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2020 Opponent Scouting Report: Browns Defense, tough vs the run but soft in the back end.

NFL: Washington Football Team at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On October 11th, 2020 the Indianapolis Colts will travel east to take on the Cleveland Browns In this Week 5 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

Being a fan of the Browns is about the most difficult thing someone could willingly put themselves through. Their list of draft busts is prolific. Their list of fired coaches, amazing. Their list of starting quarterbacks, unparalleled. The only thing Browns fans really understand is disappointment. They hope that they’re on the right track with yet another first year head coach at the helm. If a Browns fan “burns” the Colts with a Trent Richardson joke, let them. That trade was their Super Bowl.

Let’s see what we can expect in week five.


Defensive System:

New this season in Cleveland is head coach Kevin Stefanski, also new is defensive coordinator Joe Woods. Woods spent two seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. Woods took over for legendary coordinator Wade Phillips and didn’t really use “his” system during his time in Denver. So I don’t have a long history of what Woods likes to do. All I have is what he’s put on tape this season.

So what does his system look like so far in 2020? Woods will use a 4-3 base set and they mix in both man and zone coverage but have relied on zone looks early in the season. They don’t blitz often but when they do they like to send their defensive backs. Along the defensive front they use a lot of stunts to try to generate pressure in a multitude of ways, they’re good at distracting offensive linemen just long enough to not notice a blitz or defensive end who happens to be looping back inside. Really they don’t do many exotic things, they’ll disguise some looks and try to confuse the quarterback some but, much like the Chuck Pagano defense our Colts saw last week this Browns defense isn’t that complex.

Complex blitz

I’m kidding, it’s just a little tricky. The Browns initially show blitz with the safety in the box near the bottom of the clip. At the snap he drops out into deep coverage on the receiver running a post. The corner at the bottom of the clip picks up the tight end while the linebacker and defensive end who dropped into coverage stay with the slot receiver running the crossing route. The slot corner and inside linebacker both blitz right between the left guard and tackle.

Based on what I saw this is as tricky as the Browns will get on Sunday.

The Browns like this blitz

Yesterday I showed you how often the Browns liked to use the counter run while pulling guard Wyatt Teller multiple times and I just kept showing you the same concept over and over again. Well buckle up cupcake, we’re going to do it again, this time on defense.

Here the Browns use the same kind of blitz this time near the goal line. Had this been a pass, it probably would have been a good call. Instead two Browns defenders shoot through one gap on the left and the only linebacker who could have possibly made a play is driven back by the right tackle #68. Everyone else just maintains their blocks and the running back finds a crease and enough room to get in for six.

This is a good blitz concept they just called it at the wrong time, against a zone run that the back easily and correctly read.

If at first you don’t succeed

Run the same blitz look again! Once again the inside linebacker and defensive back run between the left guard and tackle while a defensive end drops into coverage. I don’t know that I’m more amazed by the fact that the Browns just kept using this play or by the fact that the Bengals offensive line never seemed to catch on. Poor Joe Burrow.

Mismatch issue

The first thing to note about this clip is that despite what that moron @NotShepsBurner said in his tweet, this isn’t zone coverage. The Washington Football Team worked to spread the Browns defense out and they had a lot of success in doing so. One thing it allowed them to do was to get themselves favorable matchups like the one in this clip. That’s very good wide receiver Terry McLaurin one on one against a Browns linebacker. This becomes an easy pitch, catch and run for Washington.

Switching

If you haven’t read it you need to go read this article from our own Zach Hicks. Zach breaks down the Colts coverage this year and takes a deep dive into pattern matching, which is what the Browns are doing in this clip.

This was another nice play design by Washington. The slot corner stays with the outside receiver who runs a quick slant towards the middle of the field. The slot receiver nearest the quarterback runs a route in the middle of the field that helps to pull the single high safety the direction that he’s running. Meanwhile the slot receiver runs a vertical route and is picked up by the outside corner. The corner maintains outside leverage, probably playing too far off. Instead Washington caught the safety sleeping (which isn’t hard to do but I’ll save that for the DB section) and fit the ball in for a touchdown.

It’s tough to sack someone this fast

Once again the Browns send a defensive back on a blitz. Because Myles Garrett is a massive human, the defensive back hides behind him for a few steps before cutting toward 2019 league MVP Lamar Jackson. Meanwhile Sheldon Richardson who lines up over the center stunts to his left to occupy the center and right guard ensuring that no one has a chance to block the blitzing corner.

The Browns scheme isn’t that much different from what you’ll see the Colts do each week. What is vastly different are the guys who are asked to make it work.


Defensive Line:

Obviously everyone knows who Myles Garrett is, even if you only know him for his ability to swing helmets, you still know the guy. So far Myles Garrett has played like a man possessed but he’s not the only one worth mentioning for these Browns.

Oliver Vernon will line up opposite from Garrett most often but you might also see Adrian Clayborn, Porter Gustin or Joe Jackson as well. On the interior are Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson. Richardson has been good when asked to set up his teammates via stunts but I didn’t notice much direct pressure from the eighth year vet. Ogunjobi on the other hand flashed constantly on tape. He has been an absolute force against the run and seems to get penetration into opposing backfields with ease.

Both Richardson and Ogunjobi left last weeks game with injuries. Richardson hurt his right leg but wasn’t mentioned by Kevin Stefanski during his Monday press conference but Ogunjobi and his injured oblique were. These injuries could end up being huge news if one or both men are unable to play on Sunday.

What you all came for

Terrence Steele isn’t great but Myles Garrett is, I don’t know what the Cowboys were thinking. Last week Colts right tackle Braden Smith didn’t allow a sack against Kahlil Mack, this week he will have another tall task trying to contain Myles Garrett. Keeping elite pass rushers quiet two weeks in a row might be a tall task, the Colts need a plan.

Baldy with the plan:

Oh. Double team him? Thanks Baldy, I couldn’t have possibly come up with that on my own. Sure, Mike McCarthy didn’t think of it but I pride myself on being better than Mike McCarthy.

This Browns defensive line has been really good against the run and they’re currently third in the league causing a QB hurry nearly 15% of the time. The Colts offensive line hasn’t been the dominate force we’ve all expected them to be this season and this might be a rough game to expect them to turn that around. Hopefully the Browns defensive line has an off day, we might not be able to move them off the ball otherwise.


Linebackers:

The names to know; B.J. Goodson, Sione Takitaki and Malcom Smith. There’s a chance you’ll see Mack Wilson or Jacob Phillips on Sunday but they’ve only played 33 and 29 snaps this season, respectively. On a side note Mack Wilson’s name alone should earn him more playing time, it’s the perfect name for a linebacker.

On tape Goodson and Smith popped on several occasions. Smith was consistently good in coverage, he seems to always be in good position in man. Goodson looks somewhat easy to pick on in coverage, especially when the called coverage dictates that he cover a much quicker pass catching option. Even with that in mind Goodson has had a knack for positioning himself to somehow come up with big plays. Neither man impressed me against the run but with a defensive line as talented as theirs, being “impressive” is nice but probably not required to have an effective rush defense.

Good coverage

This ball never should have been thrown. The Browns have three defensive backs deep and the safety is playing a deep third. Malcom Smith is glued to his man underneath and Dwayne Haskins tries to throw it over the top. It results in an interception for the safety but the coverage from Smith here is about as good as it gets.

Smith gets his

Yes, Dwayne Haskins is bad. This is another horrible throw. But you can’t take away from the fact that Smith was instrumental in two of Haskins three interceptions on the day.

Opportunistic

B.J. Goodson isn’t great in coverage but you can’t count on him to be so bad that he won’t make a play like this. The ball was behind the receiver, Haskins was probably trying to avoid throwing the ball to the safety, instead he threw it right to Goodson. Goodson did what everyone but Kahlil Mack would do and caught the ball.

The Browns linebackers aren’t good enough to even be named as alternates to the Pro Bowl, but they’re also not bad players. They’re exploitable if you game plan well but they’re not so inept that you wonder if they know they’re playing professional football. If the Colts are consistently aware of the matchups they have against these ‘backers Philip Rivers should be able to find some room to throw in the middle of the field.


Defensive Backs:

Names to know; cornerbacks Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell, Tavierre Thomas, M.J. Stewart, and safeties Karl Joseph and my personal favorite, Andrew Sendejo.

Denzel Ward was a taken two picks before the Colts drafted Quenton Nelson (6th overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft. At the time it was a surprising pick, most people believed Ward would be an early first round selection but very few thought top five. Based on what I’ve seen of him on tape this season he was worth the top five selection. As of right now, he isn’t challenging to be the best corner in the league but he is very good in coverage despite a few minor inconsistencies.

Terrance Mitchell on the other hand should be thrown at, often. It’s not that Mitchell is awful, it’s that he is consistently losing in coverage. That might make him sound awful, but I truly think he’s just below average, not awful.

Tavierre Thomas might be awful in coverage. If you want to see Thomas in action, scroll back up to the blitzes and look for number 20. That’s him. Otherwise I noticed him on a lot when he came screaming off the edge to help out in the run game but when challenged in coverage, you know what cornerbacks usually do, his man was almost always open.

M.J. Stewart has played fewer than 20% of the teams snaps and I remember seeing him on approximately zero plays and there’s no mention of him in any of my notes. That’s not to say he isn’t great or terrible or somewhere in between but he certainly wasn’t memorable from the tape I watched.

Karl Joseph was drafted with the 14th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. He’s never lived up to his first round status and the Raiders, battling constant injury. The Raiders let Joseph walk in free agency and he signed a one year, $2.5 million contract with these Browns. If that seems cheap, it might be because he’s not great. Joseph was the beneficiary of playing Dwayne Haskins but outside of that game hasn’t been much of a factor.

Now we get to talk about my personal favorite member of the Browns secondary: Andrew Sendejo. I like him so much because he’s the only member of the Browns defense that’s played 100% of the teams snaps and he’s consistently getting beat in coverage and in big ways.

Sende-no

Was he supposed to have help back inside? Maybe and if this were Sendejo’s only “bad” play I’d be willing to look the other way.

I’m going to take a minute to explain a little bit of my process when I’m watching games. First I watch multiple (at least three) games and I take notes. I then go back and review the all-22 using my notes to see if anything pops out at me. If I see anything that would help to tell the story of the team I’m breaking down I note the time in the game and a quick note about the play so that I can go right to that clip in the all-22 to easily find it. It looks like this:

I have three games worth of notes for these Browns and I wanted you to see what it looks like so that you understand I don’t set out to find a single player doing something good or bad. If he’s not a super star, I probably don’t know his name, as evidenced by the fact that I kept calling B.J. Goodson “93”. So this isn’t a targeted attack, Andrew Sendejo just stinks.

Bad angle

This play sure looked cool for the Cowboys but Sendejo could have easily made a play on this ball and instead he went flying into empty space.

This play again

I wasn’t going to include this play originally in this section too but Zach Hicks pointed it out to me and if Hicks tells me something about DB play, I listen.

I had to go back and watch this play a few times to notice what Zach was talking about, but he’s right. Haskins’ entire body is pointing at the deep route to his right, had he tried to throw left from that position it would have been almost impossible to do. Haskins wanted to go to the slot receiver the entire time and Sendejo let him get away with it.

I’ll move on from my Sendejo tear down, but I’ve enjoyed it.

3rd and 10 man coverage

Even before the pick caused Mitchell to juke out of the way, he was two steps behind the receiver running the crossing route. Mitchell in man coverage seemed to be a step slow most of the time.

Dontrelle Inman sighting

Here former Colt Dontrelle Inman puts a double move on Mitchell that leaves him in the dust. If you remember Inman he was a reliable, consistent player for the Colts when injuries decimated the receiver corps in recent years but elite route runner, he is not.

Yikes

I can’t really know who screwed up on this play, it could be one guy, it could be multiple people but my money is on #42 Karl Joseph, the Browns defender who is a full “TIM” away from the tight end who makes the catch (that’s a BALTIMORE endzone paint joke).

Not all Ward’s fault

Here Denzel Ward doesn’t get good depth in his zone and allows a completion to a receiver running across the field. While this is technically Ward’s fault, I’m willing to give him a pass on it due to the fact that had he dropped deeper in the zone and Lamar Jackson decided to scramble that direction, Ward might have given up a huge run on that side. Lamar Jackson is a special player who will do weird things to a defense like this. Ward was put in a no win situation and the Ravens capitalized. Philip Rivers 40 time is probably somewhere around 6.2 seconds so Denzel Ward probably won’t have any hesitations about dropping a little deeper on Sunday.

Sendejo redemption

Fine, he made like two nice plays against the Cowboys. He still stinks in coverage.

The Browns are giving up a lot of yards per game through the air. Browns opponents have hit them for 1,242 yards, nearly double what the Colts have given up.

“The Cowboys game was an anomaly”

Probably so. So lets throw that out. Minus the Cowboys game the Browns were giving up 253.7 passing yards per game which would still land them between the Raiders and Broncos at 21st in the league. With the Cowboys game the Browns are giving up 310.5 yards per game - a huge difference so the fact that they’re currently ranked 30th in the league in pass defense is not fully indicative of the quality of their team, but they’re still not great in this aspect.

If the Colts had been throwing the ball all over the yard in every game this season I would be more excited about this matchup. As it stands I see this as a chance to get the passing game going but I’m not going to hold my breath.


Final Thoughts:

The Browns defense has done a good job stopping the run and a poor job shutting down the pass. The Colts offense hasn’t been great at either thing this season. I still don’t think we know exactly who or what the Colts identity is on offense and the Browns defense, outside of Myles Garrett is similar. Ultimately the Colts offense versus the Browns defense is a fairly even matchup, much like the Colts defense versus the Browns offense. This game could be tight and it should be a lot of fun to watch.