score of the afternoon comes off a simple Power concept designed to attack the strong-side B-gap run bubble.

While nose tackle Danny Shelton (#55) does a good job using violent hands to shed the right guard's block, slow fills by the linebacker and a downhill fullback/pulling guard combo prevent him from making a goal line stop. The defense is out leveraged (outnumbered) at the point of attack here. The offensive staff likely identified the run bubble during film study and held back the play out of a heavy formation for this specific situation.

For the third straight week, the author finds himself wondering would could have been. Despite a young, inexperienced roster, little depth, and a patchwork offensive line, the team is executing a good-looking ground game and scoring points. On the negative side of the ledger sheet, the offense does not have enough weapons to challenge a team for four quarters and the quarterback position remains unsolved.

On the defensive side of the ball, a lack of pass rush, poor man coverage, and mistakes in run fits continue to plague the unit.

With that said, the team has at least been entertaining to watch as they rip out Dawg Pounder's hearts every weekend. While the idea of tanking leaves a bad taste in the mouth, in might be exactly what is needed in order to bring in a top tier pass rusher or a franchise quarterback.

See you again next week!

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