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Is safety Grant Delpit a liability?

Not living up to his second round billing

Denver Broncos v Cleveland Browns Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Browns first two games had one thing in common: receivers that were passed off by cornerbacks to the safety on that side did not pick up and were completed for huge gains.

Correction: safety Grant Delpit did not pick up and were completed for huge gains.

Cleveland had the New York Jets by 13 points with 1:55 to play. Two plays later, Jets receiver Corey Davis was wide open for a 66-yard touchdown. After an onside kick recovery and New York drove down the field, WR Garrett Wilson was open for the go ahead touchdown.

Common denominator? Both were Delpit’s responsibility. But is that it? Let’s examine.

Against the Jets

To be factual, all game long Delpit had issues.

In the middle of the second quarter with the Jets facing a third-and-two, backup RB Breece Hall (#20) went up the center to which Delpit had come up to meet the running back just shy of the first down marker. However, he missed the tackle after Hall gave Delpit a shoulder juke. Hall then went straight up the middle and gained 23-yards on the play.

Delpit later missed another tackle that resulted in a first down. He also had a face mask penalty.

Editor’s note: The Breece Hall touchdown catch begins at 1:08. Delpit is the closest man when he scores his first NFL touchdown.

Right before the half New York was on the Browns’ 10-yard line faced with a third-and-goal with 11 seconds remaining. Cleveland was leading 14-7 and in a 3-2-6 formation with meant six defensive backs on the field. Hall did a simple flare out and was wide open as he entered the end zone unmolested. Whose zone was it? Delpit and JOK.

After the game, Delpit said this about the play:

“We’ve got to have a flat player. It could (help). It could not. I mean, it’s a communication error. It wasn’t a (call error).”

Early in the third quarter, New York had a third-and-seven. Delpit lined up four yards past the first down marker to which Jets receiver Elijah Moore simply ran past the marker for the catch with the excess cushion Delpit had provided.

Also in the third the Jets had a second-and-11. Wilson ran his route up the center and then did a head bob to the middle; and as Delpit now drifted towards the center of the field, Wilson curled out towards the sideline. Delpit did a complete turnaround and was off Wilson by 5-6 yards as the receiver caught the ball for a 31-yard gain.

With 7:51 to go in the game with the Jets needing four yards on a third down play, Delpit again gave Wilson an eight-yard cushion. The receiver simply went past the first down marker, planted and the ball came right to him for the first as he was again wide open. However, Wilson luckily dropped the pass which canceled the first down.

All game, Jets QB Joe Flacco had seen the large cushions Delpit was offering, and said this after the game:

“They were playing so soft that I was throwing that ball no matter what.”

Was asking Delpit to cover Wilson one-on-one a suicide mission? Anyone who has watched Ohio State games the past two seasons will attest that Wilson is a very special receiver. He was linked to going to Cleveland when they had the 13th overall pick in the draft before it was sent to Houston in the Deshaun Watson trade. So Browns fans had a keen eye on Wilson and realize his talents.

So the question looms, why wasn’t Wilson doubled with a corner and then a safety coming over the top? As it was, Delpit had no other choice than to give Wilson such a huge cushion.

After the Browns went up 30-14 with 1:55 to play, on New York’s second play, WR Corey Davis lined up on the rightside and did a simple fly pattern. CB Denzel Ward covered Davis for the first 15-yards and then released him to the deep sideline expecting safety help. Safety John Johnson was on the other side of the field and the closest safety on that side was? Delpit - who had chosen to come down into the center of the field to assist with a double-coverage on another receiver.

In the above photo, it is Delpit who is closest.

As Davis was running towards the end zone, you can see Delpit looking around for someone to point a finger at although himself and Johnson were the only two safeties on the field. Did Davis fool both Ward and Delpit? After looking at the replay, all Davis did was run up the field in a straight line.

As Davis scored, the television announcer stated:

“Just a massive breakdown. Unbelievable. Exactly what they did against Carolina. How do you allow this to happen?”

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said this regarding how open Davis was:

“We have a young football team, and unfortunately, that youth at times has shown up here, and we have to grow up real fast.”

Delpit said this after the game about the play to Davis:

“It was a two-call play and depending on the formation, we play either call. So, it was a communication error.”

The game winning touchdown catch had Wilson do a simple post pattern as again the corner had the receiver for about five yards and then let him go. Delpit was near the play, but not on the play. It was a third-and-10 play with :25 left and a 15-yard strike from Flacco.

First Ward backpedals as he has outside contain, but as Wilson angles towards the center of the field Ward no longer has the middle responsibility. JOK angles backwards some and has his eyes on TE Tyler Conklin coming off the line on that side. As a linebacker, JOK doesn’t have receiver responsibility and covers tight ends and running backs.

Wilson then angles towards the center of the field as JOK does leave the tight end once the ball is in the air and goes towards the ball then dives at the flight of the ball. Delpit had center coverage as Johnson was on the other side of the field. It is Delpit who welcomes Wilson as he catches the ball in the end zone.

The Wilson TD catch begins at 9:05. Start the video at 9:35 for a closeup of the play. Go slow and at 9:38 you can see that Delpit never came up to meet the receiver despite no other Jets player on that side of the field. If the tight end had gone to his right towards the sideline, JOK would not have been in the play whatsoever and Wilson would have been wide open. As it was, JOK was the only Brown who even attempted to cover the pass.

Johnson stated this after the game:

“Communication is sending and receiving. So there are guys sending, but some guys aren’t receiving, and that’s the issue. Literally put it on tape. That’s what we gotta do. If it’s a hand signal, we should all be making the signal. We should see all seven guys on the back end making the signal so there’s no way that you could say ‘Oh I didn’t get the call.’ It’s sending and receiving.”

Come again? Anyone that has played outfield in baseball or softball was versed on calling for a fly ball that appeared to land into a gap between fielders. The other outfielder, then peels off and lines up behind the fielder calling for the catch in case the ball gets past him. That is Little League stuff.

The defensive backfield is just now looking at some sort of system of hand gestures and learning communication? Is this like a new thing and just invented? After all those weeks of training camp, three preseason games and now two regular season games, suddenly a system needs to be put into place? Really!?

Here is what DE Myles Garrett said after the defensive line and linebackers played their hearts out and did their job:

“Those kind of plays are unacceptable. Without a doubt. ... It’s tough. We let up on defense. I guess really the whole team let up in the 11th hour.”

Delpit was the Browns second leading tackler with eight total tackles with zero pass defenses.

The Browns secondary committed several monolithic coverage gaffes. And not just in the Jets game. The defense embarrassed the team and themselves – complete meltdowns two games weeks in a row.

Against the Panthers

In the opening game for both the Browns and Carolina Panthers, Delpit began to show his weaknesses as the safety played poorly.

Early in the game, Delpit intercepted an overthrown Baker Mayfield pass that basically came right to him then lost four yards on the return.

With 3:22 left in the first half, Delpit faded to his right to double-cover the outside receiver while TE Ian Thomas ran right by him. As Thomas was running his fly pattern, he was wide open. Mayfield hit him in stride to which Johnson came from the other side of the field and tackled Thomas at the two after a 50-yard completion.

This play begins at 5:24 of the above video. Delpit is lined up as a linebacker. Thomas comes straight off the line and splits Delpit and JOK. Delpit has no man in front of him and the backfield is empty as Thomas goes downfield. There isn’t another Browns defender behind Delpit either.

As the ball is in the air, Johnson, who was lined up on the other side at the snap, comes off his receiver and chases Thomas and makes a touchdown saving tackle.

At this point in the game, the defense had Mayfield completely flustered with very little offense. Their first four possessions were punt, punt, interception, punt. The Browns had built a 14-0 lead. Now, two plays later Carolina had its first points of the game as RB Christian McCaffrey scored from one-yard out.

Suddenly, with the Delpit decision to allow the tight end to run right past him, the Panthers were now back in the game as the score read 14-7.

In the fourth quarter Panthers receiver Robbie Anderson ran a skinny post covered in the short zone by CB Greg Newsome. After 15-yards, Newsome passed off Anderson to the safety. However, Delpit was nowhere to be found as Anderson was wide open. As Anderson was about to score the touchdown, Delpit looked back to his left at Newsome as if to see what happened.

In the video, who is the closet player to Anderson?

The reality is that Delpit was the deep man that Newsome passed Anderson off to. The question that still is unresolved is if Newsome should have stayed with Anderson.

Communication error? Nobody calling the fly ball and just watching it bounce instead? And the following game the same thing occurs with three guys wide open?

Delpit finished the Carolina game with three total tackles and one pass defense.

And now?

The fact is that the season could end very soon if these type of blunders continues. Real changes need to be made.

Is Delpit to blame? You decide. The evidence has been laid out.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (88) runs the ball between Browns MLB Malcolm Smith (56) and S Grant Delpit (22)
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

His PFF grade for the first two games is 42.2. Seven non-starters on defense have better grades than Delpit. With assignment mix-ups, he actually does point fingers at teammates during the game and doesn’t hustle in pursuit.

Now every team the Browns face will be looking to go deep against spotty safety play and a soft secondary. The Pittsburgh Steelers are next on the schedule.

In college, Pro Football Focus (PFF) said this about Delpit:

“After a sophomore season in which he earned an 84.4 overall grade in 847 snaps, Delpit regressed a bit his junior year to 68.7, missing 20 tackles and allowing 14 of 22 passes into his coverage to be completed.”

In his first actual year of playing in 2021, Delpit had nine missed tackles.

The fact of the matter is that four blown coverage plays in two weeks is beyond comprehension. Why does this continue? Why wasn’t it fixed after a tight end and a receiver were wide-ass open in the opening game? Both catches ended up not only as touchdowns for the Panthers, but put them back into the game that Cleveland had dominated defensively.

Does secondary coach Jeff Howard need to be let go? Assistant DB coach Brandon Lynch? DC Joe Woods?

Or a safety named Delpit need to be benched?

According to Delpit, he isn’t the problem:

“I’m not going to play the blame game with my teammates so I’m just going to leave it as it was a communication error. The solution is to just make sure we talk and everybody’s on the same page and overemphasizing it.”

Delpit’s play may remind Browns fans of when Andrew Sendejo was the starting safety. The difference in Sendejo and Delpit is that Sendejo was athletically limited whereas Delpit is a very good athlete. However, you can never accuse Sendejo or not knowing what he was supposed to do.

When Delpit was asked after the Jets game what his assignment was on either the Wilson catch or the Davis touchdown, he stuck to what he said earlier:

“Communication error. On to the next week.”

Other options?

After the Jets loss, Coach Stefanski stated:

“The bottom line is that should never happen. We have to be able to defend the pass in those obvious passing situations. We just have to have everybody on the same page. It’s frustrating that we weren’t in that case, and I know it happened in Week 1 as well. When you’re in a game like that, everybody knows what they’re about to do and it wasn’t a surprise to anybody so that’s the only way that we could’ve let them back in that game. Again, it just goes back to we have to correct the correct-ables.”

Cleveland Browns v Jacksonville Jaguars
D’Anthony Bell
Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

There are two more safeties on the roster: second year man Richard LeCounte and rookie D’Anthony Bell. Browns veteran Jovante Moffatt is on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad.

LeCounte was taken in the fifth round of last year’s NFL draft, but originally was projected to be a second round pick until he was in a motorcycle accident. Bell came to the Browns as an undrafted free agent and impressed the coaches enough to keep him. His nickname is “Hitman.”

The pickings on the free agent list are slim, but there are some very talented players still waiting to be called.

Landon Collins (6’-0”, 218 pounds) - Washington, age 28

Although Collins was not very good in coverage last season may have been because he wasn’t 100 percent coming off a torn Achilles. Seven year veteran with 94 NFL starts, 11 interceptions, 676 total tackles, 10 sacks, 41 tackles for loss and 39 pass defenses.

Anthony Harris (6’-1”, 202 pounds) – Philadelphia, age 30

At one time Harris was one of the hottest free agent safeties, but has regressed. His 2017 and 2018 were gold. Will be 31 in October. Seven year veteran with 61 NFL starts and played in 95 games. 10 interceptions, 356 total tackles, 31 pass defenses and five tackles for loss.

Chris Banjo (5’-10”, 207 pounds) – Arizona, age 32

Nine year veteran has played for three NFL clubs and was Arizona’s special teams captain last year. He is decent in coverage and an average tackler. Has played in 118 NFL games with 132 total tackles, three picks and eight batted passes.

Coach Stefanski stated this after the Jets game when asked about how wide open receivers have been in the first two games;

“I am not going to get into the specifics. When we do not do our job as one person, it is a reflection of the entire defense. We just all have to be on the same page and really just all understand the moment of the game, having awareness of what is going on in the game.”

When one player is not doing his job, then coaches get asked questions with answers they do not have.

PFF defensive grades first two games

  1. Myles Garrett – 91.9 [56 vs. the run] (-2.5)
  2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah – 91.4 (91 coverage/74.4 run/66 pass rush) (+13.1)
  3. Anthony Walker – 90.8 (90.4 coverage/72.1 run/61.5 pass rush) (+17.4)
  4. Sione Takitaki – 80.7 (+9.8)
  5. Martin Emerson 74.8 (+14)
  6. John Johnson III – 63.4 (+0.4)
  7. Taven Bryan – 61.9 (+12.1)
  8. Alex Wright – 60.4 (-6.3)
  9. Tommy Togiai – 59.9 (-11.8)
  10. Greg Newsome – 57.7 (-10.4)
  11. Isaiah Thomas – 52.6 (N/A)
  12. Denzel Ward – 43.8 (-21.5)
  13. Ronnie Harrison 50.2 (-6.7)
  14. Jordan Elliot – 47.6 (-12.6)
  15. Chase Winovich – 42.4 (N/A)
  16. Grant Delpit – 42.2 (-6.9)
  17. A.J. Green 34.6 (N/A)
  18. Jacob Phillips – 29.7 (+2.9)
  19. Isaac Rochell – 28.7 (N/A)