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Overtime Talking Point: Coverage & The Blitz

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I analyzed how often the Browns blitzed and what kind of coverages the defense used.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns
With Jabrill Peppers out, Kai Nacua assumed the “angel” role.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

In recent weeks, many of you here at Dawgs By Nature have commented on Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ defense.

Williams has come under fire for his use of the “angel” free safety. Without a true free safety on the roster, Williams has used rookie Jabrill Peppers as a safety playing 20-30 yards back from the line of scrimmage. Today, Williams used Kai Nacua.

The comments prompted me to look at the tape after Sunday’s game vs. the Packers. I looked back to analyze the Browns’ coverage schemes and blitz frequency.

I was expecting to see plenty of off coverage on film, which I did. But the numbers are very revealing.

Here are my takeaways after charting each of the Packers’ 54 pass plays:

One caveat: Keep in mind that I’m not working off the All-22 film, so this analysis is not perfect. I may have made a mistake on a play or two. These figures are not meant to be perfect, but a general representation of today’s game.

COVERAGE ANALYSIS:

• The Browns played “off” coverage on 46 of 54 passing plays (85%)

On all but 8 plays, the Browns’ cornerbacks started 7-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Needless to say, that’s quite a lot.

• The Browns played Cover 1 (man coverage with 1 deep safety) on 25 of 54 plays (46%)

While the Browns’ cornerbacks played off the ball, in nearly half of today’s plays, the corners were expected to shadow their wideouts in one-on-one coverage. As a result, the Browns’ corners began to “sit” on short routes, leading the Packers to respond with double moves, which resulted in the illegal hands penalty on Jason McCourty. The Packers also used this advantage to convert short passes to the flat, including the screen pass on 3rd down to win the game in overtime.

• The Browns played Cover 3 (zone coverage underneath with 1 deep safety and 2 deep CB) on 10 of 54 plays (18.5%)

Surprising, the Browns did not have the outside corners roll back deep as often as I first thought. The corners’ first step was often back, but the Browns did not drop the corners deep in a typical Cover 3 too often. In a Cover 3, the outside linebackers cover the flat, a responsibility that Williams does not entrust to Christian Kirksey and James Burgess, Jr. too often Instead, the corners were often in a soft man coverage, with the linebackers responsible for the running back / tight ends, or blitzing.

• The defense played Cover 2 (zone coverage with 2 deep safeties) on 10 of 54 plays (18.5%)

The Browns mixed in some Cover 2, but only at the end of the game. The Browns called Cover 2 on just 2 plays in the first three quarters, before using Cover 2 on a surprising 8 of 21 pass plays in the fourth quarter and overtime. Five of the 10 Cover 2 calls were Cover 2 Buc (aka Tampa 2), which rolls the linebacker deep to allow the safeties to cover the outside wideouts. The Cover 2 Buc calls ceded 18 yards on 5 plays, as Hundley found the underneath option on four of the five plays.

• Williams called a Cover 0 (man coverage, no deep safety) on 4 plays

Williams exhibited a daring side on a few occasions on Sunday, playing with no deep safety. The four plays resulted in 14 yards, including two incompletions. The gambles paid off well.

• Overall, the Browns’ soft coverage did not help.

Brett Hundley finished the day 35-of-46 passing for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hundley completed a whopping TWENTY-SEVEN passes of 4-10 yards. Hundley only notched five pass plays of 15 or more yards, with two of those resulting in touchdowns. Hundley nickeled and dimed the Browns defense, beating the hosts in the end.

BLITZING ANALYSIS:

• The Browns blitzed (five or more pass rushers) on 38 of 54 pass plays (70.3%)

The Browns blitzed a great majority of the time on Sunday. Williams’ defense attacked the quarterback often, but did not often succeed. The Browns notched just 1 sack in 54 dropbacks, and tallied just 4 quarterback hurries. That’s not a great success rate.

• The Browns blitzed on 11 of 20 pass plays (55%) in the 4th quarter and overtime

The Browns’ blitz frequency dropped significantly down the stretch. The Browns did not blitz on any of the last five pass plays of the fourth quarter. Make of that what you will.

• The Browns blitzed a defensive back on at least 5 plays

This is one stat not to consider as absolute truth. I noticed a defensive back blitzing on five plays, but I could have mistaken a DB for an LB on a few plays, as it was tough to tell numbers on the DVD recording at times. If I missed a DB blitz, that’s on me. However, I counted two occasions on which Derrick Kindred had Hundley within his reach but failed to bring down the quarterback.

So, what did you think of this analysis? If you’re interested in more of this, please let me know. I might do more of these articles after games in the future, depending on the feedback.

Thanks for reading!