I will be bringing back the Browns film room series later this week, but I had to do a quick review of Ray Horton’s defense. Specifically, I wanted to know when and how many defenders rushed the quarterback.
Re-watching every pass attempt, I noted the number of rushers and tried to make notes on who got pressure on the quarterback and what the down and distance was. Would there be any patterns? Yes, but not necessarily the kind you would hope for.
Let me first explain my method. I went through each pass attempt and counted the number of players that appeared to be rushing the quarterback. I say appeared because a few times during the game the inside linebackers are tough to read. If there is a running back in the backfield, there is sometimes a little song and dance that goes on. Both the inside backer and the running back may be getting their key off of each other, meaning that if the back runs a pattern the linebacker has him in coverage. The opposite would also be true, meaning that if a linebacker blitzes, the back has to pick up the extra man.
In the example above, D’Qwell Jackson is crowding the line of scrimmage showing blitz. Now, players do this all the time and may or may not actually rush. If the LB rushes in at the snap, as D’Qwell does on this play, I counted them among the rushers. If there is a pause, and the inside backer (or outside depending on the scheme) appeared to me to be reacting to the running back, I did not count them as a rusher. Obviously, without knowing the play call this will never be 100% accurate.
So what did I find? Here are the totals.
As you would expect, the Browns brought four or five rushers the majority of the time. Typically, these four or five players were the down lineman and one or two of the outside linebackers. When the Browns are in their nickel package, they generally only have two defensive linemen in the game. Several times in that situation LB Paul Kruger would put his hand on the ground to rush the QB from the outside. When he does that, is he technically a defensive end? It doesn’t really matter for the sake of this study.
The Browns recorded four sacks in the game. Desmond Bryant had a pair of sacks, Paul Kruger had one and Quentin Groves had one. So that’s two sacks from outside linebackers and two from a defensive lineman. You may be interested to know that all four of these sacks came on plays where the Browns only brought four rushers.
In addition to the four sacks, the Browns were credited with seven quarterback hits. Four of those came from Desmond Bryant. Groves and Kruger each had one and D’Qwell Jackson was credited with the other. The majority of the quarterback hits were when the Browns rushed five players. Jackson got significant pressure on at least two plays, and both of those were plays that the Browns brought five.
The Dolphins passed 14 times on first and ten. Ray Horton mixed up his rush pretty well on first down. A couple of times they rushed 3, almost an even split of four and five rushers and once they brought six.
Here are two very telling stats. Five of the six times that the Browns brought six rushers, the Dolphins made a play for a first down. In other words, 83% of the time the Browns brought max pressure, Miami got the pass off and moved the chains. The other result was an incompletion. The one time they brought seven rushers, Miami also completed a pass for a first down.
Here’s the second stat. On third down and short, and I considered 4 yards and under to be short, the Dolphins had five pass attempts. All five times they completed the pass for a first down. Three of those were against six man rushes.
For the game, the Dolphins were 8-of-16 on third down.
On third and long, the Browns faced eight pass attempts. They brought three rushers once, resulting in a QB pressure and an incompletion. Three times they brought four rushers. The results were a sack, a QB knockdown and incompletion, and another incomplete pass. They brought five rushers twice, surrendering one first down. Once they brought six, which Miami converted and once they brought seven, which Miami also converted.
Now, it would be very easy to look at these numbers and jump to the conclusion that the Browns shouldn’t ever bring more than five rushers. A few thoughts on this. First is a matter of sample size. One game is not enough to conclude anything. When the Browns do bring extra pass rushers, they need to be able to cover receivers tightly right off the line. Tannehill was getting rid of the ball very quickly against these blitzes, as any good quarterback will.
This points back to defensive back play, and specifically Buster Skrine and Chris Owens who were targeted 20 times by Ryan Tannehill, 10 times each. Owens allowed nine receptions for 89 yards, and Skrine allowed six receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Overall, the team has to function together. When the play calls for more rushers, the defensive backs have to do a better job early in coverage. When the Browns only bring four or fewer rushers, those players need to beat their man occasionally and get pressure on the quarterback.