Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Enough Manziel, How About the Browns Defense?

Armonty Bryant #95 and the Cleveland Browns defense pounded San Francisco into the Cleveland Stadium turf.  Photo:  Bleacher Report.

     The football world is abuzz about the Browns exciting young quarterback, Johnny Manziel, rightly so.  But for people who follow the Browns it was not really a huge surprise because Manziel has been good all year long, though not playing much.   Last time out he threw for 375 yards against the Steelers, though apparently nobody from ESPN was watching that day.  

Blaine Gabbert was tackled hard and often.   I give the guy credit for being able to walk off the field on his own power at the end.    

     But the real story was the Browns defense which finally came through after grossly underperforming all year long. Consider that the Browns had only 17 sacks all year long, but Sunday they broke out of their funk and hung 9 sacks on the 49ers.   Not only that, it wasn't just one weak spot in the 49ers' line, as evidence by the fact that 7 Browns participated, including  2 DEs, 2 OLBs, 1 ILB, 1 CB and 1 S:  

Armonty Bryant       OLB   2 sacks
Desmond Bryant,       DE  1.5 sacks
Xavier Cooper,           DE  0.5 sacks
Nate Orchard,          OLB  2 sacks
Christian Kirksey,      ILB, 1 sack
Jordan Poyer             CB, 1 sack
Donte Whitner,             S, 1 sack

     Holy cow!  Everybody got into the act.  How did they do it?  I noticed that they played several plays without a nose tackle, and instead replaced the NT with a pass rushing threat.  To find out more, I consulted Denny Dice's forum (Dungeon of Dawgville) on Facebook.  

     I found that others were also intrigued.  Mark F Barnes writes "They were rotating into a 4-3 defense on specific downs in order to confuse blocking schemes and disguise the pressure and where t was coming from.  They would bring Kruger a wide split at times and force an H back to block him one on one by scheme, by cheating Nate Orchard down on the weakside, and forcing the TE to stay with him, so they were bringing a five man rush, with eight in the box and it kept the guards from getting to their second level blocks, freeing them up to stuff the run game on 1st ad 2nd downs, thus putting the 9ers behind the chains constantly. On third and long they shift to a 3-4 Bear and bring pressure from the edges with Kruger and Orchard." 

     The "Bear" defense, as I understand it, is an 8 man front with an extra pass rushing lineman, made famous by the 1985 Chicago Bears. 

     They switched up blitz packages and would wait until Gabbert designated the Mike then when they loaded up to stop Kruger, he's drop into coverage and they'd bring inside pressure without twisting and giving up gap integrity. So the few times they tried the delayed draw it went nowhere. The front seven or eight played an inspired game..."

    Several of us fans have speculated that Jim O'Neil may have had less input for this game, and someone else, perhaps Pettine himself or linebacker coach Chuck Driesbach may have had greater input to the game plan and play calling. Whatever, we can say that up till last week the Browns had a top 5 defensive payroll and bottom 5 defensive performance.   

     As Mark Barnes points out, "Nothing they did Sunday resembled anything he (O'Neil) has done in the past on defense. It did however look oddly familiar to a David Cutcliffe/David Bailiff type of defense and [Browns linebacker coach] Chuck Driesbach was the Defensive Coordinator under both of them for years. He's known for his blitz packages, and if you were watching Sunday that's just what you saw...."

       If it is true that Pettine pulled the plug on O'Neil, the main question is, "what kept you, Coach?"  I understand that the offense had some holes.  But the defense has had nothing but high draft picks and choice free agents the past few years, resuling in one of the highest defensive payrolls in the NFL.   But we have consistently been around 30-32 in defense (we can't get much lower folks).   Sunday's game was the first positive sign.  

     We'll see if the inspired play continues against the Seattle Seahawks, a very tough and professional outfit.

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