In this week’s film study of this past Sunday’s Browns vs. Patriots game, we look at six big plays that quarterback Tom Brady had against Cleveland’s defense.
1. 19-yard pass to TE Rob Gronkowski
On the Patriots’ second play of the game, TE Rob Gronkowski is going to run a little post route over the middle with ILB Christian Kirksey in man-to-man coverage on him.
The Browns are bringing five players on the pass rush, with two of them coming from the right side: DL Carl Nassib and SS Ibraheim Campbell comes up to the line of scrimmage to show a blitz on first down. New England pulls No. 62 over to the right and RB LeGarrette Blount also protects that direction.
Despite New England having the pulling guard and running back to help block Nassib and Campbell, respectively, the guard decides to ignore Nassib and double team Campbell. Meanwhile, while Kirksey is playing close to Gronkowski, he doesn’t actually attempt to jam the tight end. That gives Gronkowski the leverage to run right at Kirksey and then gain inside leverage when he turns to the middle of the field.
Nassib gets his only hit of the game on Brady, but not before he got the pass off for 19 yards and another first down. Perhaps a little jam from the outset would have allowed Nassib to get to Brady before he could connect with Gronkowski.
2. 34-yard pass to TE Rob Gronkowski
In Week 1 (Eagles), Week 3 (Dolphins), Week 4 (Redskins), and Week 5 (Patriots), the Browns’ defense has allowed either an opening-drive touchdown or allowed a touchdown within five minutes of the opening whistle. They need to find a way to get a big stop when opposing teams are able to script plays against them.
The Browns’ best chance at stopping the Patriots’ opening drive against New England came on this 3rd-and-8 play from the 36 yard line. TE Rob Gronkowski lined up as the only receiver to the left of QB Tom Brady. WR Julian Edelman and WR Danny Amendola are lined up closest to Brady on the right, with WR Chris Hogan wide right.
Cleveland is in man-to-man coverage, a contrast from when they played a lot of zone against the Redskins the week before. FS Jordan Poyer is matched up against Gronkowski. Edelman and Amendola both run crossing routes near the first down marker, while Gronkowski runs his opposing crossing route just underneath them. While Poyer doesn’t get picked off by the action, the traffic makes it more difficult to stay with the big tight end.
Third down is generally when Ray Horton tries to bring more pressure, and here he has six players coming at Brady. From left to right in the picture below are ILB Christian Kirksey, OLB Corey Lemonier, OLB Emmanuel Ogbah, ILB Demario Davis, DL Xavier Cooper, and DE Carl Nassib.
Pressure is negated when the quarterback is comfortable getting rid of the ball quickly, which brady does here in about 1.75 seconds.
Making matters worse is the fact that Gronkowski breaks tackles from both of our safeties — Poyer in coverage and then SS Ibraheim Campbell in the open field. Gronkowski also escapes the third attempt at a tackle by CB Joe Haden. Gronkowski is finally brought down at the 2 yard line by CB Jamar Taylor and a couple of other converging defenders. Two plays later, RB LeGarrette Blount scored from a yard out.
3. 36-yard pass to RB James White
Now on their second drive with the game tied at 7-7, the Patriots faced a 2nd-and-9 from the Browns’ 45 yard line. This screenshot takes over mid-play, with QB Tom Brady already having dumped a screen pass off to RB James White. The Patriots have some blockers out in front, but Cleveland also has a defender in position for every blocker, meaning they should be able to contain this and limit the damage to maybe a 10- to 12-yard gain. Instead, it goes for 36 yards. What happened?
First, below, the player closest to White is CB Jamar Taylor. He is going to try to dive through the lineman to tackle White. White sees this and has to skip to the outside. Although Taylor misses, he forces a change in direction for White, which should aid the defenders behind him. The problem is that CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun (green circle) fails to maintain his outside containment. Before Taylor makes his dive, Boddy-Calhoun is aggressively going inside, leaving the outside wide open.
Here is the shot of Taylor forcing White to the outside, but Boddy-Calhoun now out-of-position. Considering the Browns had two inside linebackers as backup on the inside, it was unnecessary for Boddy-Calhoun to also come inside.
Boddy-Calhoun’s decision has a devastating effect. WR Julian Edelman cuts down Boddy-Calhoun once he starts to pursue White back to the outside. Boddy-Calhoun flails to the ground from the block, which takes out both of the other pursuers, ILB Christian Kirksey and ILB Demario Davis.
4. 7-yard TD pass to TE Martellus Bennett
Although TE Rob Gronkowski had the two big catches on the first drive, it was TE Martellus Bennett who had the nice stat-padding day, coming away with three touchdown catches. His first of the three came later on the same drive as the play described above.
This is a 2nd-and-goal from the 7 yard line. Bennett starts off as a blocker, chipping the blitzing S Derrick Kindred. CB Joe Haden is playing zone coverage on this play at the bottom of the screen. He releases WR Kevin Hogan to FS Jordan Poyer. Haden will see that no other receiver is in the area, though, so he then drops back to try to slyly nab an interception on Hogan’s post-flag route.
As Haden is dropping back, Bennett pops open. Brady doesn’t see him until just before a defender pops him from behind. It’s too late for the Browns again, as Bennett walks into the end zone without a defender near him.
The score put the Patriots up 14-7. On Cleveland’s next series, the safety made it 16-7.
5. 43-yard pass to WR Chris Hogan
At the start of the second quarter, the Patriots faced a 2nd-and-8 from midfield. WR Julian Edelman lined up wide right against CB Joe Haden, and WR Chris Hogan is in the slot against CB Jamar Taylor. SS Ibraheim Campbell will be dropping back deep in coverage.
The Patriots run a playaction fake, with the run-game action going toward the left. QB Tom Brady is then going to survey for either Edelman’s dig route or Hogan’s deep crossing route.
With Hogan running so much to the left side of the field, Taylor releases him to Campbell. Campbell does a terrible job staying with him — in fact, he turns the opposite direction for some reason, which allows Hogan to be wide open for 43 yards. That’s three big plays from near midfield on three straight drives that helped set New England up in the red zone. A few plays later, Brady hit TE Martellus Bennet for a touchdown to give the Patriots a 23-7 lead.
6. 37-yard touchdown pass to TE Martellus Bennett
The Patriots didn’t score the rest of the second quarter (it’s embarrassing that I have to paint that as an accomplishment). They scored right away to begin the third quarter, though, after another poor coverage play by SS Ibraheim Campbell.
QB Tom Brady runs a playaction fake on 1st-and-10 from the 37 yard line. TE Rob Gronkowski and TE Martellus Bennett both show like they are going to block for an outside stretch run. Campbell, the only line of defense for a possible playaction fake, sells out for the run. Gronkowski runs up the seam and Bennett fades up the sideline.
Brady had his choice of either player. He picks the outside player (Bennett), who scores his third touchdown of the game to give the Patriots a 30-7 lead. Cleveland eventually lost by a final score of 33-13.
Here is the play from the end zone angle. A little after the start of the clip, you can see the foot of a player near the bottom left part of the screen — that is Campbell charging in to stop the run. You can see Gronk break open after the fake, and then you can tell you that Bennett did the same.
Conclusion: This was the Browns’ worst defensive game of the season. Cleveland faced a team without any holes in New England — they have above average players at almost every position, and are obviously well-coached. It exposed the Browns’ weaknesses against tight ends again — Ray Horton needs to find a way to address that. It might involve leaving his cornerbacks on more of an island, or figuring out if one of his players deeper on the depth chart can find a niche in man-to-man coverage against tight ends.
I was excited about the return of SS Ibraheim Campbell, but this was a very rough game from him all-around. The tackling at the safety position was not up-to-par too, and if the safeties aren’t in coverage against tight ends, it’s the inside linebackers and they don’t fare very well either.