The hardest thing for NFL fans and media is that we don’t know what we don’t know. What we do know is the results. Did a play work or not work? Did the defense stop the opponent or did they not? If there is success, it is easy to assume the decisions leading to it were good ones and vice versa.
The reality is the NFL is far more complicated than that. 22 players, a bunch of coaches, the weather, the field and all the officials.
The Cleveland Browns lost to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4 and, following the debacle that was the Week 2 loss to the New York Jets, fans and media want heads to roll especially on defense. Either that or they want Kevin Stefanski to stop calling plays.
The defense has been a huge struggle for Cleveland through four weeks. Big plays have littered the boxscore as Browns defenders seem lost. After the Jets game, DC Joe Woods simplified play calling so defenders weren’t running two different coverages. That didn’t stop another blown play this week but, perhaps, this wasn’t on Woods’ scheming or coaching.
According to LB Sione Takitaki, technique failed Cleveland. “It was just a technique issue. We were off on a little technique issue, and that was it,” said the veteran linebacker. “Obviously, we got beat on that play, a guy ran free and that is it. Can’t be having that. Can’t be having guys running free. That is something that we have to tighten up.”
The run defense was plaque by over-aggressive defenders not staying within their gaps and handling their responsibilities:
Going through it this AM and these run fits are the worst I have seen in years. pic.twitter.com/EVPY3MYBsK— Jake Burns (@jake_burns18) October 3, 2022
Starting on the defensive line, Isaac Rochell and Tommy Togiai (who start the play over the left tackle and center) follow the movement of the fullback and initial movement of the running back and allow themselves to get ridden out of the play easily. That overaggressive early movement leaves a huge space and a lineman 1-on-1 with Takitaki on the counter.
On the second level, LBs Jacob Phillips and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah also flow with the fullback. By the time the running back receives the handoff, seven of the Browns eight frontline defenders are already pushed outside of the right hash while the running back takes off the other way.
On RB Cordarrelle Patterson’s touchdown run, we saw something very similar on a much less creative play design. Here, Rochell and Jordan Elliott crash inside while S Grant Delpit joins Owusu-Koramoah and Phillips as second-level defenders aggressively attacking the line of scrimmage. By the time Patterson cuts back, only CB Denzel Ward is outside and he gets beat to the edge as well by setting a short corner in containment duties.
The two plays look very similar from the defense:
While “aggressive” is a fun word to throw around for defenses, it seems that many of Cleveland’s struggles on defense come from being aggressive instead of smart and disciplined. Confident that Woods does not teach any of the run fit techniques seen in those two big runs. Takitaki noted that the blown coverage was a technique issue as well.
Forget who is to blame, the Browns defense needs to be solid and disciplined first and foremost after that can come the aggressive, attacking players.