X’s and O’s with the Bros: A Dominating Defensive Line in Dallas

by Cleveland Frowns on November 21, 2012

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.


The complete “Xs and Os with the Bros” archive is available here.

  • Believelander

    If we can get one, just one, super-star pass rusher, this could be the nastiest defensive front for the next 10 years. We have 4 legit starters under the age of 27.

    • alexb

      we may have them already, just have to develop them…..unless a Umenyiora or Tuck comes on the mkt.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    i take the points about dallas’ o-line. (i was not aware that this was dallas’ center’s first nfl game there. as for backup guard, john greco is a backup too but to my eyes playing better than the starter.)

    but i think we should at the same time point out that this is the first game that winn-rubin-hughes-taylor have been healthy together, able to rotate and maintain a high energy level. (think bizarro shaun rogers.) the consistent interior push from those guys could also be ascribed to having four fresh DTs willing to bull rush as much as due to a second string dallas o-line.

    the steeler game will be revealing in that it should answer whether dallas’ o-line was weak or the browns’ interior d-line is a beast. i think it’s the latter and i’m quite pumped about it.

    (sheard is going to kill mike adams.)

    • Believelander

      Technically he’s Dallas’s right guard. Losing both centers is why he had to play the position.

      • beeceeinla

        IIRC, centers also typically call the pass protection. seems to me that is a factor no one’s mentioned.

        • Believelander

          As I understand it, these duties are relegated between the center and QB in varying degrees depending on the team. But yes, that’s pretty significant to be suddenly giving orders instead of taking them. It’s like working at a Chinese restaurant, hitting the lottery, and still loving Chinese food. Except, uh, in a bad way..that analogy got away from me.

  • AlvaroEspinoza10

    nice to see the hogs get the rod treatment, it was a nice wrinkle. if you’re in the mood for another non-QB/play-calling analysis at some point, i’d love to see you break down our DBs against the run. is it just me, or is skrine actually really tough against the run? this seems to be something heckert targets in DBs. i think haden’s play against the run is just as, if not more, valuable than his pass protection

    the D has impressed at times. i can’t figure out what’s the next important piece on D: is it a pass-rushing end opposite sheard, a talented first/second-round LB, sheldon browns’ replacement, or usama young’s replacement?

    curious to know what the wise people here think

    • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki


      im willing to ride with the d-line (obvious) and the linebackers (really like robertson) we have. i like skrine (and agree that he’s a better than usual run defender) but i think we need a bigger CB opposite haden.

      just like in the past we tried to patch RT with FAs (shaefer, stclair pashos), i think the FA d-back experiment (young, patterson, brown) has run its course. time to draft a couple A-players there. i’d be in favor of attempting to trade back to mid 1st round, get an added 2nd round pick*, and spend both on d-backs. (and i like jarvis jones too.)

      *dont forget that our 2nd round pick next year is josh gordon.

      • AlvaroEspinoza10

        the only reason I hesitate from saying DB automatically is how bad our run defense can still be. i don’t understand it. if we supposedly have a beast D-line, then it must be a problem w our LBs. or with our safetys failing to fill gaps. or its just a problem w our coaching re: maintaining gaps, etc. according to nfl.com, the browns are ranked #24 against the run in yds/game. is it that we’re behind at the end of games and teams run? i hope somebody in berea is breaking this down, cause i dont have the time

        • dubbythe1

          our linebackers are smaller, and tend to get caught out of position. Couple this with our poor tackling secondary (outside of Haden) and thats where our run D is.

        • Believelander

          We’ve been starting a flim flam defense of newbies at almost every position almost every game. James-Michael Johnson was supposed to be our new LB prospect and Fujita was supposed to anchor most of the game with his veteran ability. He’s still good against the run and he’s a BIG boy.

          So instead, lots of Maiava+Fort+Robinson (ofc). They acquitted themselves well enough for guys in their situation. DQ52 ended up playing 3 positions some of the time because the guys were so everywhere.

          As it’s started to solidify over the last several weeks (Taylor getting healthy, getting JM Johnson, Haden back, etc). Against San Diego, we surrendered 117 total rush yards on 34 carries in the slop for under a 3.5 average. Against the Ray Rices, 124 on 32 for 3.88 per carry. Dallas, 53 on 19 for 2.88 per carry. These three teams average 3.8, 4.1, and 3.6 (about 3.2 without Demarco Murray) respectively, so we kept them all under their average.

          But the biggest fallacy is that the defensive line is where it’s at when it comes to run stopping. Perennially, if you look at franchises that constantly rank high against the run, more of them are 3-4s than 4-3s because linebackers (and safeties) are the tackling specialists that you use to flow, stuff gaps, and tackle runners.

      • alexb

        Is there a CB talent out there that would warrant picking over once in a decade talents like Teo?

        • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

          not per the draft rankings.

          dont get me wrong, im fine with jones or teo. my preference is to draft for need and the d-backs seem to be a great need for us. so if the prospect of making a jujones deal where we move back later in the first and replace our second — and we walk away with janoris jenkins and harrison smith — then i would prefer that for this team.

    • Beeej

      With our first pick we definitely need to draft a new coach. Then I would go with db, lb, de or o-line. I question our wr depth. I don’t see Texas Chainsaw Massaqoui lasting much longer, not that he has been great to begin with. Little and Gordon could develop into a force. Cooper has some upside and Cribbs is Cribbs. There was talk of a Mid-round QB project, but don’t we already have one at 3rd string already?

      • Believelander


    • http://twitter.com/nmesha Nick

      Browns should take J. Jones or T’eo, they seem like sure things and will be able to excel immediately next to Jackson and behind rubin/taylor/winn. Even though they are getting burned right now, I like our young DBs in Haag, Skrine, Wade, and I guess now Bademosi. I think we have two starters there somewhere. I’ve always liked Hagg, and it is crazy to me that we aren’t playing him in place of Young, who is effing terrible.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    It’s a Thanksgiving miracle, guys. Received furious texts from Cuuuuugs reporting that Tony Grossi said on WKNR today circa 12:41pm: “I give Mangini credit; he created wins out of nothing.”

    Confirmed by Twitter.


    Did anyone else hear this?

    • http://twitter.com/cpmack Chris M

      The only Thanksgiving miracle around here is that the Browns are finally supplying white flags to their fans.


      • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

        Sweet feathery Jesus!

    • Believelander

      I make a point of never listening to Grossi WKNR, sorry. We’ll look for transcripts.

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