Browns Review: Game #7 (@ St. Louis) Part 1

Opening Statement

Let me start by asking a question: Is there anyone here who feels the Browns have a chance to match their 7-9 record?


Next question: Does anyone feel this is due to bad luck, bad calls or unexpected injuries?

Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson have missed–

I said unexpected. Haden hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year. He’s missed eight games in the five seasons since that year. Gipson is in his fourth season; he played 37 of 48 games in years 1-3.

An unexpected injury is Alex Mack going down a year ago– or D’Qwell Jackson missing nearly two years with injuries that aren’t common. It isn’t guys who get dinged up a lot being dinged up.

What about Josh McCown’s concussions?
He’s never missed games–

He’s never played many games. And most of the ones he played were before the McCoy Protocols. Maybe this is bad luck– but his first concussion was entirely his fault. And, in his absence, the Browns won a game. So I’m going to say that had no impact.

Again the question: Who here feels this team would be better than it is, had it not had some bad breaks– missed chip-shot field goals, fluke bounces, phantom calls, unusual weather, random off-field events?


So everyone agrees that the team isn’t playing well? Now let’s talk why.

We’ll start with the reason the Browns are always last in run defense: They’re undisciplined.

Assuming you aren’t (a) so old or crippled by injury that you simply can’t move fast enough or (b) so physically weak that you can’t fight off a block, anyone should be able to play run defense. All you have to do is…

Well, why should you listen to me? Here’s a scan from the playbook of the 1997 New York Jets, whose head coach was Bill Parcells and whose Defensive coordinator was Bill Belichick (amazing what you can find posted on the Internet):

Playbook capture

You don’t need to see the rest of the page– and these photos will take long enough to load as is

Force is what some coaches call “setting the edge”. You get outside and lock down that lane, so the running back has to go back inside.

Fill is… well, do I need to explain it? If he can’t go outside, he has to go inside, and you can get i his way.

We won’t need these terms for this example, but Pursuit are the players chasing from behind or to the side, and Secondary Support are the ones who have to stop the damage if “Force” or “Fill” screw up.

Anyway, let’s look at the 1-yard TD run by Todd Gurley. Here’s a screen capture of the play just after the ball is snapped (QB Nick Foles hasn’t even handed it off yet). There are four players we need to worry about:

  1. Gurley (#45), the ballcarrier.
  2. TE Cory Harkey (#46) his 6’3″, 272-pound lead blocker.
  3. Browns LB Chris Kirksey (#58), the 6’2″, 233-pound “Force” guy.
  4. Browns LB Karlos Dansby (#56), the “Fill” guy.

I’ve identified them in this capture. You can click any of these photos to expand them.

TD Run 1

You can’t see it in this shot, but no one from the secondary is outside. On this play, the defense has what Parcells and Belichick would call “backer” force.

My ten-year-old nephew could figure out, from looking at the photo, who has “force” and who has “fill”. It’s Kirksey’s job to get outside– to the right of Harkey, between the blocker and the sidelines– and force the runner to go back inside… ideally right into Dansby’s arms.


The photo above shows the ball transfer to Gurley. You see Harkey getting ready to turn into the linebackers. Remember, there is no Browns’ player outside of Kirksey. Nobody.

And the photo below shows the reason the Browns can’t stop the run. Look at this photo– click on it to expand it for a better look, if this isn’t easy enough to see. This is the sort of mistake that happens 10-20 times a game– the reason the Browns are last in the league in run defense pretty much every year:TD RUN 3

Instead of going outside– where he’s supposed to be, so he can seal the edge– Kirksey has decided that Gurley will be running between the left tackle and Harkey. So he ignores his assignment and heads toward the spot where he thinks Gurley will be going.

The play is over at this point. Barring some enormous unforced error, the following will happen:

  • Harkey will tie up Kirksey, leaving the outside wide open.
  • Gurley, seeing that, will go wide
  • Dansby’s 34-year-old legs will never get him outside before Gurley turns the corner and gets into the end zone.

But to make matters worse, Dansby doesn’t realize what’s about to happen and he makes the second mistake.


I added highlights to indicate the paths of Gurley and Dansby, but you probably don’t need them. Dansby, as you can see, is squaring up to follow Kirksey into the wrong hole. Gurley, meanwhile, has turned to cut outside.

I could stop there, but I want to show you a really smart play. Harkey, realizing that Kirksey is heading inside– away from the ball– lets him go and gets outside, so he can seal the edge and make sure Dansby doesn’t get by him.

I’ve also added a frame to the image, so you can see the result of the confrontation between LB Paul Kruger (#99) v LT Greg Robinson.


And this is the final image in the sequence. The two linebackers realize Harkey is heading outside, but they have– as you can see– no chance to get him. Harkey, who has himself in Dansby’s way, is squaring towards Kirksey, just in case Kirksey tries to cut by him.


That’s how Kirksey– the Browns’ #3 pick from 2014–  customarily plays the run. If you watch game tape closely, going frame-by-frame with a video editor, you’ll drive yourself nuts.

Here’s another one of Gurley’s big gains. This time he’s going to victimize Dansby and the Browns #2 pick in 2015, Nate Orchard.

This is a clever, well-designed play. The Rams have put two receivers wide, and the Browns send out two guys in man-to-man coverage. (I’ve got a yellow box around them.) They’re going to run down the field and pull those defenders away, leaving the two Browns in the red box responsible for any throws or runs on that side.

Orchard is closest to the line; Dansby is behind him. But the Rams also have WR Tavon Austin (#11, though you can’t see his number yet) going in motion to the right. Foles will fake the handoff to Austin, then pitch it to Gurley.

Orchard will do what he does on every play– rush the passer. Dansby will bite on the fake.

Big gainer 1

Here’s the frame where Austin runs by Foles– the point where it’s clear he’s faking. Notice how the Browns are out of position:

  • The two defensive backs have dropped back, and will have to fight the receivers’ blocks to get back into the play.
  • Dansby is moving left to try to stop the fake handoff to Austin
  • Orchard, thinking it’s a pass, thinks he’s blowing by the tackle and is no doubt getting ready to celebrate

Big Gainer 2

This next frame shows how easily this play could have been a momentum changer for Cleveland. Foles throws an absolutely terrible backwards pass– notice how Gurley had to leave the ground to jump for it. He misses it and it’s a loose ball.

Orchard and Dansby have at least figured out what is happening. Everyone else is at sea. I’ll identify everyone for you:

Big Gainer 3

From here it’s a footrace. Orchard doesn’t help matters by using the wrong pursuit angle. He runs a parallel line, imagining that he can outrun Gurley.Big Gainer 4

The frame below shows how well that worked… Notice how the tackle Orchard ‘beat’ has headed down the field, and has Dansby tied up. One of the defensive backs (it looks like K’Waun Williams, but it might be FS Jordan Poyer) has gotten free of his guy, but Tramon Williams is still locked up.

Big gainer 5

And that’s why the Browns don’t play good run defense– they’re never where they need to be when they need to be.

Now because I have a lot of pictures on this page, I’ll stop here and finish in a separate second part. See you at the link


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