Tight ends have been the kryptonite for the Browns defense over the past several years. So far this season, the Browns have not found a cure to fix the tight end problem. In the first two weeks of the 2017 NFL season, tight ends have combined to catch 19 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns. In Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland defense came up against a former Brown in Benjamin Watson. Watson was effective in Week 2, like many tight ends have done before against the Browns, catching eight passes for 91 yards. So, how did Watson have such a productive day?
In this week’s film room, I will take a look at the eight catches by Ben Watson and diagnose how the play worked for the Ravens. So with that, let’s roll the tape!
Q1 12:12 – 13-yard reception
The Browns come out in zone coverage with four defensive backs and seven defenders in the box. The Ravens run a play action bootleg that runs perfectly against the Browns defensive alignment. Baltimore comes out in a single back set with two receivers out wide, a tight end on the left side of the line and another tight end who motioned to the left side of the line. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco fakes a hand-off to the left and then shoots back to the right to scan the field. Tight end Ben Watson slips out to the right flat on the play fake, leaving the entire coverage behind. On the play fake, the Browns three linebackers are completely fooled, allowing Watson to get free in the right flat. Flacco fires the ball to Watson, who is able to shoot up field for a 12-yard gain. The linebackers are at fault on the play because they blew the coverage due to the play action. (Spoiler alert: There’s a theme here.)
Q1 7:01 – 5-yard reception
The Browns line up in zone coverage with four defensive backs and seven defenders in the box. The Ravens once again run a perfect play to combat the zone. Baltimore is in a single-back set with two receivers out wide and two tight ends lined up on the end of the right side of the line. The Ravens call a play action bootleg once again. Flacco fakes a hand-off to the left and then heads back to the right to scan the field for the pass. The play action completely fools the Browns three linebackers. All three go with the run motion to the left, letting the tight ends to slip out to the right. Ben Watson is open in the flat, while tight end Nick Boyle is wide open in the zone behind the linebackers and in front of the deep safeties. Flacco could have had a bigger gain had he targeted Boyle, but he finds Watson, who is able to get away from linebacker Christian Kirksey, for a five-yard gain. Kirksey bit too hard on the fake and allowed Watson to cross him to the right before the linebacker could recover. Like the first play, the linebackers were at fault on this play due to the blown coverage drawn by the play fake.
Q2 9:23 – 20-yard reception
The Browns come out in zone coverage with the unit rushing four defenders and dropping with seven in coverage. The Ravens line up in a shotgun with an empty backfield, two receivers along the sideline on both sides of the line and a bunch set lined up in the right slot. The Browns zone coverage suffers a breakdown in the right side of the field. Watson is the man lined up in the back of the bunch set and is running a designed streak route down field. The zone coverage gets too bunched in the middle of the field, causing the Browns outside corner to have to cover the receiver and Watson on the right side of the field. The depth of the linebackers was too shallow, taking them out of the play down field. Linebacker Joe Schobert stayed too low in coverage, leaving the right side with a huge hole. Linebacker Christian Kirksey initially has good depth in coverage on the left side of the field.
But, Flacco rolls out of the pocket and gets too many of the Browns defenders looking into the backfield, including Kirksey. This leaves safety Jabrill Peppers with a choice. He has a receiver shooting up the middle of the field and Watson down the numbers. Peppers decides to stay back to be in position to help on the receiver in the middle of the field. With the right cornerback guarding the receiver on the sideline, Watson is wide open for Flacco to find on the numbers and gain a big 20-yard reception. The play is blamed on the holes in the zone with the linebackers being the main culprits of creating those holes.
Q2 8:40 – 23-yard reception
This play was just blown coverage. The Ravens line up in a single back set with a receiver out to the left, two tight ends line up on the right end of the line and another tight end who motioned out of the backfield to the end of the right side of the line. The Browns defense comes out in man coverage on the four pass catchers in the play with a very deep safety over top and all but two defenders in the box, given how the Ravens are lined up. The Ravens run a very weak play action, but somehow fakes out the Browns defense again.
On the play, Watson is lined up next to the right tackle and is running a post route with the two other tight ends on his right running streaks and the receiver on the left running a fake screen where he shoots up the field in a streak route. Watson gets wide open down the middle of the field, giving Flacco an easy completion and a big 23-yard play. The blame on this play goes to the communication between Schobert and Kindred. When the tight end motioned out of the backfield and to the right, Schobert looked to motion to Kindred that he would take the tight end on the outside of Watson. That would leave Kindred to cover Watson. But, Kindred lets Watson go right past him with Kindred deciding to go with Schobert’s man. Schobert blew his coverage with a bad angle, but Kindred should have stayed on Watson. The blame goes to Kindred’s and Schobert’s communication.
Q2 1:21 – 13-yard reception
The Browns come out in man coverage on all four receivers with Peppers as the deep (I mean deep) safety over top. The Ravens line up in a shotgun with four receivers out wide and a running back to the left of Flacco. The Browns decide to blitz the two linebackers in the box, leaving pretty much every defender in man coverage on his own, especially with how far Peppers was lined up on the field. The man coverage is pretty good on every receiver, except for Ben Watson. Watson is lined up in the right slot against Browns safety Derrick Kindred in man coverage. The tight end runs a really good route that leaves Kindred off balance.
Watson shoots up field a few yards, then turns to go on an out route, but stops after two steps and comes back inside on a slant route. The fake to outside causes Kindred to stumble and Watson to get open on the slant route, giving an easy 13-yard reception. The play can be blamed on two things in my opinion. First of all, Kindred is just straight up beat by Watson one on one. But, the play can also be blamed on the schematics of the play call. The Browns put Kindred, a safety who is not great in coverage, one-on-one with an athletic tight end and without any sort of help inside. He had not linebacker help or safety. It was a recipe for disaster.
Q3 9:12 – loss of two yards
This is actually great coverage on Ben Watson by the Browns defense. The Browns blitz cornerback Jamar Taylor on the right, making the rest of the defense to rotate to the right and cover in man coverage. The safety comes up and takes Taylor’s man. The Ravens line up with a back in the backfield, a receiver out wide on both sides of the field, and two tight ends on the right side of the backfield after one of them motioned to that spot.
The play is another play action pass where Flacco fakes a handoff to the right. Once he makes the fake, he is quickly met with pressure, so he fires it to Watson who had crossed the field to the right and into the flat. But, the blitzing Taylor makes a great play and reads the play design quickly. Taylor stops and goes with Watson to the flat, allowing him to be in position to make the tackle on Watson for a two-yard loss. It was a great play by Taylor.
Q4 7:32 – 7-yard reception
This was a 3rd-and-6 play midway through the fourth quarter. In this play, the Ravens line up in a shotgun formation with four receivers out wide and a running back to the left of Flacco. The Browns come out in zone coverage with four defenders rushing the passer and seven defenders in coverage. Watson is lined up in the right slot and is running a short crossing route over the middle of the field. The play was an easy pitch and catch by Flacco and Watson. The blame of the play was a lack of situational awareness by the Browns linebackers. It was a big third down play with six yards to gain for the Ravens.
Cleveland’s linebackers dropped too far back into their zone coverage, allowing Watson to run underneath far enough to reach the first down. Both Kirksey and Schobert dropped five yards beyond the first down marker. With Kirksey that far back, it allowed Watson to run his route to the first down line and caused Kirksey to be too late to react and break on the pass before the pass was completed. Kirksey’s situational awareness is the blame on this play.
Q4 5:25 – 12-yard reception
In this play, the Ravens come out in an I-formation with a tight end on both ends of the line and a receiver out wide to the left. The Browns are in man coverage with a very deep safety over top. The Browns rush six defenders on the play with nine defenders lining up in the box to defend the I-formation set by the Ravens. Watson is lined up on the left end of the offensive line and designed to run a short crossing route to the right. Linebacker James Burgess is assigned to cover the tight end in man coverage. Watson is able to get to just enough separation from Burgess to get open for Flacco, who was being pressured and rushed out of the pocket by the Browns pass rush.
Watson is able to catch the pass and cut up field for a 12-yard reception. I am not going to lay a lot of blame on this play. Watson ran a very good route and Flacco placed in a perfect spot for Watson to catch it. Burgess played pretty tight on Watson. These kinds of plays happen. The deep safety positioning on this play is still a head-scratcher like it has been on most of the plays in the game and the season.
Highlight of the Week
Wide receiver Rashard Higgins is the highlight of the week. Against the Ravens, Higgins caught seven passes for 95 yards with both of those stats leading the Browns on Sunday. In his first game since coming off the team’s practice squad, Higgins was the best wide receiver for the Browns on Sunday. He was targeted the most times of any player on the Browns and showed, at least for one week, that he deserves a spot on the active roster.
Lowlight(s) of the Week
Kenny Britt and Sammie Coates are the co-lowlights of the week. Against the Ravens, Britt caught one pass for two yards, while Coates did not record a reception. Especially with Britt, both of these veterans who were supposed to lead by example and be steady forces among the young receiver corps. But, they have been the exact opposite of that. Britt and Coates have looked sluggish and have seemed to be just going through the motions. They have been far from being a veteran presence for the young roster.
Joe Gilbert’s 2017 Season Film Rooms