DraftBrowns.com Editor: Brendan Leister
Thursday night, the Cleveland Browns started off the 2013 preseason with a 27-19 win over the St. Louis Rams. Although winning is always the ultimate goal, the more important thing that we can take away from the game is an evaluation of the Browns’ players in new schemes on offense and defense. After writing about the first-team offense yesterday, this piece will include notes on the performance and usage of defensive players that I expect to make a considerable impact during the 2013 season.
When the first-team defense was on the field, Ray Horton’s defense lined up in a 3-4 front on one snap, a 2-4 front on three snaps, a 3-3 front on three snaps, a 3-2 on one snap, and a 1-5 front on one snap. As all defensive coordinators do, Horton matches up his defensive fronts to the opposition’s offensive personnel. Only when the Rams resorted to 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) did Horton match up with his base 3-4 defense. The Rams relied on 11 personnel (one back, one tight end) or 10 personnel (one back, zero tight ends) on every other snap against the Browns’ first-team. The four times that the Browns showed a 3-3 front, their personnel was the same as in the 2-4. The only difference between the 3-3 and the 2-4 was that outside linebacker Paul Kruger got down in a three-point stance in the 3-3; making him a “defensive end”. Fans have often wondered how Horton will get first round pick Barkevious Mingo on the field with fellow outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger. He may have given us one example on Thursday night. On the first series of the game, Horton employed a 1-5 front on third and seven. The front included Desmond Bryant in a zero-technique head-up on the center, Jabaal Sheard standing in the B-gap between the left guard and tackle, and Barkevious Mingo, D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, and Paul Kruger aligned in various other positions along the front six.
Above is an image of the 1-5 front that Horton used to get Mingo on the field with Kruger and Sheard. Although we only saw the front once on Thursday night, I expect that we will see it plenty throughout the 2013 regular season.
In Phil Taylor’s five snaps in Thursday’s contest, he moved around the interior defensive line. Taylor moved from three-technique to one-technique to zero-technique. Since nfl.com’s Preseason Live app does not allow users to access coach’s tape, I cannot be 100% certain as to what defensive line techniques the defensive linemen lined up in. I can only make my best guess based on the broadcast view. On one play, Taylor showed off his incredible athletic ability for a man his size when he defeated a cut-block attempt by the Rams’ right guard, chased the running back down the line of scrimmage, and knocked the ball out before bringing the back down to the ground. Browns’ cornerback Buster Skrine recovered the fumble.
On Ahtyba Rubin’s first snap, he did a good job of reading that the offense was running a screen and sticking with the running back before getting blocked just as the back caught the ball. Rubin lined up at three-technique and five-technique in extremely limited action.
In only six snaps, Desmond Bryant showed a little bit of what made the Browns target him on the first day of free agency back in March. On the second play of the game, Jabaal Sheard took the left tackle inside and Bryant went behind him to the outside on what appeared to be a stunt. Bryant’s athletic ability was no match for the left guard as he showed some flexibility bending around the edge. If the quarterback had thrown the ball a moment later, Bryant may have recorded a strip sack. Bryant also showed off his athletic ability as he recorded a hit on the quarterback on a stunt with fellow defensive lineman Billy Winn early in the second quarter on a third and five. Bryant’s supreme versatility was on display in his short time on the field as he moved from three-technique to five-technique to zero-tecchnique to one-technique along the Browns’ defensive line.
Second-year defensive lineman Billy Winn showed off his athletic ability on his third snap of the game. He engaged with the right guard at the line of scrimmage and pursued the running back down the line. After finally shedding the block, Winn closed in on the running back and delivered a huge hit on the back. The play resulted in a gain of three, but it was an excellent play by Winn against St. Louis’s first-team offense. Winn spent his two snaps with the Browns’ first-team defense at three-technique and looks to be a part of the regular defensive line rotation in Horton’s 2-4 front.
On the second snap of the game, newly-signed outside linebacker Paul Kruger showed an example of why the Browns targeted him on the first day of free agency. After firing out from a three-point stance, Kruger beat Rams right tackle Rodger Saffold off the edge by using his flexibility and impressive hand usage. Although Kruger fell down just before getting to the quarterback, he still hurried the quarterback and disallowed him from stepping into his throw. The low pass fell incomplete after the running back dropped it. After falling down while attempting to block Kruger, Saffold was injured on the play and did not return.
On the third snap of the game, Jabaal Sheard lined up standing in the B-gap between the left guard and tackle. At the snap of the ball, he looped outside and converted speed to power against Rams’ newly-signed left tackle Jake Long. Sheard bull rushed Long back into the quarterback. The quarterback completed the pass for a 20-yard gain, but Sheard still showed tremendous strength, hand placement, and leverage on the play.
Barkevious Mingo played one snap with the first-team defense on Thursday night. On that one snap, he lined up outside of safety Johnson Bademosi and stunted to the inside. Mingo made his way through the A-gap between the left guard and center untouched and nearly got to the quarterback just before the ball was thrown. The pass was completed for a 20-yard gain, but Mingo did all he could to get there. Against the backups, Mingo lined up as the right outside linebacker. His elite motor and athleticism was consistently on display as he recorded one quarterback hurry, three quarterback hits, and a sack (negated by an accepted tripping penalty on the left tackle that Mingo beat).
D’Qwell Jackson played nine total snaps at inside linebacker. He recorded two tackles; one coming on a three-yard gain and the other on a five-yard gain. On the play where Phil Taylor forced the running back to fumble, the center ran right past Taylor and had a perfect angle to block Jackson at the second level. The center drove Jackson backwards and eventually to the ground. There was not a whole lot that Jackson could do, but this was an example of one of his two negative plays. On his other, he blitzed through the B-gap between the left guard and tackle. When he began to close in on the quarterback, the running back picked him up in pass protection. The running back drove him backwards and into the ground.
Craig Robertson was in on one tackle and played eight total snaps at inside linebacker. Robertson’s most impressive play came when he was matched up in man-to-man coverage against Rams rookie slot receiver Tavon Austin. Austin ran a deep drag route behind the underneath coverage. Robertson turned and ran with Austin down the field. Although the pass was high and bounced off Austin’s hands, Robertson did a great job of sticking with him throughout the route. It was hard to tell if Robertson got a hand on Austin’s arm when he dropped the pass.
It looked as though Joe Haden was in man coverage when he gave up a 20-yard pass to Rams wide receiver Chris Givens. Since I did not have access to coach’s tape, I could not judge Haden’s technique on the play or why he gave up the completion.
Buster Skrine broke up the only pass thrown in his direction and recovered a fumble. On the pass breakup, it looked as though Skrine was in off-man coverage. At the snap of the ball, Skrine shuffled back a few steps while keeping his eyes on Rams wide receiver Austin Pettis. As Pettis broke down and turned around to catch the curl route, Skrine broke on the ball and knocked it down just as it got to Pettis. This was a great play by Skrine.
With Chris Owens and Leon McFadden out due to injury, Trevin Wade started at nickelback and covered the slot with the first and second-team defense. Overall, Wade did a good job of coming up and being aggressive as he finished the game with four tackles. By my count, he was targeted three times in man-to-man coverage. On the targets, he surrendered one catch for 59 yards and was called for a defensive pass interference penalty.
Tashaun Gipson was on the field for nine snaps and was lined up as a single-high safety on each one. He combined with fellow safety Johnson Bademosi to tackle a Rams running back Daryl Richardson after a 17-yard gain on a screen pass. Gipson showed up in the picture a few times, but he was never targeted in coverage.
Johnson Bademosi got the start at strong safety in TJ Ward’s absence. While playing nine snaps with the first-team defense, Bademosi spent most of his time near the line of scrimmage. On the aforementioned screen pass that went for 17 yards, Bademosi initially took a poor angle and was forced to chase down the back from behind. Had Bademosi recognized the screen sooner and taken a better angle, he may have had a chance for a tackle for a loss. While playing with the second-team defense, Bademosi moved to free safety. With the second-team, Bademosi aggressively came downhill and made three more tackles. Two of the tackles could be characterized as big hits.