Whole lotta people questioning the pass protection this week. From our own Scott to LeCharles Bentley, to Daniel Wolf from National Football Authority, questions are being asked. And with good reason. Colt McCoy has been beaten to a pulp the last few weeks. It really is surprising that he hasn’t gotten hurt.
Sacked 4 times, and hit countless others against the Texans, it made me wonder what was going on. Then I hear Pat Shurmur say in Monday’s press conference that the Texans only brought more rushers than the Browns had blockers once. Is that possible?, I thought out loud. It seemed the Texans were bringing 15 people on every snap. Well, the tape doesn’t lie. And Shurmur was most certainly correct, the Texans didn’t bring more rushers than the Browns had blockers on every pass. It just seemed that way.
The Texans play a base 3-4 defense. Browns fans should be fairly familiar with the concept. Unlike the Browns of the past few years, the Texans choose to rush more than 1 linebacker quite frequently, or at least they did on Sunday.
Houston rushed just their down 3 linemen twice on Sunday. Once was a prevent type defense on a third and 15 towards the end of the first half, and the second on a rare first down pass by the Browns. (Ironically, the second 3 person rush resulted in a forced McCoy scramble.) The Texans brought 4 rushers on 6 of the Browns’ pass plays, 5 rushers on 8 pass plays, and 6 rushers on 13 (!) designed pass plays. That’s a lot of blitzing Batman. But given the Browns’ difficulty in picking up these blitzes, wouldn’t you?
Here are some interesting numbers for you. On plays in which there was no significant pressure (I watched each play and analyzed, you’ll either have to take my word or not) Colt McCoy completed 13 of 19 passes for 122 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. (The pick was the Greg Little miscommunication at the end of the first half.)
That means that on 10 of the Browns’ 29 designed pass plays, or roughly one third, Colt McCoy had what I would call significant pressure. (For those interested, I did not count screen plays as significant pressure, since those are plays designed to have some pressure.)
Let’s go to the tape.
Here we have the Browns double tight end formation, with McCoy under center and a back behind him. (Sidenote, is that the best we can do on third and 11?) The Texans will bring 6 on this play. Notice the safety sprinting towards the line of scrimmage? Ogbonnaya sure doesn’t. In fact, I have no idea what he’s thinking on this play. Given the inside linebacker’s position on the left side of the offense, you would think he might look to that side first to help with protection.
Instead, he gets the best view in the house of a collision. Could McCoy have seen the safety coming and delivered the ball to a ‘hot’ receiver? Sure, take your pick of a Tight End at the top of the screen (at the line of scrimmage) or the bottom (also at the line of scrimmage) for a 1 or 2 yard gain on 3rd and 11. Not a well designed or executed play. Let’s try another one.
Third and 2, shotgun formation with 1 TE , 3 WR and a RB. Presnap you have to assume that all 5 men at the line of scrimmage are rushing the passer, and they do. Additionally, the safety in the middle of the hashmarks is going to come as well.
McCoy knows Watson is not going to block the LB lined up outside of him, as he is in the pattern. Pashos, can’t get to that LB either, because the DE is lined up on his outside shoulder and rushing inside. The nosetackle goes straight for Lauvao at RG. So here is what should have happened. The back (Ogbonnaya) should have moved to the opposite side to pick up the outside linebacker. Between Mack, Lauvao and Pinkston, the nose tackle and inside LB on the O-Line’s left side should have been picked up, leaving one to deal with the remaining blitzer. Instead, the back locks on the safety and waits for him to arrive, while McCoy is left to deal with an untouched LB.
Had that happened, McCoy is able to hit Josh Cribbs on the slant for a first down. You have to figure McCoy wasn’t sure what that safety was going to do, and so he wasn’t looking for Cribbs as his primary because that safety was right where Cribbs was running to. However, if he moves the back over to his right presnap, he gets more time to see what was happening on his left. Again, he knew Watson wasn’t going to block and there was going to be a problem on that side. Bad read.
Here we go again. Third down and 5, double tight end, 2 WR set with a back. The Texans are going to bring 6, including the LB leaning towards the line of scrimmage right behind the d-line. And just so you don’t think I’m picking on Ogbonnaya, this time it’s Clayton in the backfield. In your presnap read, you have to assume all 5 on the line of scrimmage are coming (safe assumption in this game by the way, only twice did the Texans run a zone blitz pulling someone from that line) and look for signs that anyone else might be blitzing. The closest other player to the line of scrimmage is on the offense’s left side.
Naturally, Clayton goes right. Amazingly, McCoy gets this pass off and it is complete to Greg Little for 24 yards. It really wasn’t a good pass. McCoy really just threw it up for grabs where he thought Little might be. Good play by Little to go up and get it. When the defense is bringing 6 rushers, there can’t be a player not blocking anyone. Can’t happen.
One more. This time the Browns have a Tight End on the right, with a WR split out wide both right and left. Then they stack 2 receivers on the right behind the TE. Do your presnap read. See that LB leaning forward at the line of scrimmage outside of the TE on the right? Who exactly do you think is going to block him? All three of those receivers are going out. Do you think Pashos is going to get to him? With a player lined up on his nose, you really can’t even ask him to block anyone else, unless that down lineman stunts inside, which he doesn’t. Do you see the confusion between the offensive linemen here? You also have to be concerned about the LB stacked behind the DE blitzing. That’s what Alex Mack seems to be pointing at, telling Lauvao to watch for him. If I’m McCoy here, I consider using a timeout or audibling or something.
The Texans only bring 5 on this play, as the stacked LB covers the TE. See that rusher coming free at the top of the screen? He is going to miss McCoy on this play, and McCoy will scramble for a couple yards. One of those three receivers on the right side of the formation should have been a hot route to the flats.
Now, these are just examples of mental breakdowns or poor design. You will always have physical break downs, when a guy just gets beat. The Browns had a few of those Sunday as well. By my calculations, the most pressure came against the right tackle. Both Lauvao and Pinkston allowed a couple of defenders by as well. Joe Thomas was victimized once. With the amount of times the Texans brought blitzes equal to the number of blockers, I am actually surprised the unit didn’t give up more pressure. The Browns have to do better at dialing up plays to beat the blitz. The few screen passes they ran worked very well. Whatever the solution is, they better find it quickly.