Cleveland Browns Film Room: Game 6, Rookie Defenders

Like we did last year before it became fashionable, we’ll take a seat each week in our very own WFNY Browns film room and break down a little tape from the game, with a specific focus.  Do enjoy.

Back from work training. Apologies abound for my absence. Thanks to Craig for filling in. Let’s get to the tape.

So I was curious about the defense this week. Due to injuries, we started two rookie defensive tackles (Hughes and Winn) and a rookie LB getting his first ever regular season action (Johnson). Specifically, I wanted to see how they did against the run. If you look at the stat sheet, the Bengals only gained 76  yards on 20 carries. That’s an average of 3.8 yards per carry. Consider this though, 20 yards of that total came on 1 rush. Which means that the defense held Cincinnati to under 3 yards a carry over 19 attempts.

The Bengals eventually abandoned the running game. Did they abandon it because it wasn’t successful or because they moved the ball through the air? Chicken or the egg? Either way, the passing game isn’t the focus this week.

Alright, first play. Base 4-3 defense. The defensive line from left to right: Sheard, Hughes, Winn and Rucker. Maiava #56, Jackson #52 and Johnson #50 are the linebackers. Cincinnati is strong on their left side, with a TE, wingback and slot receiver on that side. Jackson has already adjusted the line (moving Hughes to the right a full gap).

At the snap the line slants to the right. All of their first steps were with the right foot and sliding in that direction. My first thought was what an incredibly lucky play call, but then I realized they were likely supposed to slant towards the strong side of the formation each play. The linebackers are reading the play and will flow towards the ball.

A couple things to notice here. Hughes has gotten off the ball quick enough that his blocker is reduced to trying a chop block to slow him down. Maiava has to be careful of the wingback coming across the formation. Here he is just getting by the QB, and so isn’t a threat to receive a hand-off. Maiava will now pursue the HB. Jabaal Sheard has back-side containment responsibilities. His job is to make sure Dalton doesn’t fake the hand-off and run a bootleg, or he has to cover a screen to that side of the field.

Winn is doing a great job taking up two blockers, and is still filling his gap. Rucker is fighting off the tackle and the brush block by the TE. His progress upfield is going to turn the play back inside.

Here we see Winn and Rucker forcing the play inside. Also note that Johnson has quickly gotten into position to cut off the sweep to his right. He had contain on that side. Jackson fills the hole easily in part because of Winn’s double team. For the record, I don’t think the center meant to double Winn. I think he was just supposed to brush block him and go after the middle backer.

Hughes is there to finish the play up. Good thing he was. Notice the gap between Sheard and the rest of the play. A cut back with a successful block on Hughes would have been a good gain.

Next rushing play-

Base 4-3 formation, this time with Johnson on the left instead of the right side.

I thought I would use this formation to point out how the defense reacts to the offense’s formation. Had the Bengals lined up in a neutral formation, for example if there was a tight end where the black circle is, the defense would be straight up. Hughes would be more heads up on the guard, and the linebackers wouldn’t have slid over where they are. Notice where D’Qwell is. If the offensive formation was equal, he would be smack in the middle. The MLB is like the fulcrum. He slides to the middle of the formation’s strength.

Ok, moving on. Here we see another rush designed to go to the left side off the offense, this time with a lead blocker.

Hughes gets inside his man again. Rucker does a good job getting a push on Whitworth, and really sets the edge forcing Green-Ellis inside.

Green-Ellis is going to see the opening this time. James-Michael Johnson may have gotten caught a bit too far inside, but it’s hard to really lay any blame on him here. Sheardhas contain, but he also needs to be in position for a cut back.

The Bengals gain 6 yards on the play. Could have been worse. Obviously could have been better. Let’s face it, sometimes the offense just makes a good play. The Browns shut down where the play was designed to go.

Ok, next play.

Base 4-3. This time the Bengals are balanced at the line of scrimmage. Notice where Jackson is lined up? Right in the middle. But why are the DT so close together? If that question was in your head, well done. The answer is that Kitchen #67, and Winn #90 are supposed to take up 3 blockers between the two of them. Maiava is going to blitz through the offensive guard and tackle. Jackson and Johnson have to be free to flow behind the line. The motion man settles in right where Maiava is going. This is good for the defense.

Kitchen takes up two blockers. Winn flat beats his man. Maiava shoots the gap (thank you lead blocker who doesn’t see him coming) and Rucker is going to get free to the inside of Whitworth and the TE chip. Notice Jackson and Johnson flowing quickly to the right.

Maiava unfortunately misses the ball carrier as he cuts back. (Maiava is actually lucky he whiffed on the facemask.) Winn is there in the backfield as well, but can’t make the tackle.

This view gives you a better perspective on how far Rucker and Maiava are in the Bengals backfield. The circle to the left is Winn.

Winn manages to slow the back up a bit to allow Maiava to get back in position to tackle.

Moving on.

What do we see here? 4-3 defense again, but what are the Bengals doing? This is a 3rd and 1 play. The Bengals have loaded the left side of the line with and extra offensive lineman and a TE. But Rick, shouldn’t Jackson be on the other side of the center? Good catch. Here the Browns are choosing not to go straight up against the odd formation. Watch what happens.

As a former defensive line coach, this shot gets my juices flowing. Four defensive linemen are taking up seven blockers. SEVEN! (By the way, when you look at a box score and see that a DT like say Winn only has one tackle in a game, or that Hughes only had two tackles in a game think about this picture will you?) Why is this so beautiful? The linebackers are completely clean. They each have a gap to fill, and will have no problem getting there.

The Bengals end up with their yard on second effort by the back. But it was a well designed and executed play on both sides. It is so hard to keep a team from getting a measly yard.

Ok, last play. We have to take a look at the long gainer. Here is the 20 yard run.

What do you see? 4-3? Actually, no. This is a nickel defense for the Browns. The circled player is Buster Skrine.

Once again your two defensive tackles take up three blockers. This time Whitworth is going to get out on D’Qwell Jackson.

Skrine misses the play and Jackson is maybe the victim of a hold here. Either way the play is a quick hitter right up the middle.

So what did we learn? At least against the run, the new guys held their own. Especially Winn and Hughes. Winn gets off of blocks very well. Even some double teams. Sounds like Rubin will be back this week. Phil Taylor could be back in a couple weeks. Rubin, Taylor, Winn and Highes? That’s a very nice rotation.

Until next week, the film room is closed.

  • MrCleaveland

    Good job, Rick. Very instructive.

    Maiava is a terrible tackler. I don’t know how he keeps his job.

  • Garry_Owen

    Awesome. Best film room yet.
    This is the kind of thing that makes me excited about where this team is headed. Young guys, doing their jobs, and doing them very well.
    (Is that a paper bag in the last photo? Hot dog wrapper? If so, well there’s your problem.)

  • MrCleaveland

    It’s the soul of Randy Lerner being carried off to Aston Villa.

  • Garry_Owen

    That left years ago.
    It’s more likely the ghost of Art Modell, just trying to screw things up for Cleveland “one more time.” It’s not enough to fire a football legend and move the franchise, now he’s giving the Bengals 20 yards . . .

  • Garry_Owen

    Remember that tan coat that Art always wore? Well, there it is. Photographic evidence of the spirit world.

  • MrCleaveland

    Art finally jumped.

  • Garry_Owen

    If you look closely at the lower left side of the object, you can actually make out a face.
    I’m getting scared. And all I really wanted was some Bertman’s.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    So good! Thanks Rick, that was very enlightening. Seems like our young defensive tackles were two absolute steals in this year’s draft. I think Kitchen has also done a wonderful job with the snaps he’s been given.

  • mgbode

    same way Marecic does I suppose. Perhaps we have an aversion to cutting people’s whose last name starts with ‘Ma’

  • mgbode

    thanks for coming back Rick. these are my favorite features to read. and, the DL sure does look good in these sets.

    one thing I have noticed in games too (and in these sets) is that we NEVER seem to run stunts/crosses with our DL. i know you don’t want to do it alot at the NFL level (susceptible to a big play if the offense guesses it correctly), but i would think throwing in a few a game could help keep the offense off-balance.

  • Garry_Owen

    Eric Mangini respectfully disagrees.

  • mgbode

    ok, players not people :)

    though maybe that’s why Holmgren gave him the extra year?

  • Harv 21

    Here’s a question, Rick: what is the reason Johnson and Maiava are at times flip-flopping sides of the field, given that neither of them is a player any offense is trying to avoid? When you have a rookie LB like Johnson starting his first game wouldn’t it be advisable to break him in by keeping his responsibilities – or at least his field view – limited as he adjusts to NFL game speed?

    Great stuff as always, Rick.

  • MrCleaveland

    I’ll guess it’s because one plays the Sam and the other is the Will. (God, I love talk like that.)

  • mgbode

    that would work except that in both instances the formation is strong (Sam) to the defenses right.

    Johnson switches sides despite the offensive formation staying the same.

  • Harv 21

    I understood Sam and Will to refer to strongside and weakside. But he’s switching sides regardless of where the TE is positioned.

  • rick grayshock

    Harv I couldn’t detect a discernible pattern. He did seem to play more often on the left side of the defense than the right, at least during the running plays I looked at for this piece.

  • MrCleaveland

    Actually, I wasn’t serious. I have no idea why they line up like that. I just like to say Sam and Will. And Mike.

  • mgbode

    Red River 2, Red River 2, Hut Hut

  • Harv 21

    I mean, I’ll say Mike, but only really enjoy it with Ike.

    My sister just realized that they’re only jellybeans. Those marketing geniuses had managed to convince her, a bright lady with a graduate degree and years of real world experience, thay they were some separate genus of box candy. I wanted to mention this because it’s apropos of, uh, something.

  • MrCleaveland

    Twins-right fox-split 27-hitch base-trap z-dig on 2. Ready? BREAK!

  • mgbode

    uh Brandon, what am I supposed to do this play? oh, block somebody. does it matter who? no. okay, i’ll try but last time I ended up flying backwards #marecic

  • NoVA Buckeye

    Sometimes, trips and tendencies to go a certain way overrule where the tight end is lined up.