Tracking the Browns defense: How many times did they blitz?

I will be bringing back the Browns film room series later this week, but I had to do a quick review of Ray Horton’s defense. Specifically, I wanted to know when and how many defenders rushed the quarterback.

Re-watching every pass attempt, I noted the number of rushers and tried to make notes on who got pressure on the quarterback and what the down and distance was. Would there be any patterns? Yes, but not necessarily the kind you would hope for.

Let me first explain my method. I went through each pass attempt and counted the number of players that appeared to be rushing the quarterback. I say appeared because a few times during the game the inside linebackers are tough to read. If there is a running back in the backfield, there is sometimes a little song and dance that goes on. Both the inside backer and the running back may be getting their key off of each other, meaning that if the back runs a pattern the linebacker has him in coverage. The opposite would also be true, meaning that if a linebacker blitzes, the back has to pick up the extra man.

blitz RB example

In the example above, D’Qwell Jackson is crowding the line of scrimmage showing blitz. Now, players do this all the time and may or may not actually rush. If the LB rushes in at the snap, as D’Qwell does on this play, I counted them among the rushers. If there is a pause, and the inside backer (or outside depending on the scheme) appeared to me to be reacting to the running back, I did not count them as a rusher. Obviously, without knowing the play call this will never be 100% accurate.

So what did I find? Here are the totals.

Week one rush chart

As you would expect, the Browns brought four or five rushers the majority of the time. Typically, these four or five players were the down lineman and one or two of the outside linebackers. When the Browns are in their nickel package, they generally only have two defensive linemen in the game. Several times in that situation LB Paul Kruger would put his hand on the ground to rush the QB from the outside. When he does that, is he technically a defensive end? It doesn’t really matter for the sake of this study.

The Browns recorded four sacks in the game. Desmond Bryant had a pair of sacks, Paul Kruger had one and Quentin Groves had one. So that’s two sacks from outside linebackers and two from a defensive lineman. You may be interested to know that all four of these sacks came on plays where the Browns only brought four rushers.

In addition to the four sacks, the Browns were credited with seven quarterback hits. Four of those came from Desmond Bryant. Groves and Kruger each had one and D’Qwell Jackson was credited with the other. The majority of the quarterback hits were when the Browns rushed five players. Jackson got significant pressure on at least two plays, and both of those were plays that the Browns brought five.

The Dolphins passed 14 times on first and ten. Ray Horton mixed up his rush pretty well on first down. A couple of times they rushed 3, almost an even split of four and five rushers and once they brought six.

Here are two very telling stats. Five of the six times that the Browns brought six rushers, the Dolphins made a play for a first down. In other words, 83% of the time the Browns brought max pressure, Miami got the pass off and moved the chains. The other result was an incompletion. The one time they brought seven rushers, Miami also completed a pass for a first down.

Here’s the second stat. On third down and short, and I considered 4 yards and under to be short, the Dolphins had five pass attempts. All five times they completed the pass for a first down. Three of those were against six man rushes.

For the game, the Dolphins were 8-of-16 on third down.

On third and long, the Browns faced eight pass attempts. They brought three rushers once, resulting in a QB pressure and an incompletion. Three times they brought four rushers. The results were a sack, a QB knockdown and incompletion, and another incomplete pass. They brought five rushers twice, surrendering one first down. Once they brought six, which Miami converted and once they brought seven, which Miami also converted.

Now, it would be very easy to look at these numbers and jump to the conclusion that the Browns shouldn’t ever bring more than five rushers.  A few thoughts on this. First is a matter of sample size. One game is not enough to conclude anything. When the Browns do bring extra pass rushers, they need to be able to cover receivers tightly right off the line. Tannehill was getting rid of the ball very quickly against these blitzes, as any good quarterback will.

This points back to defensive back play, and specifically Buster Skrine and Chris Owens who were targeted 20 times by Ryan Tannehill, 10 times each. Owens allowed nine receptions for 89 yards, and Skrine allowed six receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown.

Overall, the team has to function together. When the play calls for more rushers, the defensive backs have to do a better job early in coverage. When the Browns only bring four or fewer rushers, those players need to beat their man occasionally and get pressure on the quarterback.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    GREAT breakdown, Rick.

    Some thoughts on those numbers:

    – 6/76 on 10 targets? That’s not actually that bad by Skrine, which is much more in line with my original thoughts on how he played (especially first half) and contrary to the screaming about him. Yes he had the PI in the end zone, which was probably a smart play; and he did get beat for the long TD on a great out/up route with no safety help, which he shouldn’t have bought without a S there. Other than that he was relatively solid against a great possession WR. Owens’ numbers are much more troubling – 9 catches on 10 targets?? Ugh.

    – It sounds like when the Browns rush 4 they get coverage sacks. When they rush 5+ Tannehill was throwing as fast as possible to beat the rush, which is good QB play. The difference seems to be that when it’s five, he’s more likely to have trouble finding the open guy against the six covering, whereas against 6+ rushing he is able to find the open guy faster. That’s a problem with the disguising that the Browns can probably fix.

    EDIT: And Horton did say it takes six weeks, and it’s quite possible the Dolphins’ reviewed at the half and saw the weak disguises, hence why Horton pulled it back a bit second half.

  • Harv 21

    Great work, Rick.

    I need to go back to the DVR to watch Miami’s early 4th quarter TD drive, where Tannehill effortlessly hit short and mid-range passes (the long one came when the receiver faked Owens out of his shoes in the flat). There appeared to be no pressure on him, certainly not enough to disrupt what he was doing. Maybe these were just short drops/dumps where he exploited how far off the receivers Skrine and Owens have to play. But if that’s the case, Horton has to adjust. Miami’s o-line looked awful, and Kruger and Bryant simply bullrushed their blockers straight back a bunch of times.

  • Patrick Elder

    While Skrine definitely wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, it seems like he’s taking the lion’s share of the blame while Chris Owens is getting somewhat of a pass. According to those statistics at the end, Owens was much worse than Skrine, though neither was good.

  • I wouldn’t say all of the sacks were coverage sacks, but there is certainly an element of that. There were a couple of really good individual efforts on those.

    As far as the Skrine/Owens debate, you have to take into account drops, bad passes, etc. There was one nice play by Skrine to break up a pass on the sideline that Hartline had caught.

  • Ezzie Goldish


    At least on Owens, it’s hard to argue with 9 of 10. Ugh. That’s terrible.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Interesting study Rick, and this definitely matches what I thought I was seeing during the game, although I’d love to go back today and take a look again. It seemed like every time the Browns brought two or three blitzing players, they were all running towards the same hole (or two holes next to each other) and were basically getting bottled up by the offensive linemen creating a small enough opening that there was no need for extra blockers to deal with the blitz. I was pretty frustrated with that… if you’re not forcing the offense to use an extra blocker to deal with your blitzing player, then you’re doing them a huge favor and asking to be picked apart.

    On the offensive side of the ball, I saw the opposite happening at times where the Dolphins had a player running free to hit Weeden while the RB who was supposed to be protecting was up at the line either helping to double-team somebody or else waiting for a blitzer who never came through a different gap.

  • Agreed. I should go back and look at the incompletion against him and see what went wrong.

  • BenRM

    It probably started going wrong when Owens stepped onto the field.


  • mgbode

    “Re-watching every pass attempt”

    I’m sorry Rick. Thank you for doing it because it does do a few things:

    (1) The coaches apparently have it correct with Skrine > Owens (and he did seem to play better than Owens, but he was still not good in the game).

    (2) I have been saying that McFadden shouldn’t be counted on much being a mid-round rookie CB, but if Owens is giving that type of stuff up on the field, then how bad is McFadden to not be able to push him for playing time?

    (3) It’ll be interesting to see a similar breakdown once we get Mingo back. I think one of the reasons we drafted him is that we might be able to get 5man pressure with 4men rushing (if he lives up to his billing).

  • this is interesting stuff rick thanks. two takeaways from here:
    1. the dolphins don’t have a prototype jump-ball winning receiver (although hartline is listed at 6’2″.). when the browns bring max pressure against the ravens i’ll be curious if bigger targets like torrey smith and jacoby jones will be result in the same or more success.
    2. not to load more on your plate but: next time you do this it’d be interesting to see how often the browns change their personnel sets (base, nickel, dime, short ydge). after watching the eagles game, it seems like the defense who relies too heavily on specialty packages is in for trouble.

  • Harv 21

    “… then how bad is McFadden to not be able to push him for playing time?”

    That’s the question. He missed a lot of camp before he got healthy and we haven’t heard anyone within the org singing his praises. But with no competent CBs floating around once the season starts we may be about to see his baptism by fire. Unless Horon is one of those guys who’d rather take his chances with a bad veteran than a mediocre rookie.

  • gct

    I think this is where I eat crow about my “aggressive” defense post from yesterday that you liked so much. Looks like I was quite incorrect.

  • mgbode

    I don’t know. We didn’t go after Rhodes or Wilson (his S’s last year) in FA, so he seems at least okay with going with youth. Though, he may be extra demanding on rookies with his extensive playbook.

  • pfft. i was too harsh; a reaction to media drumbeat going on since the spring about the aggressive attacking horton defense.

  • saggy

    I’d also like to know how far downfield Tannehill’s throws were when we sent 5 or more. It seemed, to me, that our CBs were playing way off the line as Miami was able to throw short and pick up 5 or 6 easily.

    Where is the adjustment on that?

    I always felt like when defenses blitz Cleveland the DBs get right up on the line. The Dolphins didnt even look at Mike Wallace so I’m not sure what Horton was afraid would happen if he played a bump – or three – at the line.

    After watching that game I am really perplexed at their offseason moves. It’s not necessarily the drafting of Mingo but everything combined. A D-line rotation doesn’t matter if D-backs don’t step up.


  • Vindictive_Pat

    FYI, Jacoby Jones is out 4-6 weeks with an MCL sprain thanks to his own teammate who didn’t see him on a kickoff return and slammed into his knee, so the Browns might not see him until the second matchup on November 3.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I’m not sure about on blitzes specifically, but I know after watching the game again that Tannehill picked on Owens and Skrine when they left a big cushion. I do remember one third and short situation where the CB on Hartline was sagging back a good 7-10 yards. Hartline ran a quick 3 or 5 yard out and the Dolphins easily picked up the first down before the CB came back into the picture. I don’t know a ton about defensive tactics, but I can’t figure out why you would ever drop that far back on a 3rd and short situation… seems like you’re just giving away the first down.

  • Root4Cleveland

    I think the reason we didn’t see MW thrown to was precisely because of how he was played. Props to Haden for a job well done, but I think that playing a bump or two or three against a bigger, stronger and faster opponent in MW is asking for trouble, and it wouldn’t take long for them to peel off a long pass. Wallace can burn most people in the league and Haden is no exception to that. At the same time, I don’t see why they couldn’t have played the other WRs a little rougher. Those short- and mid-range passes were frustrating to watch.

  • Josh

    How about the Eagles under Billy Davis?? Isn’t that supposed to be the same Defense we’re running? they were ALL OVER the place Monday night?! Their OLBs were blitzing up the middle while it seemed like Kruger and Sheard had their hands in the dirt most plays. When they brought pressure they were in RG3’s face all day. Not sure why Kruger and Sheard didn’t move around more.

  • origbrownfan

    This is just another way of showing the Browns have a great front seven, but can’t blitz much because of the lack of quality at CB. Skrine/McFadden get picked on so often, you might as well let one of them blitz anyway.

  • Richard_Haydn

    Interesting Rick. I would think the D scheme would depend on the QB. If they think they can rattle him bad with hurries vs. a quick release type of QB that will make you rely more on your coverage. But if you are going to give up the 5 yard pass anyhow, you are in for a long day against an average, middle of the pack, QB.