The Cleveland Browns enter Week 3 of the 2012 NFL Regular season hoping for their first victory of the year against the Buffalo Bills. While the Bills have had an up-and-down start to the year, the Browns will feel somewhat aggrieved to be sitting at 0-2 after two tough losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles.
While the Bills are missing some key players, most notably David Nelson and Fred Jackson, the Browns defense has been decimated by personnel moves. Without even considering the long-term loss of Phil Taylor, the Browns played the majority of last week’s game against the Bengals without either of their original starting cornerbacks.
Young superstar Joe Haden served the first of his four game suspension, while veteran Sheldon Brown appears to have been demoted to a reserve role early on. Instead the Browns were left with Buster Skrine, a 2011 fifth round pick, and Dimitri Patterson, a journeyman veteran who went undrafted in 2005.
While Brown has not been performing well enough to really be missed, the loss of Joe Haden did severe damage to the Browns’ backend of the defense. Not only did the quality of coverage dip, but defensive coordinator Dick Jauron didn’t appear to significantly adjust the defense to compensate for his loss.
In seasons past the poor play of the Browns’ secondary in Week 2 wouldn’t have been noticed, as Andy Dalton failed to capitalize on their errors to expose them statistically. However, with the All-22 gametape now available, every secondary in the league is under the microscope.
As the analysis will show, it was Haden’s loss to the defense that had a massive effect from Week 1 to Week 2.
The Effect of the Island
If you follow football at all, you will likely have heard the term ‘Revis Island’ or ‘Shutdown Corner.’While Revis Island refers solely to Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets, or in other words the best cornerback in the whole NFL, anyone can be a Shutdown Corner if they are good enough. The term Shutdown Corner refers a cornerback who has the ability to take away one receiver from the opposing team without any help.
Joe Haden may not be on Revis’ level just yet, but he’s definitely not far off of it.
Haden circled to the very top of the screen across from DeSean Jackson. He is lined up to the top of the screen in a press man position(directly over the receiver in the perfect position to cover him one-on-one). The defense is showing a cover 2 look with two deep safeties towards the far right of the image. This would imply that the linebackers lined up in the box are responsible for the running back and tight end to the left side of the formation.
The above defense is what the Browns’ initial formation is hinting. But the next image shows off what the Browns are actually going to run when the ball is snapped.
While the Browns’ three cornerbacks remain in man coverage, both linebackers are actually blitzing(although you would presume that one of them must cover the back if he runs a route opposed to staying in to block). The safeties had already begun to rotate before the ball was snapped. TJ Ward moves into the box to cover the tight end, while Eric Hagg begins to sprint across the field to cover the right side of the defense deep.
The result is that Sheldon Brown is left in single coverage without any help down the sideline. This should be where the Eagles want to go with the football. However…
Haden may not be in the league very long, but he has already established a reputation. Michael Vick knows that the Browns will willingly put him in man coverage on his own opposed to anyone else in the secondary.
Because Vick is looking to his left before the snap, he sees TJ Ward approach the line of scrimmage and anticipates that the Browns are blitzing. Vick’s natural reaction to a blitz is to find the single coverage. The obvious conclusion here would be that the Browns would leave Haden in single coverage opposed to anyone else.
That is not what happens however. Vick never sees Eric Hagg rotating over the top of Haden because he doesn’t survey the defense properly. The Browns tricked Vick into throwing at their best cornerback by taking advantage of his lack of patience.
As Vick looks towards DeSean Jackson breaking away from Haden inside, Sheldon Brown is completely alone on the other side of the field. Brown is not Revis or Haden, he won’t handle most starting receivers in the NFL on his own.
Instead of capitalizing on the single coverage to the other side of the field, where there was potential for a massive play, Vick throws into an area of the field where his receivers are outnumbered. Vick is also under severe pressure, while it takes an outstanding effort from DeSean Jackson to actually turn this play into a positive gain.
It was a very dangerous throw for Vick to make and he was punished later in the game as the Browns were able to capitalize on these types of throws to create turnovers.
More often than not, Haden is the one who will be asked to play in single coverage for the Browns. He does a very good job even if he is still a small bit inconsistent. None of the Browns’ other defenders can replicate the role he carries out for the team. That was evidenced against the Cincinnati Bengals.
On this play the Browns make no effort to mask their intentions. They are playing a single high safety who eventually drifts to the right hand side of the defense as a reaction to Andy Dalton’s eyes. That leaves the defenders at the bottom of the screen in single coverage without any help.
Unlike Michael Vick, Dalton diagnosed the defense and correctly understood how to manipulate it before firing to his intended target. Dalton understood that the safety was reading his movements. Therefore he initially shaped to throw the ball to his left, keeping his eyes to that side of the field…
Despite the fact that there is a clear throwing lane to every single receiver on the field except for the receiver Dalton actually throws to, the quarterback has made the proper choice. There is a huge space behind the defense for Dalton to throw the ball into while his receiver, Brandon Tate, has the speed to come clear down the sideline. Without Haden, Dalton has no fear throwing at anyone in single coverage.
Lack of Physicality
The Browns predominantly played zone coverage against the Bengals. It paid off early on, but once Dalton figured it out, he became comfortable with taking what the defense was giving him. Against a receiver like AJ Green, that was particularly difficult for the Browns to overcome.
It’s safe to say that the Browns were intimidated by Green and company. Rarely did they blitz, but that could also be to their success by just rushing four linemen, and they were regularly exposed in press man coverage. That forced them to play off-man often. In this situation, in the redzone, the Bengals are in a balanced formation with AJ Green to the bottom of the screen.
Green has a free release as Dimitri Patterson is lined up eight yards from him and drops deeper at the snap.
With Green in that kind of space it is simply a matter of beating one defender for the touchdown. Neither the linebacker or safety have any hope of getting to him if Patterson misses the tackle. Because he dropped deep at the snap, Patterson has to react to catch up to Green’s quick curl route. That puts Patterson in a bad position because he is closing at speed. He cannot wait for Green to come to him.
This wasn’t just a redzone issue for the Browns however. Dalton had the option to throw to his receivers in the flat on a regular basis.
On this play the Bengals are backed up just outside their own redzone. They are in a running formation and a running situation on first and 10. Despite that, Buster Skrine is lined up nine yards off of Green.
Dalton threw the ball to Green instantly. Despite having to turn to catch the football, Skrine was still nine yards away from him by the time he looked to turn upfield. Skrine made another mistake as he didn’t look to usher Green infield towards help. Instead, he allowed Green to gain the outside lane.
The simple fact is that the Browns didn’t have a defensive back capable of competing with Green outside of Haden. Without him on the field they never really had a chance of containing the passing game unless Dalton had an off day. Dalton didn’t look particularly impressive on the day, but still finished with a respectable stat line and 300 yard day.
Benefiting from the Defensive Line
Two things worked somewhat for the Browns in Week 2, the first was their zone coverage while the second was their ability to pressure Dalton with their front four. While the Browns’ secondary couldn’t take advantage of that pressure, they did benefit from it indirectly when the Browns dropped a defensive linemen in coverage to surprise Dalton.
In a passing situation, the Bengals are lined up with five receivers while the Browns have replied with off coverage. The Browns are playing a zone man combination with an initial four man front. After Dalton stepped back into the pocket, once all his signals had been sent to his teammates, defensive tackle John Hughes took his hand from the ground and crouched over the left guard.
Hughes did this very late in the clock and Dalton likely didn’t notice that he wasn’t rushing until he saw him in coverage. He was likely in a spy role on the defense, but because of the empty backfield he instantly dropped into a zone and looked to occupy a passing lane.
With Hughes dropping to the front of his zone, D’Qwell Jackson was able to escort Jermaine Gresham out of his zone without worrying about the crossing route coming from the right slot receiver.
Dalton originally wants to throw the ball along the green trajectory for the incoming receiver from the right(outside of shot), but Hughes occupies the passing lane. Dalton either sees him at the last second before altering his throw to avoid the easy interception, or believes he can fit the ball into a very tight window with his arm strength instead of hanging in the pocket against a three man rush to hit the receiver further across the field when he would be wide open.
Dalton misses his intended receiver as the ball is either inaccurate or too late for Hawkins. The ball should have been intercepted initially as it hits the defenders hands, but is instead tipped into the air. Regardless, the key to the play is Hughes’ drop and Dalton’s reluctance to hold onto the ball in the pocket. A result of the consistent pressure from the defensive line.
Because they only rushed three players, the Browns have plenty of players to react to the tipped ball. Although Jermaine Gresham’s role on this play was to clear defenders out of the middle for the crossing route, he ultimately brought D’Qwell Jackson to the football after it was tipped. Jackson was able to cradle the ball to complete the interception.
The Browns’ defensive line was consistently pressuring Dalton and forcing him into bad decisions. Their efforts were not being complemented by the team’s secondary however. It was very much a different case from when they intercepted Michael Vick in Week 1, when Haden himself had one pick and played a major part in helping create the situations to force the others.