The Disappointment Zone

Musings from a Cleveland sports fan

Cleveland Browns: QB Score: Week 11

Posted by disappointmentzone on 20 November 2007

The the past two weeks Derek Anderson and the Browns have faced two of the five best defenses in the NFL. All things considered — elite defenses, on the road, division rivals — he’s done quite well.

After facing Pittsburgh, with the league’s second best defense, Baltimore might have seemed like an easier task. Granted, they have the league’s fifth best defense, but Anderson did fairly well.

Yes, he threw a costly interception that was returned for a touchdown and was sacked twice for minus 11 yards. But he completed 63% of his passes — his highest completion percentage of the season — and made a number of huge throws. The biggest throw might have bee the third-and-ten pass to Winslow, but the most impressive was the pass to Braylon Edwards that set up the game tying field goal. The Baltimore Ravens defensive line was draped all over him and yet he still threw a strike down the middle of the field. On the road, against a division rival, in a game with playoff implications, Anderson put his team in a position to win. That’s the sign of a quality quarterback. He has the prototypical size and arm strength to be a very good quarterback. The Edwards pass was a glimpse of that potential. A weak-armed quarterback doesn’t make that throw (Charlie Frye). A short quarterback doesn’t make that throw (Jeff Garcia). Derek Anderson makes that throw.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Browns game without at least one problem, and for the second week in a row that distinction goes to the defense.

In the second half the Baltimore Ravens — owners of the league’s 29th worst offense and 30th worst passing attack — had drives of:

75 yards (TD)
46 yards (INT)
62 yards (FG)
43 yards (FG)
83 yards (TD)
49 yards (FG)

Including penalty yardage the Ravens gained 359 yards on offense in the second half. This is beyond inexcusable and after a first half in which the Ravens had a total of 37 yards on offense it’s also a little baffling.

The Ravens offense scored 23 points in the second half, which is a terrible sign for the Browns defense. Romeo Crennel was touted as a defensive mastermind when he was brought in to lead the Browns back to the promise land. While a defensive coordinator with the Patriots he was able to seamlessly integrate Troy Brown — a wide receiver — into his defense, using complex schemes to hide areas of vulnerability. Contrast that to the Browns. There is absolutely nothing complex about what the Browns are doing. The script is basically the same each week. The defense gets burned for more yards and points than they should and the offense comes to the rescue with more points than anyone ever would have expected. It’s not clear if Crennel has any input whatsoever over what’s happening with his defense.

The most glaring weakness is the defensive line. They are rarely sacking the opposing quarterback and often when they do get pressure it’s the result of great coverage in the secondary. I have no idea of anyone keeps track of coverage sacks but my hunch is that coverage sacks are a high percentage of all sacks for the Browns this season. This is a problem.

Coverage sacks occur when the secondary covers the receivers long enough for the quarterback’s protection to break down. Breakdowns in protection will happen eventually, usually within about four to five seconds, and so these sacks are the inevitable outcome of good coverage. The defensive line gets the credit for the sack, but it’s because of the secondary.

Conversely, it’s nearly impossible for the secondary to cover all receivers for more than four to five seconds. Even the best cornerbacks can’t stay with a receiver for longer than that. It’s impossible. The receiver has too great an advantage. If the defensive line doesn’t pressure the quarterback into a throw within that window then the advantage swings to the offense in a huge way. Big passes and long drives are the inevitable outcome of a poor pass rush.

And there you have the Browns pass defense in a nutshell.

As for the linebackers, I guess they’re still wondering the streets of Pittsburgh looking for a ride to the stadium.

The Browns have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the entire NFL, but if the defense is routinely giving up 20+ points per game (or 20+ points per half) then the burden on the offense and special teams to score might be too much to overcome. The offense is still very young. Not only the key players, many of whom are still within their first three years in the league, but the offense in general: this is only the first season under Rob Chudzinski and it’s only his first season as an offensive coordinator. Still, you’ve got to like our chances.

QB Score: 106
QB Score per play: 2.59

(Historical average is 1.85)

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4 Responses to “Cleveland Browns: QB Score: Week 11”

  1. if our defense can play AVERAGE the rest of this year and in the playoffs and give up 26 ppg or less…we will be in the AFC championship game…

  2. RockKing said

    To be honest, I would settle for slightly below average at this point, rather than worst in the NFL. It’s quite funny how going into this year I thought our defense was going to keep us in games, but our offense would struggle.

  3. Erik said

    Actually, I think the defensive line is much improved over earlier in the season. Robaire Smith, Shaun Smith and Ethan Kelley are applying pressure. They blew up several plays in the first half on Sunday that you can’t attribute to secondary coverage. The Browns pass rush actually did overwhelm what is, anymore, an overrated Ravens offensive line. Ten sacks in the past two games can’t all be the product of good coverage, and the Browns sure as heck don’t blitz a lot.

    Of course, none of those guys are major building blocks for the future. But it sure is better than Old Orpheus and Fat Ted trying to apply pressure.

    A friend of mine brought up a good point Sunday about why the Browns seem to drop into super-soft coverages in the second half. Last year, the Browns had the football equivalent of a goaltender at the safety spot in Brian Russell. The corners could play tighter on the receivers because if they took a risk and misplayed, Russell was back there to close in and make the tackle.

    This year, they have Sean Jones in Russell’s spot. Jones isn’t the tackler Russell is, and Brodney Pool is more like an oversized corner. So without that lockdown presence in the deep secondary, Todd Grantham has his corners play back so the defense won’t get burned by the deep ball.

    Seems to make sense to me.

  4. The defensive line has gotten better but it’s also gotten thinner. They did fairly well in the first half — nay, they did quite well — but by the second half they were completely unable to put any pressure on Boller. Maybe they were tired?

    It’s worth pointing out that on the Pool INT it was a safety blitz that forced the bad throw and that the defensive line accounted for only 2.5 sacks yesterday, two sacks against Pittsburgh, and no sacks against Seattle. Of those sacks, Robaire Smith is responsible for 3.

    That said, in the 3-4 the defensive line shouldn’t be sacking the quarterback much. That’s the job of the linebackers. Right now they are the biggest hole. They haven’t shown up for the past two games. In the 3-4 how in the hell can two of the starting LBs (Peek, McGinest) combine for three tackles? That’s what happened against Baltimore.

    As for the pass coverage, that’s an interesting idea, Erik. Losing Russell has certainly hurt. I’d have to rewatch the game, but did the Browns switch their coverage in the second half? If so, why? The defense did a terrific job in the first half. That’s my only issue with the idea.

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