On September 24, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Cleveland Browns. In this week three match up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we’re up against. The Browns have a young roster chocked full of young talent and high draft picks. The last time our Colts played the Browns we needed a patented Andrew Luck led game winning drive to bring home the W.
A lot of faces have changed for both teams since 2014, hopefully that turnover results in a similar outcome. Let’s figure out what we can expect in week three.
Scheme: Gregg Williams
NFL defenses have moved back and forth between base 4-3 and 3-4 sets. In recent seasons the lines have blurred and there’s more hybridization than ever before. With that said at heart Gregg Williams loves him some 4-3 fronts.
- From the man himself:
Despite the fact that he was the man behind “bountygate” Gregg Williams was and is a top defensive mind in the NFL. Our friends from Dawgs By Nature sat down with Football Outsiders to get an idea of Williams scheme:
Williams likes to blitz a lot. His Rams were in the top eight each season in number of five-man rushes, and in the top five in how often he used six rushers or more.
However, those blitzers were rarely linebackers. As a group, Rams linebackers were in the bottom four each season in sacks at that position.
Obviously, then, those blitzers must come from the secondary. The Rams led the NFL in defensive back blitzes in each of the last two years, and they were second in 2014. This was on a team whose best players were all on the defensive line, so they really didn't need the help, but Williams never hesitated to fire with all weapons anyway.
It’s no secret he likes to get after quarterbacks. He will look to hit whatever poor soul takes the field in Indianapolis on Sunday. Assuming Scott Brisett [it’s a joke, calm down] can get some throws off what type of coverage will he/they be facing? USA Today took a look:
Based on the snap breakdown, when the Browns will play the CBs in man coverage, it will almost always be in Cover 1. That was the case more than 85 percent of the time Williams called man coverage, which he did on just under 30 percent of the defensive plays.
Cover 1 is man coverage on the outside with a single safety providing deep help. Especially when the opponent had a strong No. 1 receiver, that safety often shades to the strong side or even doubles the primary target. Given the uncertainty at both safety positions in Cleveland, this seems quite likely to repeat itself with the Browns.
The corners played zone 70 percent of the time, and it was a pretty even split of Cover 2 and Cover 3. Those two represent over 76 percent of the entire defensive plays.
When the opposing team has two tight ends, or a running back and fullback in the backfield, Cover 3 will be the primary call. Against three or more wideouts, expect Cover 2.
Based on this information I expect to see very little man coverage and a healthy dose of Cover 2 as the Colts insist on using both 12 personnel and 21 personnel using both tight ends in some role, the majority of the time.
Now that we know what this new look Browns squad will look to run, who are they going to trot out come Sunday afternoon?
Defensive Line: High Picks, Big Results?
The Cleveland Browns defensive line features 1st, 12th and 32nd overall picks of their respective drafts and some undrafted guy named Trevon Coley. I’m kidding, Coley has worked insanely hard and given that he’s lining up next to the guys he is, is a testament to his hard work.
Danny Shelton and Emmanuel Ogbah have each been with the Browns more than a year and both have show promise against both the run and the pass. Carl Nassib is a solid rotational player who expects to see plenty of action against the Colts. Ogbah notched 5.5 sacks as a rookie while starting all 16 games. He’s someone who hopes to improve greatly in year two and someone we need to watch rushing the passer one-on-one if Garrett can’t go.
At the time of this writing the top pick of the 2017 draft, Myles Garrett is battling a high ankle sprain and is expected to miss our week three match up. Which is probably a good thing. I would much rather have Carl Nassib pin his ears back than Garrett.
- Garrett’s Abilities:
- Danny Shelton:
This obviously isn’t from week one but Danny Shelton is playing like the guy the Browns thought they were getting when the took him with the 12th overall pick in the 2015 draft.
- Myles Garrett:
This is Garrett working against the starting left tackle of the AFC South leading Jacksonville Jaguars: Cam Robinson. It’s probably a good thing he can’t go on Sunday.
When I looked at the Browns linebackers I honestly wasn’t expecting much, they have Jamie Collins. Cool. But then I watched the game and noticed how good these guys are.
The crazy thing is before the season started they had no idea who was going to start at middle linebacker. Tank Carder was slated to start before tearing his ACL, as a result they started Joe Schobert inside and while it’s too bad Carder is injured after finally getting his shot, Schobert looked good enough I don’t think Carder would have won that competition anyway.
In the off-season, the Browns signed Christian Kirksey to a 4-year $38 million deal after racking up 148 total tackles in 2016. The word on Kirksey seems to suggest he’s a liability in coverage so expect to see him come off the field when the situation dictates.
- Jamie Collins:
Two things stand out on this play:
- The patented Gregg Williams corner blitz.
- Jamie Collins making it obvious why you’ve never heard of Steelers TE Xaiver Grimble.
- The Very Next Play:
I’m not going to claim I know who blew this coverage, because I don’t have any idea, bottom line they blew it and Jesse James was wide open for the first down.
- Joe Schobert:
Schobert reads, reacts, and runs down Le’Veon Bell showing great speed.
- Goes down as a pass defensed:
James Burgess Jr. only made one tackle on the day but he found himself in good position here. Not bad for a UDFA in his first NFL game.
- Just Good QB Play:
The QB looks left which causes Kirksey and Schobert to cheat that way. He know where he wants to go with the ball so he looks the backers off and as soon as Kirksey clears out of the path of the ball, he turns and fires to Jesse James. While Schobert cheated based on the QB’s eyes he was still in decent position. Kirksey took himself out of the play and that made the difference from INT to TD.
These Browns linebackers look good. They don’t have the depth and flexibility that we saw last week against the Cardinals, but they’re good in their own right. With that said they can be beaten, hopefully Rob Chudzinski takes advantage when Kirksey is in the game and uses our TE’s to exploit that weakness in his game.
Injury Update: It has been reported that OLB Jamie Collins suffered a concussion against the Ravens and has entered concussion protocol. His status for week three is unknown at this time. Losing Collins would be a huge blow to the Browns defense.
I may be making more of this than other people but just a few days before their week one game a fight broke out and as a result the Browns cut a safety that some people thought would play a large role this season. In addition to that bit of drama they also cut former star CB Joe Haden the week before. According to their fanbase this was a surprising move but not necessarily a bad one. Haden has been slowed by injuries and is no longer the player that kept him in Cleveland as long as he had been there.
All of that drama aside I noticed a ton of zone coverage against the Steelers. Some Cover 2, some Cover 3.
But who’s playing that coverage? This off-season the Browns went out and signed longtime Titans cornerback Jason McCourty. Manning the other CB spot is Jamar Taylor who is coming off of a 2016 season that saw him start 14 games for the Browns and intercept three passes, while breaking up 13 others. Originally a second round pick of the Dolphins in 2013, Taylor was traded from the ‘Phins to the Browns for a seventh round pick. He has excelled in Cleveland and has been given an extension as a result. PFF named Taylor as the Browns “secret superstar” coming into 2017, which ultimately doesn’t mean much but it’s worth noting.
The third corner I expect to see a lot of on Sunday is Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Boddy-Calhoun is listed as a Strong Safety everywhere but on the Browns depth chart. Regardless BBC notched three interceptions and eleven passes defended in 2016.
This is a unit that struggled in 2016 and based on what I saw, could struggle again in 2017. There are some positives, however.
- This Browns Defense Swarms:
This ended up being a good open field tackle but the thing that stands out to me the most is the number of white jerseys you see at the end of the play. And yes TE Vance McDonald was flagged for holding on this play.
- Brown’s big gain:
I put this one in here due to the fact that 80 of Antonio Brown’s 182 yards in week one came on this drive. Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with him for 50, 11, and 19 yards while working the clock at the end of the second quarter. They finished up the drive with the look-off touchdown example I listed in the section on linebackers.
- Tip Drill:
SS Derrick Kindred is the beneficiary of a well timed jump and tipped pass. Had that pass been complete, I’m afraid Martavis Bryant might have been out of football for a while again, as Kindred and Peppers were in position to separate Bryant from the ball.
Somehow I managed to make it through that entire section without mentioning rookie first rounder Jabrill Peppers. While at Michigan, Peppers was used in every role but offensive line. Offense, defense, special teams, I’m 95% sure I remember seeing him throw a pass last season, and this year he’s the starting free safety for the Cleveland Browns. Peppers is an amazing athlete and had a strong week one notching four tackles and knocking down a pass.
- Not Football Related:
But I enjoyed it.
The Browns secondary has some promising talent but they don’t inspire. If our receivers have someone with an NFL caliber arm throwing them the ball look for TY to have a good day and Donte Moncrief to get fed.
The Browns front seven has looked really good, while their secondary has been somewhat of a liability. With a healthy Andrew Luck I would look for the Colts offense to pass their way to opening up a lead, and hopefully running lanes, while hitting on a few big plays to TY and Moncrief. This may not be a possibility, and we may be left struggling against the strength of this defense.
The Browns lost in week one for a variety of reasons,. The easiest to fix is special teams, which we will take a look at tomorrow.
If you like football breakdowns, or just want to learn more about the game, take a trip over to SBNation’s Cleveland Browns blog, Dawgs by Nature and check out Rufio’s Playbook. This guy is a wealth of knowledge and reading though his breakdowns is an awesome way for a football fan to kill a rainy weekend afternoon.