Welcome to the latest edition of X’s and O’s with the Bros by X’s and O’s editor @rodofdisaster. This feature represents a basic attempt to look deeper into the game of football, learn something about the X’s and O’s that make it go, and better appreciate the games within the game. It’s called “X’s and O’s with the Bros: because you don’t have to be a player, coach, or rocket surgeon to get something out of taking a closer look at a football play, so please enjoy the post and the discussion in the comments.
This week Rod focuses on the brightest spot of the Browns overtime loss in Dallas: The defensive front’s performance against a depleted Cowboys offensive line.
Situation: 2:49, First Quarter
Down and Distance: 2nd & 10 on Dallas 30
Score: Cleveland 7, Dallas 0
Here we see Dallas come out in 11-personnel (aka “Posse”). The strength of the formation is to the right. The Browns counter with nickel personnel (4 DL, 2 LB and 5 DB), and we can see the following:
1) Ward is creeping up to the line and Young is filling the middle of the field.
2) the corners are in off coverage with their butts to the sidelines. That generally suggests zone.
3) The slot corner is showing blitz and Ward is creeping into the box which also suggests that extra pressure is coming.
4) Right defensive end is in a wide-9 position which gives an end a great angle to rush the passer from.
Taken together we see that the Browns are playing pass. With the one deep safety, the best guesses here are 3-deep zone (which is what they’re showing) or man-free (one deep, man underneath) with one blitzer.
After the snap we see that the Browns are actually in man-free coverage with soft outside zones. The threatened blitz from the slot is not coming but the Cowboys are protecting with seven players (5 offensive linemen, the TE and RB). Three Cowboys are out in the pattern (circled).
Romo is looking left at the X receiver who is about to put a move on Sheldon Brown.
Here we see the tackles blocking mostly man-to-man, with the RT getting help on Sheard from Witten. The interior linemen look to be zone blocking. The ends are outside rushing with the 9-technique (Juqua Parker) forcing the left tackle to kick out quickly to cut him off. The C and LG are double-teaming Winn and the RG is one-on-one with Rubin. The back (Jones) is supposed to read inside to out and help. He immediately bolts to help outside and doesn’t notice Robertson blitzing through the A-gap until it’s too late. The center fails to come off Winn and Robertson comes in free for the sack.
Alas, it was for naught as Sheldon Brown ended up tripping the Dallas receiver resulting in an illegal contact penalty.
With rule changes that allow receivers to run as free as they have in the history of the league, it is imperative to put pressure on the quarterback in today’s NFL. Some teams are able to generate pressure with four rushers alone which gives great flexibility in the coverage they play behind it. Many teams however, need to bring an extra man to overwhelm or outscheme the opponent.
In the above example, five rushers beat seven blockers, with the result a function of the center failing to come off the double team to pick up Robertson and the running back also failing as a last line of protection. This was fairly typical of the Browns defensive front’s early success in a dominating performance in which they sacked Tony Romo 7 times and pressured him several others. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Browns sent four or fewer pass rushers on 86 percent of Romo’s first half dropbacks, but had great success pressuring the quarterback, especially attacking the center/A-gap area, due in significant part to the fact that the Cowboys were starting a backup guard, and a center who had never played a game at the position in the NFL.
While the Browns (or any team) will rarely have such a basic matchup advantage as this one, we might be encouraged by the adjustments to the Browns scheming along the defensive front as the game wore on and Dallas devoted more attention to the A-gap.
In the third quarter Romo is sacked as the Cowboys drive into the red zone. The Cowboys have moved to a zone scheme across the board here, so instead of challenging in the A-gaps, the Browns are now bringing a blitzer from the outside (Usama Young).
Late in the fourth quarter, Romo was sacked on this key play. We see that presnap, the Browns are overloading the offense’s right. Romo moves Felix Jones to that side to even up the numbers.
But back on the left side the Browns employ an E-T (“end-over-tackle”) which results in Frostee Rucker busting through the left A-gap for the strip sack. The ball was recovered by the Browns on what could have been a game saving play.
Dick Jauron was ahead of the Cowboys offense all day on the pass rush, and while that might speak most significantly to the personnel disadvantages along Dallas’s offensive front, we did see creative adjustments that allowed the Browns to dictate the offensive alignment and generate pressure via stunting.
Of course, it was too bad to see such a good performance by the defensive front go to waste, but at least it’s something we can hang our hats on for the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
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