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Film Study: Browns’ defensive issues vs. Colts, Part 2

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A deeper look into what went wrong for the Browns’ defense against the Colts, and then what stopped the bleeding in the second half.

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

This is a continuation of Part 1 that highlighted the Cleveland Browns’ defensive issues against the Indianapolis Colts.

TD Drive #3 - Bailed Out From Danger Zone

This is the play that stung the most. Cleveland trailed 14-7 in the second quarter, but they had the Colts backed up with a 2nd-and-12 at their own 1 yard line. I was already envisioning a safety, a punt, and the game either being 14-14 or 14-10 within a couple of minutes.

Once again, the Browns’ pass rush does nothing to make Brissett uncomfortable, and the safety being in the middle of the field allows him to confidently throw a one-on-one back shoulder pass for 34 yards to WR Donte Moncrief, with CB Jason McCourty in coverage. Peppers comes over and would’ve had a play on the ball if this was thrown like a go route. McCourty does a good job staying with Moncrief, but isn’t able to look back and make a play on the ball.

TD Drive #3 - 61 Yard Touchdown to T.Y. Hilton

Even with the Browns giving up the long pass to WR Donte Moncrief, they still had another good opportunity to end the drive here on this 3rd-and-6 play. Instead, it resulted in a 61-yard touchdown pass to WR T.Y. Hilton.

Hilton comes in motion with Jamar Taylor in man coverage on him. As Taylor motions, he anticipates Hilton’s route cutting across the field, much like he did earlier in the game. His footwork as he’s moving with Hilton show that. Instead, Hilton breaks to the outside, underneath the deeper crossing route. Taylor, besides being way behind, really can’t recover because the route by TE Jack Doyle up the seam gets in his way.

Things go from bad to worse with Jabrill Peppers not making the tackle, and Taylor also not finishing the play out (but don’t tell him that). Below is the perspective from the quarterback, where you can see the pass rush being too late and Taylor getting caught up.

Hue Jackson was asked about Taylor’s effort on the play Monday, and here is what he said:

“Jamar is a captain on our team, and he is a captain for a reason. I know Jamar extremely well, and I don’t think he was trying to give up or not play hard or any of that. I think for a second there maybe somebody felt like the guy was about to be down and be out of bounds. I think there are some things that he will do differently as we go, but to say that he wasn’t trying as hard as he could, I didn’t feel that or see that.”

TD Drive #4 - 34 Yard Pass Interference Penalty

On the Colts’ final touchdown drive of the game, they faced a 2nd-and-10 situation. T.Y. Hilton is in the slot, and Cleveland decides to play this one differently. They have two safeties back, with Derrick Kindred shooting up to prevent the quick hitter completion.

Kindred is then passing Hilton off to Jabrill Peppers. The problem? Peppers completely bit on the playaction fake. Having to play from behind the play for once, he commits pass interference on Hilton for a 34-yard penalty. A couple of plays later, Frank Gore punched it in for six.

2nd Half Adjustment - Cover 2 Defense

I didn’t study the nuances of every second half play, but I quickly scanned through all of the third quarter plays. For the most part, it’s clear what adjustment was made: a Cover 2 defense. The play above also shows the fumble the Browns recovered, but my point was just to show the two safeties.

Cleveland fared much better with this style of play and looked more comfortable in it. Williams seems hell-bent on maintaining his deep safety, though, so unfortunately, I expect us to be right back to Cover 1 against the Bengals.

One thing that is very concerning about the Browns is their red zone and goal-to-go percentages on defense. They’re allowing touchdowns 80% of the time in the red zone and 100% of the time in goal-to-go situations through three games. Turning some of those into field goals is a huge difference.