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Film Study: Joe Schobert the most surprising part of the Browns’ season

A look at three plays for the Browns’ up-and-coming middle linebacker.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

In our final film study session tying up the Cleveland Browns’ Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, we’re going to look at the surprise that has been MLB Joe Schobert.

A fourth-round pick in 2016, Schobert was billed as a decent pass rusher who ultimately fell out of the rotation by the second half of the season due to the arrival of OLB Jamie Collins. Heading into 2017, the perception was that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams would seldom use a middle linebacker.

After Tank Carder’s season-ending injury, Schobert seized the opportunity and had an excellent preseason. The best words I’ve been able to use to describe Schobert is that he’s recognizing and finishing plays all over the field, which is something I never would have projected.

His stunning improvement presumably compelled Williams to ensure that Schobert was not just a rotational player, but a vital cog in the defense. In Week 1, he played every defensive snap against the Steelers. Former Browns CEO Joe Banner had this reaction upon evaluating Schobert’s Week 1 performance (excuse his misspelling):

What types of things did Banner see? Let’s take a look, starting with a couple of pre-assembled clips done by Cover 32.

Schobert’s Pursuit of Le’Veon Bell

Fair or unfair, if this would’ve been 2016, my expectation is that Schobert would’ve been no where near a play like this, or would’ve been shoved aside by RB Le’Veon Bell for a broken tackle. Instead, Schobert displays exactly the type of instincts and finishing ability that was on display this preseason.

This was a 2nd-and-15 play, and although Bell had initial daylight, Schobert’s closing speed (assisted by his 15-20 pound weight loss this offseason) held Bell to just a three-yard gain, which allows Williams to work his magic on third down.

Right Down to Business

This was a 1st-and-14 play, and QB Ben Roethlisberger dumps a little pass off to Bell. You can see that OLB Jamie Collins gets crossed up by Bell (and speaking of which, Collins also had his ankles broken by TE Jesse James later in the game). Schobert, though, does a great job reacting and finishes the play again.

Some might look at this and see nothing special — i.e. that this should be the expectation for a solid middle linebacker. But the latter part of that statement is the point: I didn’t think this team had a solid middle linebacker on it, but it’s becoming clearer and clear that we do.

Schobert ended the game with a team-leading 9 tackles, which again is something I wouldn’t have expected with Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey on this team. Back in the preseason, PFF graded Schobert as one of the best run defenders in the league.

Near Pass-Break Up to Antonio Brown

During his Wednesday press conference, head coach Hue Jackson was asked a series of questions about Schobert.

“I think he did a great job [against Pittsburgh]. I wish he would have got just another finger on that ball, but he has done an outstanding job. I saw it in training camp. I told you guys that before. He is not surprising to me. He fits the system that we are running on defense and I think it is the right fit for him. He is demonstrating that.”

The play that Jackson is referencing is the 50-yard gain before the end of the half, while Pittsburgh was backed up in their own territory. It helped give the Steelers a 14-7 lead at the break instead of keeping it 7-7.

Schobert has also done a solid job this preseason tipping passes while in coverage. He does it here again, staying underneath Antonio Brown’s route and following Roethlisberger’s eyes just enough to tip the pass.

Normally, Schobert would be praised as a hero on this play, as tipped passes like this often lead to interceptions. He Schobert’s hand gotten under the ball a tad to deflect it in the air, for all we know, we could’ve been talking about a pick six by S Jabrill Peppers. Instead, Brown catches the deflection. The damage could’ve been minimized, but Peppers was caught off guard by just how quick Brown is and missed the tackle, leading to the big catch-and-run. If we’re just talking about Schobert’s gameplay here, though, I’m not sure we can ask him to do much more.

Jackson threw more praise in Schobert’s direction, saying “He looks like a big time linebacker; I think the sky is the limit for him if he can keep growing and getting better within this system.”