As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Tom Mead and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Tom on the players.
Today, scouting the Cleveland Browns’ defense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT
BROWNS’ RUN DEFENSE
A very stout group and a unit that isn’t talked about enough. Really strong numbers across the board. The 3.5 YPC they’re allowing is 2nd best, their five touchdowns tied for 7th best, while they’ve allowed just ten runs of 10+ yards, easily the best mark in the league.
It’s a 4-3 front though they don’t have quite the rotation along the d-line as some other even fronts. More workhorses with guys like Myles Garrett, Malik Jackson, Malik McDowell, and Jadeveon Clowney logging 60%+ of the defense’s snaps.
Anthony Walker, Mack Wilson, and Sione Takitaki are the base linebackers. Walker the MIKE, Wilson the SAM, Takitaki the WILL. They be will without stud rookie Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, still on IR with an injury he suffered a few weeks ago. Walker is the leading tackler with 35 of them. JOK is second on the team with Denzel Ward having one of the highest tackle numbers for a CB with 29 of them. JOK is out and Ward is in danger of missing so those are two key tacklers.
Myles Garrett, by the way, has 27 tackles. Lot of top pass rushers will have sub-par tackle numbers. Not him.
It’s a stout front that has no major weaknesses. Leaving backside ends unblocked is an unadvisable idea, They’re too athletic, Clowney or Garrett, and will crash from the backside. As Clowney does here.
One potential way to slow these guys down is to have the tackles pass set and punch upfield, just as they do on a draw play. The handoff doesn’t need to be a draw, Pittsburgh does very little of that, but the tackle “hat up” set can influence the DE upfield and take him out of the play. If it works, it’s a whole lot easier than trying to traditionally base block him.
Some other Browns’ notes. Their defense is 18th in points per game allowed at 23.6. Their third down and red zone defense have been poor and must be taken advantage of. 45.2% on third down (28th), 72.7% red zone defense (26th). Pittsburgh, especially with a top-ten third down offense, must step up.
BROWNS’ PASS DEFENSE
A secondary that’s been added to and retooled but has suffered injury and yet to play to expectation. However, they are allowing a low completion rate (61.1% – 4th). But their YPA allowed is about average, they’ve given up 16 passing TDs (tied for 20th most) and just picked off three passes.
But they’ve gotten plenty of pressure. Despite one of the lower blitz rates in football at just 20%, their pressure rate is second at 29.8%, only trailing the Minnesota Vikings. Always take note of defenses with a much higher pressure rate than blitz rate. Means the front four is getting home. The Browns’ 20 sacks are second most in the league. Garrett not only leads the Browns but the entire NFL with 9.5 of them. Since 2018, there’s only been four instances of a player recording 9+ sacks over his first seven games. Garrett is responsible for three of them.
He’s second in QB hits with 18, has a sack in six of seven games and a QB hit in six of seven. He’s far from a rotational guy either, logging 75%+ of snaps in five of seven games. His 9 TFL are also tied for the most in football. This is a massive test for Dan Moore Jr.
The Browns have just three forced fumbles and three interceptions. Secondary responsible for two punchouts, Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit while Williams and John Johnson are responsible for two of the three picks. Johnson is their prize free agent signing.
The Broncos did an effective job of minimizing the Browns’ pass rush with the RB/WR screen game. Couple of clips.
Pittsburgh doesn’t use the RB screen much at all but it might be time to add a couple plays, especially with the bye week affording more time to prepare. Or even the TE screen game, though I like that idea less, but it is a bigger part of the playbook. Could see that early in the game to get that pass rush thinking about it and slow them down.
Coverage-wise, there are a lot of split coverages, especially in what I saw against Denver. Against 3×1 looks, the Browns will lock the backside, X receiver with “MEG” coverage (man everywhere he goes) and play zone to the trips side. They will match routes vertically too.
Whereas they will play more Cover 4/quarters against 2×2.
Tom’s Individual Report
The Steelers travel to Cleveland for their second divisional game of the season. Cleveland got a win last week after dropping the previous two and has been slowed by injuries particularly on the offensive side of the ball. There are some new faces on the defense compared to last year and they have improved especially on the backend. Let’s take a look at the Browns defenders.
When talking about the defensive line you have to start with Myles Garrett (95) and he is off to a torrid start with 9.5 sacks already this season. He gets off the snap quickly and can win with speed or power and has a strong inside spin move. He’s is effective on the edge against the run as well. Veteran Malik Jackson (97) is the three technique and he has grown man strength. He uses stabs and chops rushing the passer and has good motor. He’s quick at the snap and handles double teams well. Malik McDowell (58) is the one technique and is a power pass rusher. He is better going north and south, has heavy hands and plays with aggression. At the other defensive end is Jadeveon Clowney (90) with very good athleticism and covers a lot of ground quickly when rushing the passer. He has good length, his best move is a lateral jump to the B gap from the edge and he’ll kick inside on passing downs.
Jackson (97) makes a nice play taking on the double team before torqueing the right guard out of the way and filling the run gap to get the stop
The reserves include Takkarist McKinley (55) who has good bend and agility around the edge as well as a solid rip to the inside. He’ll also drop into coverage. Jordan Elliott (96) plays inside and has a good motor, up field burst and lateral agility. He uses his hands well to stack and shed versus the run. Andrew Billings (99) is the big bodied, gap controller with very good play strength to move blockers off of their spot. Joe Jackson (91) has very good length and strength, is a power pass rusher and is solid setting the edge.
Anthony Walker (4) is a new addition this year and is the MIKE linebacker. He has good speed, chases all over the field and processes well. He is always around the ball, is a strong tackler racking up a lot of tackles and is their linebacker in Dime. With Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on injured reserve which makes Mack Wilson (51) now the WILL linebacker. He plays with very good aggressiveness when fighting through gaps or taking on blockers. He diagnoses well against the run and versus screens and will fly to where ever the ball is. Sione Takitaki (44) is the SAM linebacker and has good athleticism and acceleration to play downhill. He has good speed to pursue the ball and is solid setting on the edge.
Impressive recognition here by Walker (4) in the passing game. After the man goes in motion you can see him glance several times at the grouping of receivers. He recognizes that no one has the underneath route and runs with the receiver in coverage.
Malcolm Smith (56) is the primary backup and the veteran has adequate athleticism, is willing to fill gaps to close running lanes and uses his hands well. Elijah Lee (52) is a good athlete and fluid mover and plays primarily on special teams. Tony Fields (42) is a solid processor, works through traffic well and is a consistent tackler.
Denzel Ward (21) is the top corner and is usually playing on the boundary side. He’s a very good athlete, comfortable in all coverages and reads routes well. He attacks the ball in the air, gets downfield quickly versus wide receiver screens and supports the run too. Greg Newsome II (20) is an impressive rookie with good Man coverage skills. He plays to the field side, closes quickly in Zone coverage and is effective getting his hands into the receivers catch area. Troy Hill (23) is the nickel corner. He is solid in Zone coverage and will be used to blitz from the slot. He is a willing and capable tackler and seems to enjoy playing the run.
Hill (23) gives off some Mike Hilton vibes in run support. Here he’ll come knifing in from the left to make the quick stop. He did this several times in the games watched.
Greedy Williams (26) is a reserve outside corner with good length and very good speed. He has good hips and solid route recognition. A.J. Green (38) is another corner with good size and length. He uses his length well in Press coverage and attacks the ball in the air.
Another new addition to the defense is free safety John Johnson III (43). He will be used all over the field including the single high safety, in Cover 2 or as gap filler in the box. He is very active with good range and is a strong tackler. Ronnie Harrison (33) is the strong safety. He too will be used deep or in the box, is a physical tackler and will play as a linebacker in Dime. He’ll cover the tight end in Man coverage and has good ball skills.
Johnson (43) is the deep safety and shows off his range coming from the far hash to break up a pass on the sideline.
Grant Delpit (22) will come in as the safety in Dime and will play deep or be used as a blitzer from the second level. He has good size and length, good acceleration downhill and is aggressive against the run. Richard LeCounte III (39) is a rookie with a good understanding of route combinations, challenges throws and is willing in run support.