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Game Review: Browns Bring an Edge in 24-6 Domination of Lions

Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

The Browns are putting together a very impressive preseason thus far, both on offense, defense, and special teams. They got off to another 17-0 start, this time against the Lions, and ended the game with a 24-6 victory. Let's get my complete game review.

Detroit Lions vs. Cleveland Browns

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL


  1. Awarding the Game Ball: TE Jordan Cameron - In less than a complete half of play, Cameron silenced all of the criticisms he's faced in camp with a 3-catch, 42-yard, 2-touchdown performance against the Lions.

    Cameron's blocking still leaves a lot to be desired, but we won't have to worry so much about that if he keeps making the type of catches he made against the Lions. His effort was everything that we had been hoping to see from Cameron in terms of athleticism. This could be Cameron's defining moment -- he needed a confidence booster to help establish himself as the starter, and he did just that. It's a big plus in the preseason when you can cross a position off your "question marks sheet."

    We'll try to break down Cameron's touchdowns in another post, since we already have some other various film stuff going on in this review.

  2. Goat of the Game: OG John Greco - The Browns held the Lions to just two field goals in a preseason game -- games that are typically supposed to be full of mistakes. I can't fault the defense for very much, and the offense played solid in general. I thought about giving it to CB Joe Haden for the touchdown-negating penalty he had on WR Travis Benjamin's punt return, but I'm not so sure it was a major infraction by him.

    I decided to go with Greco. He had the tough task of going up against NT Nick Fairley, and Fairley won a few more battles than desired. When the Browns face the Lions in Week 6, they'd be wise to try to do some things to help out Greco against Fairley. Also, Greco was the guy who got pushed into the ankle of OG Jason Pinkston. You hate to place blame on a guy, but Pinkston is out with a high ankle sprain and will likely miss regular season work.

  3. Loving the Defense, Part 1: The first-team defense did a fantastic job against the Lions. Forget the scheming for a minute -- I'm just impressed with the sheer individual efforts that I see all over the field. When one guy overpowers someone, it allows others to swarm. Let's take a look at some of the work the first-team defense did, starting with the Lions' opening possession:
    On the first play of the game (without WR Calvin Johnson, mind you), the Lions try their hand at an end-around to a wide receiver. If the Lions hit a couple of blocks here, the receiver could take this to the outside and pick up some decent yardage.

    Instead, OLB Paul Kruger helps blow the play up by doing a spin move to the outside, as depicted. This forces the receiver to cut inside. LB D'Qwell Jackson isn't fooled very long, and S Tashaun Gipson has his eyes on the backfield the whole time. CB Chris Owens is trailing his man way behind everybody else. Eventually, the receiver is hit by both Jackson and Gipson for a loss of two yards.
    On 2nd-and-12, TE Brandon Pettigrew dropped a pass, which nearly led to an interception. Above, we show the 3rd-and-12 play. Pre-snap, it looks like a 2-4-5 alignment -- the Browns have Paul Kruger at left outside linebacker with his hand on the ground, Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant as the two defensive tackles, and Jabaal Sheard as the right outside linebacker.

    At the snap, Rubin drops back into zone coverage over the middle. Just as Matthew Stafford is getting into his drop, Sheard has already beaten the left tackle. Stafford has to just dump it off over the middle, where (not seen) ILB Craig Robertson is quick to drop Reggie Bush. The Lions had to punt.

    As a quick note on Sheard, I'm very impressed with him in limited action. Later in the game on a handoff to Bush to the left, Sheard just takes on the left tackle and blows him up two yards backward and right into Bush and held the edge. That forces Bush to try to cut back inside, but he's only able to get back to the line of scrimmage as...Sheard still ends up being the guy to tackle him.

  4. Loving the Defense, Part 2: Let's fast-forward to 3rd-and-7 on the next Lions possession. Still searching for a first down, here is the formation the Lions come out with:
    The Browns are going to bring another blitz here, but can you tell where it's coming from? If you don't remember or didn't see the play, try to guess before looking at the screenshot below.

    For reference, the front four at the line are the same as the previous possession on third down -- from left to right, it's OLB Paul Kruger, DT Ahtyba Rubin, DT Desmond Bryant, and OLB Jabaal Sheard. The inside linebackers are D'Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson. Kruger and Robertson are going to stay in a bit of zone coverage on the left/over the middle, while everyone else is going to come from the right side.

    Rubin and Bryant both attack right to their, which leaves the right tackle trying to shift over to help, but running into a wall of his own teammates. That means if we bring the right amount of heat on the blitz, without the running back in protection, we should have a free guy coming at the quarterback. That free guy is going to be SS Johnson Bademosi, who is the only Browns defender circled above.
    You can start to see where Bademosi is going to be coming free. At the bottom of the screen, veteran WR Nate Burleson is one-on-one with CB Joe Haden. Last week, a receiver was able to beat Haden on a blitz for a first down. This week, the ball is a little too hot for Burleson, and Haden gets his hand into the mix as well, to force an incompletion and another punt. We've seen two third downs already -- one with a blitz, and one without one. Both had a man getting to the quarterback fairly quick, either due to individual effort or Ray Horton's playcall.

  5. Loving the Defense, Part 3: On the next series, the Lions were again facing a third-down situation, 3rd-and-6. The Browns decided to take Ahtyba Rubin out this time around and replace him with Phil Taylor. I have watched this play about 20 times already, and I am still confused about how the defense ended up looking the way it did, given the pre-snap alignment. Maybe one of the film guys like rufio or Mike Krupka can help me out with the breakdown of this play, but I'll more or less "show" what happened (excuse the excessive screenshots):
    First, we start off with QB Matthew Stafford in Shotgun, with RB Reggie Bush to his right. At the top of the screen is CB Chris Owens. Deep coverage on the slot is CB Buster Skrine. The player next to Skrine is SS Josh Aubrey, and the player below him is FS Tashaun Gipson. At the bottom of the screen is CB Joe Haden. You can see in this screenshot that Bush is starting to motion out to the bottom of the screen, and this is where I get a little confused, in a good way.
    The Browns seemingly do a giant circular rotation in coverage. Gipson rotates to the bottom of the screen right up to the line of scrimmage to play man coverage on Bush. That leaves Haden to shift over to where LB Craig Robertson is, but he's looking like he could blitz. OLB Jabaal Sheard moves over to have man coverage on the slot receiver. Skrine goes back into a safety position, while Aubrey rotates closer to the bottom of the screen.
    The Browns are bringing both Robertson and Haden on a blitz, meaning Haden is vacating the wide receiver circled in the picture.
    Only five players are coming on the blitz from Cleveland, but you can see NT Phil Taylor splitting two offensive linemen with a relatively free lane to Stafford.
    With pressure coming, Stafford is eying the receiver who Haden vacated. Here, you can see both Taylor and Haden getting their hands up to try to disrupt or tip Stafford's pass, meaning he doesn't have a very big window to throw the ball into.
    Although neither person disrupts the pass, Aubrey is immediately on top of the receiver and drives him into the ground several yards shy of the first down. Aubrey received high marks from defensive coordinator Ray Horton for his work in this game, and he might be creeping into solidifying that role that rookie Jamoris Slaughter was supposed to hold.

    One of my big questions is this: if Bush had never motioned to the outside, how would the coverage have differed? Would Haden still have come on a blitz, along with Robertson? Is Sheard still in coverage? Was this an impromptu defensive adjustment built into Horton's system, or was something like this going to happen anyway, regardless of the shift? Either way, I like the fact that everyone knew what they were doing and it worked out.

  6. Gordon's Spectacular Catch: On their third offensive possession of the game, the Browns' offense scored their first touchdown of the game. It was sparked first by a roughing the passer call on Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, but the 37-yard pass connection between QB Brandon Weeden and WR Josh Gordon was the play of the drive, and perhaps the game.
    First, you can see that Weeden has one of the cleanest pockets he's faced in the game so far, so he stays very relaxed and is able to step into his throw.
    When I first saw Gordon make the catch, I was excited, but also a little questionable of his tactics. I saw Gordon grab a few passes one-handish last season. Earlier in this game, he tried to haul in a long pass with one hand versus diving. I think his short reception might have been one-handed too (when I say one-handed, I mean cradling with one hand initially). This angle made it seem like Gordon again risked a fairly open reception by one-handing it.
    Then, I remembered that there was a pass interference penalty called on the defensive back. I initially had trouble finding the infraction, but finally caught this on a paused replay. The defensive back was originally a little further beaten on the play, but as the pass is coming down, he appears to interfere with Gordon's right arm.

    This angle indicates that Gordon was actually trying to secure the ball with two hands. In hindsight, it makes the play even better -- despite the interference, he still cradles the ball with one hand, gets the extra yardage, and the offense rolling. I know he'll only be missing two games to start the season, but 3 catches for 72 yards in just a couple of series? That's not easy to replace.

  7. Tight End Blocking Needs to Improve: Part of the reason our running backs are getting hit behind the line of scrimmage is because the tight ends aren't getting good enough blocks. With TE Gary Barnidge going down early to a shoulder injury, TE Kellen Davis had some first-team reps and didn't do very well.
    Here is just one example I'll shot, but there were others. The Browns hand the ball off to RB Dion Lewis, and TE Kellen Davis lines up ready to block the guy in front of him.
    It's a little weird how Davis seems to just end up letting the guy pass, and then late decides to try to block the guy on the outside since it's the only option. The damage is already done -- Lewis has to stop his momentum, which allows the backside pursuit to quickly catch up with him and take him down. I'd be in favor of seeing how TE Brad Smelley and TE Dan Gronkowski do in this role, because the current guys don't seem to be cutting it.

  8. Fullback Position: We saw RB Chris Ogbonnaya bolster his odds of being the fullback after a couple of nice blocks to spring runners loose. But first, let's take a look at a run that had FB Owen Marecic in with the first-team offense for one of his few snaps of the game:
    I actually circled both Marecic and TE Kellen Davis on this play. Marecic is at fullback, and Davis to his left.
    Yep. The arrow on the left shows Marecic reaching his arm out because he reached the second level not having made contact with anybody. Davis is also beat by his guy before the running back can reach the line of scrimmage. Someone else got beat too to disrupt the play, but these type of blocks don't help a guy like Marecic -- opportunities are far and few between for him these days.
    Now, here's the big run by RB Dion Lewis. The small arrow shows Ogbonnaya planting the edge guy to the ground, which is the key that helps spring Lewis free for 31 yards. OT Joe Thomas, C Alex Mack, LG John Greco, and TE Kellen Davis also deserve credit for doing their jobs to form the wall on the other side, too. I really don't enjoy harping on Marecic as a fullback, but seeing things like this just makes it hard to get behind him as the No. 1 guy.

  9. Different Defensive Look: I thought I was done breaking down the defense, but I had to highlight this play because of the way we utilized our linebackers.
    There are four linebackers and two defensive linemen. The defensive tackle on the left is Ahtyba Rubin, and next to him is Desmond Bryant. At linebacker, Jabaal Sheard has switched sides -- he is at the top of the screen on the left. Below him is D'Qwell Jackson, and in the middle next to him is Paul Kruger. Craig Robertson is actually playing outside linebacker at the bottom of the screen. The outcome of the play?
    Pre2def13_medium's some form of confusion on Detroit's part. They block the two defensive tackles, but Sheard gets a free lane to the running back and stuffs Bush for a loss of three yards. Kruger was near the area as well. This was on a 1st-and-10, by the way.

  10. Utilization of Bess: There was some interesting utilization of WR Davone Bess against the Lions. From what I have seen in training camp and last week against the Rams, most of Bess' third-down routes were run beyond the first-down marker, and he'd get there fairly quickly. This week, I saw Bess running some shallow crossing routes on third down that would've been well short of a first down. He wasn't targeted once in the game.

    I have to wonder if this is one of those subtle misdirections the Browns could be trying to use on the Lions, since they face them again in Week 6 of the regular season. I know you can't always run your third-down routes beyond the first-down marker, but I'd be interesting to see how Bess' utilization varies in Week 6.

    UPDATE: When I initially wrote about Bess, I hadn't seen a play at the end of the first quarter. Backed up in our own end zone, QB Brandon Weeden hit WR Josh Gordon on a rope with pressure in his face for a big first down on 3rd-and-11. Gordon was on Weeden's left. Bess was in the slot to the right and did run an out route beyond the first down marker. The "huh?" part came when I saw that WR Josh Cooper, not WR Greg Little, was the outside receiver to the top of the screen. He might have mirrored Gordon's route a bit, but from the other side.

  11. Special Teams Blockers: Sometimes, it might help knowing who some of the first-team blockers are on special teams, as those guys might have a good shot at making the roster. I don't know the terminology of special teams blockers, or if there are any terms. However, you're probably familiar with the fact that two defensive backs typically try to block each gunner.

    On one side of the field, Chris Owens and Buster Skrine teamed up against one gunner. On the other side of the field, Joe Haden and Johnson Bademosi teamed up against the other gunner. The interesting part is that ILB James-Michael Johnson played the role that S Ray Ventrone used to have -- dropping back basically in front of WR Travis Benjamin, and trying to block the first guy coming up the middle.

  12. Special Teams Tackles: There were six special teams tackles by the Browns, with one each going to CB Akeem Auguste, OLB Justin Cole, S Kent Richardson, ILB James-Michael Johnson, RB Brandon Jackson, and WR Tori Gurley.

  13. Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, WR Greg Little saw a lot of reps, a couple of starting offensive linemen played with QB Jason Campbell, and OG Garrett Gilkey pulled double duty. On defense, S Josh Aubrey was in a lot throughout the game, and DE Ahtyba Rubin saw a lot more work than he did a week ago.

  14. Brownies: ILB Craig Robertson does a great job in coverage, and it's clear that Ray Horton trusts him dropping back deep. ... RB Dion Lewis broke his leg on a play where he jumped to catch a pass from QB Jason Campbell in the second quarter, and on the way down, two defenders hit him, with one hitting his leg just as it landed on the ground. ... CB Trevin Wade is having the same type of aggressive coverage preseason he did a year ago. ... OLB Justin Cole beat a backup left tackle to stop a running back at the line of scrimmage. ... OLB Barkevious Mingo got hurt before he could take a defensive snap (he was on special teams).

  15. Brownies, Part 2: I don't think we can have S Johnson Bademosi as our kick returner with the way he holds the football on his returns (looks prone to fumbles). ... ILB L.J. Fort had a solid day of tackling. ... For the second straight week, WR Dominique Croom did a nice job coming back to the ball and going up to make a catch. ... P Spencer Lanning had a solid say while P T.J. Conley sat with an injury. ... K Brandon Bogotay was also having a good day before he left with an injury. ... OLB Justin Cole almost blocked a punt. ... DE Armonty Bryant easily schooled the third-string linemen for a sack.

Up next, the Browns will travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts next Saturday. Feel free to leave some more of your thoughts on the game, and let me know if there are any specific plays you'd like me to try to break down from the victory over the Lions.