Film Room: Browns Defense

Film Room: Browns Defense
Film Room: Browns Defense
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Charles McDonald

There's no need to sugarcoat this simple fact: the Cleveland Browns have been the laughingstock of the league since the Jurassic Period. Outside of stalwart left tackle Joe Thomas, Cleveland's roster (especially the quarterback position) has been a revolving door of sadness, misery, and despair.

At the start of the 2016 offseason, the Browns committed themselves to a different approach in hopes of dragging themselves out of the gutter. Paul DePodesta, Sashi Brown, and Hue Jackson have spearheaded a "Moneyball" campaign in hopes of exploiting market inefficiencies to build a complete juggernaut team that is set up for years of good cap health, kind of like the New England Patriots.

It's easy to make fun of the Browns' on-field results (hell, I do it all the time), but reality shows that they are starting to build a semblance of a winning roster, despite the team's 1-26 record since the start of the 2016 season. The first position group that's really starting to blossom is along the defensive line.

When defensive linemen hit free agency, they tend to break the bank. It's imperative to get early production from these types of players before they get to their second contract in order to maximize the value they bring to a team. In the past two years the Browns have added Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Carl Nassib in the draft, and for the most part they've all been positive contributors. Cleveland has also done a marvelous job carving out a role for former first-round pick Danny Shelton and allowing him to become the anchor for their No. 2 run defense according to DVOA.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has done a fantastic job of tailoring his blitz packages to the talent he has available on the defensive line (his same effort in the secondary is lacking, but that's a different story). What do you do when you have two freakishly athletic defensive linemen in Emmanuel Ogbah and Myles Garrett? Allow them to twist and stunt to take advantage of their athletic skill sets.

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The Browns use a fair amount of movement along the defensive line to disrupt opposing offensive lines. On this play, Ogbah (90) and the defensive tackle (Trevon Coley, 93) are slanting inside on the play-side of the formation. Tennessee pulls both the guard and tackle where the run is directed.

This is a perfectly timed slant by Williams. The movement steps taken by Ogbah put him in a place where the tight end blocking down can't reach him, and he's free to hunt down the ballcarrier. Ogbah does a fantastic job of redirecting after the initial inside steps on his way to the running back.

Unfortunately, Ogbah was recently put on injured reserve with a broken right foot. His presence was huge in leading the Browns' run defense; he still leads the team with 14 tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, according to Pro Football Reference.

Myles Garrett, Ogbah's partner in destruction for the foreseeable future, has had a strong start to his rookie year. Garrett has recorded five tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage in just six games this season. Cleveland has a similar plan of attack with Garrett: allow him to move back and forth between gaps after the ball is snapped.

Garrett recorded the first sack of his career on the first play of his career. After missing the first four games of the season with a high ankle sprain, he immediately showed why he was worthy of being the first pick in the draft.

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Garrett is lined up as a three-technique defensive tackle on this play. Cleveland called an overload blitz to the left side of the offensive line. This is designed to get four rushers on three blockers. While the rushers-to-blockers matchup immediately plays in the Browns' favor, Garrett still shows phenomenal burst paired with efficient movement to get in the backfield for his first career sack.

A 6-foot-4, 272-pound human with that movement ability is rare. The Browns love to let Garrett get matchups against less agile offensive linemen. Garrett switches from the B-gap to the A-gap with ease and barrels towards Josh McCown for the sack.

While Cleveland's defensive line thrives when they're asked to execute stunts and twists, they can also play within the typical construct of a run defense. This is where 2015 first-round pick Danny Shelton has shined brightest for the Browns.

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That's Shelton lining up across from the offense's left guard, throwing him aside, and and making the tackle in the backfield. The Browns consistently do a tremendous job of setting the edge against opposing offensive lines. This is where less heralded players like safety Derrick Kindred shine for Cleveland. Players like Kindred and Ogbah shut down the edge of the box, allowing Shelton and other interior players to corral to the ball.

The athleticism required for a 350-pound nose tackle to chase down plays from the backside is incredible. Of course, Shelton can cave in offensive lines from the middle when given the opportunity.

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Shelton is responsible for the A-gap on this play, which is the standard gap responsibility for a nose tackle. As the Colts try to set up the inside zone play, Shelton moves laterally down the line of scrimmage waiting for Frank Gore to declare which gap he's going to attack. Once Gore decides he's going to hit the gap that Shelton is playing, Shelton does a little swipe to get back in front of the center and bring Gore down for no gain.

The last homegrown player along the Browns' defensive line that has paid huge dividends so far is rookie defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi from Charlotte. Like Ogbah, Garrett, and Shelton, Ogunjobi is no slouch athletically. He brings a vicious first step versus the run, which has allowed him to be disruptive early on in his career.

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Ogunjobi doesn't play with great technique yet, but his athleticism still allows him to finish plays. Ogunjobi (lined up in the B gap between the offense's left guard and left tackle) gets caught with his head down at the start of this rep. However, he keeps pushing towards the direction of the run even though he can't see where the ball is.

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He doesn't use his hands and his head is down, but his athleticism and balance takes him over to the ballcarrier, where he can help James Burgess, Jr., bring down Chris Ivory for a loss. These are plays that show potential: when a player can have good results despite a flawed process. With the development of Shelton and Ogbah, Browns fans should feel fairly good about Ogunjobi's chances to evolve into an impactful three-technique moving forward.

Emmanuel Ogbah, Myles Garrett, Danny Shelton, and Larry Ogunjobi all have one thing in common: they routinely make plays that players of their stature shouldn't make. Building a dominant defensive line is usually the first step towards building a dominant defense. With these four guys still under their rookie contracts, the Browns will have a chance to build a terrifying defense before they have to break the bank on their young, talented, and productive defensive linemen. The Moneyball strategy is starting to take form, Browns fans (and media) just need to be patient.


5 comments, Last at 07 Dec 2017, 10:38am

#1 by Theo // Nov 30, 2017 - 6:42pm

I regularly read the browns fan board and there seem to be 2 kinds of fans.
Group 1: they see the amount of draft picks and the improvement if the roster. They think though that a ab shouldve been taken with the #12 pick last year.
Group 2. they see the 1-25 record and comclude the roster has no talent and no coaching. They want them all gone again. And they also wanted a qb with the #12 pick.
Nice to read a positive story on the browns.
I think both groups have a point but I would be in group 1 for the reasons given in the article. They surely miss some key players to get anywhere though.

Points: 0

#2 by Raiderfan // Nov 30, 2017 - 7:25pm

Great article. I know nothing about the Browns. The GIFs show them playing a lot of wide--9; is that their usual case?

Points: 0

#3 by D2K // Dec 01, 2017 - 12:30am

Excellent article. I think if you are progressive enough to try the money ball approach and hire a front office who wanted to take that approach, as an owner, you have to see that vision through no matter the early results. The Browns have a lot of young talent on both the offensive and defensive lines and I would go as far as saying that they're pretty damn good in the defensive front 7 as a whole.

They're run game is very good but losing an All-Pro at LT and having an indecisive rookie behind center, won't help your pass protection which is why they give up a lot of sacks. Adding Gordon back to the mix should really help as well, even if not at first because he hasn't played an NFL game in two years, his presence alone should at least command the occasional double team which will allow Coleman (1st rounder) to get more one on one coverages. The young tight end Njoku looks to be a very intriguing player who if only he could be more consistent with his hands, could be a real threat in the passing game adding another weapon. Duke Johnson is a good change of pace back and a guy who can do damage out of the backfield and in the passing game.

They've played some really close games to some very good teams (Pitt/Tenn/Minn/Det/Jax) but just cant quite close the game out. I can see them beating Green Bay and Chicago to finish with 2 wins. I think they should've taken Malik Hooker if they were going to not take the QB at 12 in the draft. Hooker is a rangy ball hawk who was more suited for what they do defensively. But, they still got a safety at 25 with Peppers and a 1st rounder this year. So I can see the value in that trade if Peppers can be at least a long term starter and the pick this year is another hit.

I think the organization has to see this thing through for at least one more season and one more draft (I'd give them at least two more seasons). They may very well be a team like the Rams that are capable of an instant turnaround.

Points: 0

#4 by mehllageman56 // Dec 01, 2017 - 2:40pm

With Josh Rosen and some offensive uprgrading (and a healthy Thomas), the Browns would be at least competitive next year. If I'm Rosen, I'd rather go to Cleveland or San Francisco as long as Thomas and Staley are still with those teams, then a team with a bad offensive line and little chance for an improvement. Yes, the Giants.

Points: 0

#5 by OldFox // Dec 07, 2017 - 10:38am

As a long-time, long-suffering Browns fan, I've been little short of astonished as to how many positive things I've been seeing recently about the Browns in various FO articles. This article is of course very encouraging, and another FO writer recently wrote that the Browns have a defensive front seven that is "legit." (The only thing "legit" I normally read about the Browns are that they are "legitimately" the worst organization in NFL history.)

This is all very nice, but I think I speak for a lot of Browns fans when I say that I remain skeptical. Yeah, it seems logical that when a team has a few good young players, lots of draft choices coming up and plenty of cash, that team should improve. But this is the Browns, people. They've been in this same situation before. Many times, in fact. And they've always managed to blow it. I'm going to have to see some results on the gridiron before I believe that they're going to become a good team. Really, the Browns have been so incredibly bad for such an incredibly long time that when someone tells me that the Browns are going to be good, I react in much the same way that I'd react if someone told me to look outside because there's a unicorn in my back yard.

Points: 0

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