Joe Schobert: The linchpin of the Browns defense

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The Cleveland Browns won a convincing victory against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, giving the Browns a nice finish heading into the bye week. A lot of the focus and admiration surrounding the win was aimed at the offense. With the superb play by the young duo of quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb, that focus is warranted. But, what is being lost in the victory is the exceptional play of the Browns defense. Atlanta came into the week averaging 28.5 points per game and was on a three-game win streak with scoring outputs of 34, 23, and 38 points over those three games. On Sunday, the Browns defense held this Falcons offense to just 16 points. It was a masterful job by the defense and the game clearly showed that the linchpin of the Browns defense is linebacker Joe Schobert.

Linebacker Joe Schobert was named to the 2018 NFL Pro Bowl, but the appreciation of the young Wisconsin linebacker has not been fully shown as of yet. It is time and the last four weeks are a good example of why he deserves the accolades.

Schobert injured his hamstring in the third quarter of the Browns’ Week 6 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. He has subsequently missed the next three games, leaving a huge hole in the Browns defense. The Cleveland defense allowed 26, 33 and 37 points in the three games. The Browns struggled to stop the run and pass throughout this time period. There were many factors in this struggle like the opponents they played against and the other injuries the defense suffered, but the hole in the middle of the defense left by Schobert in those three games was a big factor. It showed that the Wisconsin linebacker was very important to the Browns defense.

Browns Interim Head Coach Gregg Williams said this about Schobert upon his return to practice this week. “It was also good to see the reaction of the players around him [Schobert] all of a sudden – how vocal he is and how much he knows,” said Williams. “It simplifies the game and some of the alignment worlds for a lot of the people around him because he can get you lined up in a hurry.”

Williams states one of Schobert’s biggest contributions to the team, leadership, and intelligence. He is the center of the defense and tasked to get the defense into the right look. This cannot be understated to how important it is that he can do this for the defense. Schobert is the coach of the defense as Williams illustrates, but his own play on the field is even more important.

Schobert is a versatile linebacker who can affect the run and pass defense. He is at his best in coverage where he uses his athleticism to cover in zone and in man coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, he leads all NFL linebackers in the most coverage snaps per reception at 34.4 coverage snaps per reception. This means that Schobert allows on average a reception over 34 snaps in coverage. He is a key player in the Browns pass coverage team that is third in the league in opponent’s passer rating, holding quarterbacks to just an 84.3 rating. He is able to perform many roles in the pass defense, even rushing the passer where he has pressured the quarterback seven times in 59 pass rush attempts, according to Pro Football Focus.

But, Schobert is no slump versus the run game. He uses his IQ and athleticism to quickly diagnose plays and react accordingly to make the play. He can run from sideline to sideline to chase down plays. This ability to play well against the pass and run game allows him to play on every down.

Sunday saw the return of Schobert to a defense reeling from a couple rough performances without the talented linebacker. And his presence showed up immediately and in big times of the game versus the Falcons. Schobert’s game can be summed up well by these back to back plays he had in the fourth quarter to help the Browns defense make a goal line stand.

The first play shows off his run stopping ability. Schobert is able to read and flow down the line and quickly and forcefully fill in the hole where the runner was going. Schobert saved what looked to be a touchdown by filling in that gap in the line. The second play is the fourth down play where Schobert shows off his pass coverage ability. The linebacker is able to run to the left side of the line and pick up the tight end quick enough before he can get open. He finishes the play off by sticking with the tight end throughout the play to create an incomplete pass.

Joe Schobert is not a well-known name league-wide. But, he is the key player to the Browns defense. His presence raises the entire defense’s performance. Without him in the lineup, the Browns defense misses the coach on the field who can perform any role for the defense. It is time to acknowledge his importance and talent on the Browns defense.