Originally posted on Cleveland Frowns  |  Last updated 9/13/12

Welcome to the 2012 regular season debut of Xs and Os with the Bros by Xs and Os editor @rodofdisaster. This feature represents a basic attempt to dive 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 Xs and Os 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 Browns’ pass coverage on two big Eagles plays that led to their first half touchdown.

—————

Situation: 2nd Quarter, 0:30 left (clock stopped)
Score: 3-3
Down & Distance: 2nd and 10 on Eagles’ 36.

Here we see the Eagles in “11” personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) which west coast playbooks also call “Posse.” The TE is to the right leaving the X (Jeremy Maclin) and slot (Jason Avant) receivers to the opposite side and the Z (DeSean Jackson) to his side. Vick is in the shotgun with McCoy to his right.

The Browns counter this with nickel personnel as identified here. The defensive line is playing straight up (i.e., no shift) and there are two linebackers (D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson). The DBs are all aligned man-to-man. Note that the one safety (Ray Ventrone) is creeping toward the line of scrimmage to cover the right hook/flat area. The other safety (Eric Hagg) is playing deep (circled) giving the one-deep look.

The QB’s presnap read tells him that this is most likely a man-free coverage, meaning one deep safety and man-to-man underneath. Since there are always five eligible receivers on each play, that leaves five to rush assuming no double teams (i.e., expect a blitz).

Here are two panels showing the pass rush. The Browns are bringing a blitzer and rushing five. The Eagles are using a zone scheme to block and I’ve tried to clarify who’s going where by showing Jackson rushing the left A-gap (A, B and C gaps are relative to the defense’s perspective). Rubin is in the left B gap and Winn is rushing the right A-gap. The DEs are rushing straight upfield. They look to be playing it somewhat conservative, perhaps in an effort to keep Vick in the pocket. Panel B shows us that the Eagles’ line has done a reasonably good job. The top arrow shows Jackson who was fended off to the offense’s right by C Jason Kelce. Vick has a nice throwing lane develop where there was no rush and he’s looking left.

Here we see Maclin hauling in the deep ball from Vick as he’s beaten Skrine. Hagg can’t get over in time to make a play on the ball. This results in a 46-yard gain. It is followed on the next play by a touchdown pass to make the score 10-3 Philadelphia going into halftime.

Analysis

Man-free coverage is a bit aggressive here but, as much as people gripe about prevent defenses, you have to love the mentality. The blitz really was putting pressure on Vick most of the day (although not much on this play). When you look at this coverage, the strengths are generally that:

- every potential receiver is accounted for while bringing a fifth rusher
- good against screens and delays (and we know the Eagles love those)
- CBs can play press coverage
- takes away the outside breaking routes (in 2 minute drill you don’t want to give up sideline).
- CBs have help vs post-routes

The weaknesses are:

- poor run support (under two minutes not really an issue)
- vulnerable to deep and crossing routes
- deep outer thirds not all covered
- hard to disguise vs motion
- tight formations (e.g. bunch) are a problem as 9 or 10 guys are up at the line

The first instinct is to assign blame here but when I look at the defense, everyone really did what they were supposed to do. Hagg covered a lot of ground just to get there. I don’t know if anyone not named “Ed Reed” makes that play. Did Skrine get beat because of technique or because he’s facing someone who’s simply more athletic? Well, I think that’s debatable, and the debate  makes me think of Bill Walsh.

If you study Walsh’s notes on the passing game, there are a few rules that he sets out for the “Go” pattern. Among them are:

1) Don’t throw vs their best DB … check;
2) 7-step, hitch and throw … done perfectly by Vick here …check (Note: for each extra step, the DB will cover 2-3 yards on the WR);
3) Don’t throw if DB is deeper than your WR when you take your hitch … check;
4) Release inside then out. At 8 yards should be one yard inside DB then “step on his toes” and over next 8 yards should end up one yard outside of the defender … so look at this:

Here we see Skrine on Maclin. In this photo, I’ve marked 8 yards from the LOS. That’s where Maclin should be at the end of this part of his route.

In these two photos, we see that Maclin is exactly where he needs to be with respect to those landmarks. Bill Walsh would be proud. Obviously, Andy Reid was paying attention.

Yes, Skrine was beaten by Maclin but he did manage to recover and make a tackle. Sometimes, their O’s are just better than your X’s even if just for one play. This one leaves us to wonder whether the coaches trust the secondary enough to blitz more frequently or that they simply don’t feel the front four can do it alone.

This play is also indicative of what the Browns’ offense should look like with respect to the deep ball. Brandon Weeden was only the third QB since 2008 to start a game and throw nine passes over ten yards and not complete a single one. The others were J.P. Losman and Brodie Croyle for those keeping score at home. If the Browns’ version of the Bill Walsh brainchild is going to find success, it’s going to have to start hitting on some deep throws. This is one template of how that worked in Walsh’s mind. Unfortunately, this play was much more important to the outcome of the contest than it should have been given the Browns’ lack of even marginal play from their own quarterback.

There were many striking statistics from Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, but one that struck me was that of 11 quarterback hits. While this play didn’t result in a sack or a hit, the strategy employed by Jauron was a theme of the afternoon. He was blitzing to generate pressure. This resulted in a league high number of hits. Dick Jauron won’t ever be confused with Rex Ryan as a blitz-happy coach so this is a little surprising from him. Blitzing in this situation was a bit of a risk but, at the same time, you can’t let this set of receivers run loose and Vick to roam free.

Part II. Easy Money (the Bupalos Bonus)

The above play sets up the following score, that I hadn’t planned to discuss. But since Bupalos brought it up, it does illustrate a failure by the Browns defense.

The Eagles are in “21” personnel (2 backs, 1TE and 2WR with both WR to the right). The Browns counter with base 4-3 defense. The defenders look like a zone matchup as they’re playing off the WRs. Haden is almost as deep as the safety, so this is basically an odd 3-deep look.

Here we see the defense drop into zones. Notice that Ventrone is covering the deep half while on the other side Hagg and Haden are covering 1/4ths? This is called “Quarter-Quarter-Half” coverage and the zones look like the above. The CB who isn’t bailing deep (Patterson) has a short zone to the other side. the linebackers take the other three zones across.

Here we see Haden with his hips turned to the sideline on Maclin who is about to cut inside of him to come wide open. We also notice Jackson (X) is well covered and three other defenders are also trying to cover him including Hagg who is the only defender who could conceivably help Haden here. Vick goes on to hit Maclin for the score. Eight men are in to block which is about as “max protect” as you can get.

Analysis

The strength of this Quarter-Quarter-Half defense is that it is theoretically

-strong against deep passes to the strong side (side with two quarter zones)….though it wasn’t here.
-allows aggressive play and doubling against weakside WRs (side with half zone deep)…except here where the Eagles all stayed in to block
- easy to disguise…except here where the Browns didn’t bother.

Weaknesses include:

- needing a weakside safety who can cover half of the field (not typically a problem in the NFL)
- asks a lot of both your weak and strongside LBs in terms of coverage
- vulnerable to flood routes (multiple WRs in same zone) especially on strong side.

I won’t bother discussing the ways to attack it because the Eagles did none of it. Joe Haden was simply beaten on this play. He did exhibit some of the same issues we saw with him covering AJ Green last year (opens up early/sidesteps instead of backpedals) and he got turned around and overcommitted. What Maclin did to him is essentially the same thing he’d done to Skrine on the previous play. I don’t know if Hagg is allowed to simply ignore Haden’s man but I would point out that with two men out in the pattern against seven, you really should be able to blanket both of them. I won’t criticize the play call itself but the execution is just horrible.

Before everyone goes crazy on Joe Haden and starts tweeting him about this post and how we hate him, note that Joe certainly had moments where he played well and he generally kept DeSean Jackson in check. Three of Jackson’s four receptions were in the first quarter and the one in the fourth quarter was a nine yard completion. At times, Haden was the physical, competent corner he has the reputation for being, but simply doesn’t show the hips to change direction with receivers like Jackson consistently. Then again, very few defensive backs do.

Next week we’ll get a better look against another good passing attack.

—————

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

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