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Film Study: Browns’ 1st defensive series vs. Eagles - Carson Wentz leads TD drive

For the past several years, I have written a “complete game review” of the previous week’s Browns game. Over time, it has evolved into a film study of sorts, but the review itself ended up getting longer and longer. It became a bit of a burden to review the entire game, cherry-picking which plays I wanted to analyze, knowing that it might take many, many hours for it to be ready to post on Dawgs By Nature.

This year, I am going to pilot test a new method of reviewing the game, and that will involve a series of posts that focus on specific portions of the game. We’ll start with reviewing every single play on the Browns’ first defensive drive of the game.

1st Defensive Series

SUMMARY: In his first regular season drive as a pro, Carson Wentz leads the Eagles on a 9-play (not including a penalty), 75-yard drive that took 5:10 off the clock.

Play 1 (1st-and-10 @PHI 25): 6-yard run by Ryan Mathews

The Eagles begin in a Shotgun formation with RB Ryan Mathews in the backfield to his left. The Browns begin with OLB Emmanuel Ogbah lining up over the tight end. Next to him from left to right in the screenshot is DE Jamie Meder, NT Danny Shelton, and DE Carl Nassib. ILB Christian Kirksey is behind Meder and ILB Demario Davis is behind Shelton.

The Eagles are going to initially double team Meder and Shelton, with the rightmost guy then moving off the block to get to the second level.

LT Jason Peters (No. 71) blows Meder several yards off the line of scrimmage, creating a congested middle of the field. Ogbah sees Mathews take one step as if he’s going to the outside. Ogbah reacts, and Mathews next step is back to the inside where he has some room to run.

FS Jordan Poyer initially commits hard for an outside run. Since both he and Ogbah did that, Mathews is able to pick up 6 yards before being tackled by Poyer (who, at his depth upfield, turns to meet Mathews; a better initial instinct would have met him sooner in the hole).

Play 2 (2nd-and-4 @PHI 31): 1-yard run by Kenjon Barner

On second down, the Eagles come out with three receivers wide to the right, which is typical of a bubble screen. Instead, the QB Carson Wentz will hand the ball off to RB Kenjon Barner for him to run to the right side, where the center and left guard are sprinting over to get out in front as lead blockers.

On this play, I like the attacking nature of our defensive backs, CB Jamar Taylor and FS Jordan Poyer.

Nassib, Shelton, Meder, Ogbah, Taylor. Poyer safety, Kirksey ILB.

Taylor is going to meet the left guard; the guard dives at the legs of Taylor, but the former Miami Dolphin does a good job hopping back to stay on his feet and maintain his ground on the outside. Meanwhile, you can see that Poyer initiates the contact on the center three yards into the backfield. This forces Barner to stop, and then cut back inside, where DL Jamie Meder and ILB Christian Kirksey meet him for a gain of just one yard.

Play 3 (3rd-and-3 @PHI 32): Neutral Zone Infraction on Xavier Cooper

I was stoked that we might force a three-and-out on the first defensive drive of the year...and then of course, we jump in the neutral zone. The penalty was on DL Xavier Cooper, who was just inserted into the game. As Cooper was jumping offsides, you can see that CB Joe Haden and CB Tramon Williams were trying to do a bit of deceptive switching/zone coverage, where it looks like they were in man but Haden drops back and Williams shoots for the underneath/sideline route.

Play 4 (1st-and-10 @PHI 37): Incomplete pass to Jordan Matthews

The first pass of QB Carson Wentz’ career was dropped, thanks to an incomplete pass. Wentz fakes a handoff to the running back from Shotgun, trying to get all of the Browns’ action going to his left. When he pulls out from the running back, Wentz looks right.

Although Wentz has single coverage with his receivers, none of the defensive backs bit for the run. Slot receiver Jordan Matthews spins to the outside and Wentz delivers the ball on target with CB Tramon Williams in coverage. This should be a 3- to 4-yard gain if Williams makes the tackle, but Matthew surprisingly drops it.

Play 5 (2nd-and-10 @PHI 37): 14-yard completion to Zach Ertz

On second down, QB Carson Wentz lined up in Shotgun again. This time, he has TE Zach Ertz isolated to the right on FS Jordan Poyer, but they aren’t wide to the sideline, giving the young quarterback plenty of room to work with for an outside throw.

This is excellent coverage by Poyer. The throw is to the outside of Ertz, who has to spin his body and haul in the pass with one arm for a gain of 14 yards. You can tell that Wentz has worked a lot with his receivers in a short amount of time on timing throws/ball placement without holding on to the ball. From the snap, it only took Wentz two seconds to deliver this pass, negating any potential for a pass rush.

Play 6 (1st-and-10 @CLE 49): 11-yard completion to Brent Celek

Facing a fresh set of downs again, QB Carson Wentz is going to line up under center for the first time and work off of playaction. TE Brent Celek lines up to the left of the formation and fakes a block on OLB Emmanuel Ogbah before releasing into the flat.

Cleveland has everybody on the play covered well except for Celek. ILB Demario Davis reads the playaction and darts right toward Wentz. Ogbah opts not to stay with Celek and pursues Wentz as well. SS Ibraheim Campbell also starts rushing in toward Wentz until he sees Ogbah letting Celek go.

When Campbell sees Ogbah going after the quarterback, he chases down Celek, but not until he’s able to pick up 11 yards and a first down. Who is to blame here? You tell me. It would’ve been nice if Ogbah had seen Davis, but for all he knew, Davis might have bit for the initial playaction. Given how far back Campbell was, is it right for Ogbah to have pursued Wentz, and maybe Campbell should’ve known to go after the tight end right away?

Play 7 (1st-and-10 @CLE 38): 5-yard run by Kenjon Barner

Marching closer into Browns territory, QB Carson Wentz is back in the Shotgun with three receivers to his right to give the bubble-screen look. Instead, this is going to be a straight handoff up the middle with man-to-man blocking.

The center initially helped double team NT Danny Shelton, but now he leaks to the second level to block ILB Christian Kirksey. Once Shelton is free of the double team, he is able to move into the gap and tackle RB Kenjon Barner after a gain of five yards.

Play 8 (2nd-and-5 @CLE 33): 13-yard completion to Zach Ertz

Back under center, QB Carson Wentz sends TE Zach Ertz in motion pre-snap. Not a single person on the Browns’ defense moves with Ertz, so that tips off Wentz that nobody is going to have man coverage on him. The ball ends up being snapped while Ertz is in motion, so he just bends his route a little upfield. CB Joe Haden is locked in on his man-to-man coverage of the slant route, so he doesn’t show any sign of coming off his receiver despite being near the area.

OLB Joe Schobert is the closest person to stopping the first down from happening, as he tries to jump in the throwing lane. The throw goes above Schobert’s reach, though, and Ertz makes the catch. He runs upfield and is untouched until SS Ibraheim Campbell tackles him after a gain of 13 yards.

Play 9 (1st-and-10 @CLE 20): 1-yard run by Ryan Mathews

Now at the 20 yard line, the Browns go with OLB Emmanuel Ogbah, DE Xavier Cooper, NT Danny Shelton, DE Jamie Meder, and OLB Joe Schobert from left to right. The Eagles’ center will leak to the second level immediately to block the inside linebacker, as opposed to previous plays where he’s helped with the initial double team on Shelton. That ends up playing to Cleveland’s advantage here, because Shelton shoots the gap quicker than the left guard can get there.

Shelton dives at the lineman’s legs to create penetration two yards in the backfield, and RB Ryan Mathews actually gets tripped up by him for a gain of only 1 yard.

Play 10 (2nd-and-9 @CLE 19): 19-yard TD pass to Jordan Matthews

The Eagles came out on 2nd-and-9 with a five-wide look. This is the first play Philadelphia did not have a running back in the backfield with QB Carson Wentz. CB Jamar Taylor is with the wide left receiver, CB Joe Haden is with the wide right receiver, and CB Tramon Williams is on WR Jordan Matthews in the slot to the left. FS Jordan Poyer is serving as a fourth cornerback over the slot right receiver.

This is another one of those timing routes I was talking about. From snap to throw, it takes Wentz just 2.07 seconds to release this pass to Matthews. Williams sees the right right away and has fair coverage against Matthews...

...but the throw is just perfect, right into the out-stretched arms of Matthews for the touchdown.

Conclusion: The Browns came out with a very plain defense to start the game; there was nothing exotic on display by defensive coordinator Ray Horton. He wanted to see if QB Carson Wentz was up to the challenge, and he proved that he was. Two of his passes were spot on for big plays, and his two other pass attempts both ended up being the right decision, even though they were also his first read.

I thought the Browns’ coverage was pretty good on the drive, despite the touchdown. Williams was beat twice — once on a dropped pass, and once on the touchdown. I give more credit to Wentz, but at the same time, it also makes you wonder if we can get better at the nickelback spot.

We didn’t see a ton of Carl Nassib on the first drive; his impact comes later on. I liked what I saw from FS Jordan Poyer and NT Danny Shelton, though. DL Xavier Cooper is my goat for the first drive. He jumped offsides on the Eagles’ only third down attempt of the drive, giving them a free pass on the down where Horton does like to be a little exotic.