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Film Study: Browns’ defensive issues vs. Colts, Part 1

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It was the T.Y. Hilton and Jacoby Brissett show against the Browns’ defense. We break down what went wrong.

Cleveland Browns v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns were embarrassed by the Indianapolis Colts on four consecutive drives to end the first half on Sunday, a span which was the difference maker in the contest and negated any good that could have come out of the game. Our two-part film breakdown will look at what went wrong.

TD Drive #1 - 20 yard completion to T.Y. Hilton

The Browns hadn’t allowed the Colts to build any momentum on their first two drives of the game. On their third drive, this 20-yard completion on 1st-and-10 to WR T.Y. Hilton got them going.

Gregg Williams tries to catch the Colts off guard by sending corner blitzes from both sides. The Colts handle it well, but there is no way the two safeties picking up the man coverage can jump these routes and risk giving up a free touchdown. So even though this one is completed to Hilton, it’s not necessarily a breakdown by any of the defenders.

TD Drive #1 - 31 yard completion to T.Y. Hilton

Later in the drive, facing a 3rd-and-7, the Colts send the tight end Jack Doyle in motion to be an extra blocker. CB Jamar Taylor is guarding WR T.Y. Hilton as the only receiver on the right side. All three cornerbacks are in tight man coverage, trying to stay in their receiver’s hip pocket.

The Browns get in their own way here. OLB James Burgess (circled in green) is faking a rush and then dropping back into coverage. However, he drops right into the path that Taylor needs to take to maintain decent man coverage on Hilton. It’s very subtle interference between Taylor and Burgess, but enough to give a speedster like Hilton that extra step to create separation and allow Brissett to confidently drop it in the bucket for 31 yards.

If this was a two-safety look, that throw can’t be made as confidently. Knowing that Jabrill Peppers is in center field allows teams to simply stay away from the middle and not even have to worry about the safety on sideline throws like this.

TD Drive #1 - Jacoby Brissett with the QB Keeper

This was a 3rd-and-goal from the 5 yard line and a designed keeper. As soon as QB Jacoby Brissett sent his tight end in motion to spread the formation, the first thing I thought was, “Watch for the QB draw!” All of the Browns’ defensive backs are in man coverage, and both Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert focus on the crossing receiver, who actually ends up engaging and blocking Kirksey.

With the field spread and everyone playing man coverage, Schobert or Kirksey have to be spying a mobile quarterback here. Making matters worse is the fact that on the line, Emmanuel Ogbah stunts to the inside and then Trevon Coley spins to the inside at the same time. That defeats the whole purpose of the stunt, having two guys on top of each other. The offensive line, which already had the 5-of-4 advantage, shields the defenders inside and Brissett takes it himself for the easy score.

This coming Sunday, Cleveland could probably get away with playing this way against an Andy Dalton. Not a mobile quarterback, though.

TD Drive #2 - 21 yard completion to T.Y. Hilton

Facing a 2nd-and-11 in the second quarter, this play helped propel the Colts’ second touchdown drive of the game. The Browns stacked the box with eight defenders, but the Colts also have eight blockers.

The idea here is to trust the cornerbacks and allow the pass rush to make a play (or to stop the run), and that’s all well-and-good. But the issue through three games is that without Myles Garrett, the Browns have been terribly inefficient at disrupting quarterbacks in the backfield. On an 8-man rush, Brissett, behind a makeshift Colts line, should not be able to step back, pump fake, and then step back again to deliver a pass undeterred.

Jamar Taylor is playing off man coverage against T.Y. Hilton wide right. It’s not an easy assignment. The thing I’m probably more upset at here is that Jabrill Peppers misses the tackle, and Hilton nearly then got away from Taylor for a touchdown.

TD Drive #2 - Jacoby Brissett Improvises on the Ground

In another red zone situation, the Colts faced a 3rd-and-2. This time, the Browns are a little more prepared for the possibility of a quarterback run. They bring Ibraheim Campbell into the game for a rush off of the left tackle’s side, although Campbell later abandons his rush to pick up the running back.

Joe Schobert is the one to watch on this play. I initially thought he was a QB spy, but on second viewing, I see him go toward the running back, and then stop once he sees he’s not going out for a route. Schobert then abandons the coverage of the running back, which is why Campbell improvises and vacates his rush to cover the running back. Schobert, meanwhile, overpursues with two other defenders to the right hashmark.

To Brissett’s credit, his spin move here is pretty slick. But once again, Cleveland definitely needed to do a better job in maintaining their responsibilities.

In Part 2, we’ll look at the issues that led to the other two touchdowns, and then how the Browns adjusted in the second half to stop the bleeding.