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Browns Pass Rush: Week 2 Team Review (Part 1/3)

In this installment of the series, I evaluate the Browns' Week 2 pass rush versus the New Orleans Saints.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Week 2 of the 2014 season is in the books. I'm not one to dwell on the past, but I do think we can learn some things from it. With that in mind, let's look back at the pass rush versus the Saints, so that we can figure out what to expect from the defense going forward.

If you are looking for an explanation of where the following numbers come from or a breakdown of the 2013 results that I use as a basis for comparison in this article, check out my introductory 2014 Browns Pass Rush Season Primer. If you'd like to take a look at the Week 1 results, look at my Week 2 Forecast. Now, let's jump into this week's results.

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WEEK 2 TEAM PASS RUSH

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Overall Team Pass Rush Scores:

2014 Week 2 vs. NO	80.0%
2014 Week 1 vs. PIT	67.9%
2013 Week 1 vs. MIA	68.2%
2013 Week 4 vs. CIN	66.7%
2013 Week 9 vs. BAL	74.5%
2013 Week 13 vs. JAX	93.5%
2013 Week 17 vs. PIT	76.9%
2013 Season Total	73.9%

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Number of Pass Rushers on Play:

		Week 1		Week 2 vs. NO
4-Man Rush	19/28 = 67.9%	16/31 = 51.6%
3-Man Rush	 6/28 = 21.4%	 5/31 = 16.1%
5-Man Rush	 3/28 = 10.7%	 9/31 = 29.0%
0-Man Rush	 0/28 =  0.0%	 1/31 =  3.2%

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Week 2 Highlight Plays With 5-Man Rush:

Burned
Quick RB flat pass, 11-yard gain
6-yard pass on 3rd-and-5
1-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham
20-yard pass to Jimmy Graham
13-yard pass to Cooks (corner blitz)
8-yard run on 2nd-and-6

Success
Kruger sack
Brees can't step into pass, incomplete
Pass for -1 yards on 3rd-and-2
Brees throws ball away to avoid sack
Kruger pass defensed
Dansby sack

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Week 1 Highlight Plays With 5-Man Rush:

Burned
41-yard screen to Antonio Brown
35-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown
38-yard touchdown run by Le'Veon Bell
9-yard pass (2:00 drill approaching FG range)

Success
Interception by Karlos Dansby

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As you can see, the overall Team Pass Rush Score this past week was higher than the 2013 season average as well as the mark set in Week 1's game against the Steelers. How did the Browns achieve this?

1. Blitzing was higher versus the Saints than in Pittsburgh on qualifying passing plays: The Browns brought nine 5-man rushes, making up 29.0% of their total pass rushing attempts. They only had three when they faced the Steelers, which made up only 10.7% of their pass rushing attempts. To some degree this accounts for the increase in functional pressure on the quarterback, which they got 67.9% of the time in Week 1 and 80.0% of the time in Week 2.

  • Qualifying passing plays? These are plays that factor into my pass rush numbers: plays where the defense has the opportunity to bring a "normal" pass rush. By that, I mean that it excludes quick 1-step drop throws, trick plays, and plays which let rushers have a free path to the quarterback...like screen passes.

2. Screen passes: We got burned on two huge screens in Week 1. We didn't give up any big screen plays in Week 2. This was one way that the Steelers made us pay for playing too aggressively early in the game. As a result, we dialed back our pressure. The Saints didn't find such success in the screen game.

  • The closest thing to a screen that the Browns got burned on when sending a 5-man rush was a quick pass to the running back down the sideline. QB Drew Brees read that OLB Paul Kruger was rushing (see read arrow in image below). TE Jimmy Graham would fake a quick screen and then go on a slant route into the middle, taking CB Joe Haden with him. The running back's route would attack this vacated area fast enough that ILB Chris Kirksey could not get there in time. The play resulted in Brees dropping the ball in between Kirksey and Haden (who came off Graham as the ball was thrown) for an 11-yard gain. While not a huge splash for major yardage, it was a well-designed play to take advantage of the Browns sending the outside linebacker.

Backflat_no1402_2q8-44_1_medium

Backflat_no1402_2q8-44_2_medium

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3. The Browns defense did not give up huge plays while blitzing: This is the real difference maker. In Week 1, the Browns gave up three 35+ yard plays while rushing five, two of which were touchdowns. In Week 2, they only gave up a single 20-yard play when sending five on the rush. They still gave up some bad situational plays while blitzing (see the highlight plays list above), but none of these were for big chunks of yardage. As a result, they were able to stick with their game plan and mix up their pressure packages: switching between 4-, 5-, and 3-man rushes (51.6%, 29.0%, and 16.1% of the time, respectively).

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4. One of the reasons that the Browns boosted their pass rush statistics was that they prioritized getting pressure at the expense of run defense: The defense gave up 174 yards rushing, to the tune of 6.4 yards per carry on 27 attempts. The Saints actually averaged more yards per rushing attempt than their 5.3 yards per pass, yet they attempted 40 passes: a 40/60 run-pass ratio. So, to some extent, they let the defense off the hook rather than pressing the advantage.

  • Mark Ingram had a 26-yard outside zone run to the left (defense's right). Watch DE Billy Winn, CB Joe Haden, and ILB Chris Kirksey on the play side of the run.

Ingramrumble_no1402_2q8-18_1_medium

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Winn steps inside in an attempt to blow up the play by forcing the running back to make his cut inside and into the teeth of the defense. Kirksey overlaps him and has contain responsibility to the edge. Note that there is a tight end free on the end of the line as well as a fullback releasing from the backfield:

Ingramrumble_no1402_2q8-18_2_medium

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Winn gets some penetration into the backfield, but not enough and not quickly enough to force the runner inside. Kirksey gets hung up on the tight end's block. The fullback has his sights set on Haden:

Ingramrumble_no1402_2q8-18_3_medium

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The fullback takes Haden out of the play. Leaving Kirksey as the last guy who can get Ingram on the edge before he's off on a race to the endzone with safety Tashaun Gipson:

Ingramrumble_no1402_2q8-18_4_medium

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Ingram turns the corner just out of Kirksey's reach and breaks down the sideline. Gipson is the last man between him and the endzone and he eventually forces Ingram out of bounds.

Ingramrumble_no1402_2q8-18_5_medium

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  • Brandin Cooks had a 28-yard run on an end around. As you can see in the image below, Cooks come into pre-snap motion and the snap is timed up so that he arrives just in time for the handoff. Sheard, thinks that he is the backside end on either a running play or a play action pass and he looks to crash down inside. As a result, he's caught leaning  the wrong way and he loses edge contain as he tries to redirect. Cooks, running "east and west", quickly passes by him and gets to the edge in time to turn the corner and head upfield and into the secondary. Did Sheard fail to see Cooks come into motion or was his assignment to focus on rushing the passer and aggressively pursuing on the backside of runs?

Cooksendaround_no1402_2q8-04_medium

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5. The Browns were able to get creative with their pass rush: That's one of the major benefits of holding up in coverage. They even used a zero man pressure package on one play with the two ends playing edge contain on the quarterback rather than rushing (see red in images below). Buster Skine is playing press man coverage on Jimmy Graham. The three defensive tackles (Taylor, Rubin, Desmond Bryant) and Karlos Dansby lined up on the line all drop off into underneath zone coverage to take away Jimmy Graham:

Zerorush_no1402_2q8-04_lineview_1_medium

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The result? Brees pulls the ball down and scrambles up the middle for a 3-yard gain rather than taking a shot at the end zone. Would you attempt a pass to Jimmy Graham when he's this well-covered? I wouldn't.

Zerorush_no1402_2q8-04_lineview_3_medium

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6. The Browns sometimes only had a single defensive tackle on the field: Armonty Bryant was the choice to serve as the sole DT on each of these plays.

	Team Pass Rush Score
Single DT	     4/7 = 57.1%
Two or More DT's   20/23 = 90.0%

  • Such a huge drop off is a disappointing result. Rushing with only a single defensive tackle on the field greatly reduced the amount of pressure the defense got on the quarterback. It is possible, however, that while it hampered the pass rush it made up for it to some extent by presenting the offense with more confusing coverage possibilities. As it turns out, this was the case (see below). Yes, they gave up a touchdown pass and two first down conversions on third downs, but they also held on three third downs and set up an additional 3rd-and-Long from this single defensive tackle personnel grouping.

Burned
3rd-and-10: 10-yard pass to Meachem
2nd-and-9: 9-yard touchdown pass to Graham
3rd-and-4: 15-yard pass to Graham

Success
3rd-and-12: Incomplete pass
3rd-and-11: Incomplete pass
3rd-and-5: 4-yard pass to Watson
2nd-and-10: Incomplete pass

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  • On one such play, a 3rd-and-5, the Browns had DT Armonty Bryant and DE/OLB's Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard rushing the passer. In coverage, they set up with two deep safeties and six defenders playing underneath zone coverage right across the first down line to gain. Brees checked the ball down to tight end Ben Watson (middle of the field) for a 4-yard gain and the Browns held the Saints on third down.

Sixzoneonedt_no1402_2q13-00_1_medium

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  • On another single defensive tackle play, we get an Amoeba defense (named after the single-celled protozoans that can constantly change their shape and assume new forms and conformations...but that's enough Microbiology for today...okay, for many days) with ten men lined up within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage and a deep safety 25 yards downfield (for those of you who watched the Saints lose to Atlanta in Week 1, this may look familiar and almost seem like a joke Pettine was making at Rob Ryan's expense). From the looks of it, you'd think this was a two-minute drill, but it was on a 3rd-and-5 with 9:52 to go in the first quarter in a scoreless game. Anyways, take a look at the picture below, what's the coverage? Who's coming on the rush?

Amoeba_no1402_1q9-52_all22_1_medium

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Okay, I'll zoom in and label them by their positions to give you a better look. Much clearer now, right?

Amoeba_no1402_1q9-52_all22_1_medium

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Well, it turns out that as much of a mess as this looks like for an offense trying to identify who to block, Saints left guard Ben Grubbs made an even bigger mess of it by completely whiffing on his block on Jabaal Sheard. The quarterback's pass fell incomplete well short of his target because he was unable to step into his throw due to Sheard bearing down on him:

Amoeba_no1402_1q9-52_tv_1_medium

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Here are the coverages (yellow) and the rushers (red). Armonty Bryant, Jabaal Shead, Paul Kruger, Karlos Dansby, and Donte Whitner rushed the passer. Tashaun Gipson and K'waun Williams had underneath zone coverage, where Gipson ended up with no one to cover and Williams had Jimmy Graham enter his zone. Cornerbacks Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert had man-to-man coverage on the outside receivers and Buster Skrine was in the slot to the bottom of the screen. As it turns out, the guys you'd generally expect to rush rushed and the guys you'd expect to cover played coverage. TE Jimmy Graham and WR Marques Colston even got open on the play, but the pressure by Jabaal Sheard blew up the play.

Amoeba_no1402_1q9-52_all22_1_-_copy_medium

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Part 2 is now available, where I discuss how the individual players performed against New Orleans.

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