Instead of doing a full-on scouting report for the Cleveland Browns this week...okay, I can't resist, here's a quick cliff notes version.
Offensively, a lot of zone run and bootleg and defensively, spin the wheel of defensive misfortune.
Okay, that should do it for the full scouting report but my man Eric San Inocencio suggested I should take a look at how Ryan Mallett, in particular, matches up against the Browns secondary.
Trust me, I like when people hit me with ideas and this was a good one. So, let's start by taking a look at the Browns secondary in action against the Bengals. If there's anything that worries me about the Browns, it's that back four (and five and six in nickel and dime personnel). Tashaun Gipson leads the NFL in interceptions and the Browns are tied for second in the NFL with 13. Those defensive backs are aggressive in coverage and don't often give open windows to throw the football. But, they're there and Mallett must find them. Here's an example…
This was early in the Browns v. Bengals matchup.
First and ten
The Bengals wanted to play "high/low" with WR AJ Green crossing the formation on a shallow crosser and tight end Jermaine Gresham working the middle of the field on an in route 12-15 yards downfield. Both outside receivers ran verticals to clear space outside the numbers.
The Browns were in man coverage with a single free high safety. So, this was cover one. The inside linebackers read the running back. If he blocked, they'd look for crossers and help as much as possible to collision then drop underneath intermediate routes. If the back released, the linebacker to his side would sprint to cover him immediately while the backside linebacker followed the crosser/drop protocol.
As Green made his way across the formation, the linebacker (in the orange circle) eyed him and moved toward him as the defensive back sprinted over the top. In essence, Green looked like he was double teamed by the end of the play, but it's just the dynamic of the linebacker being "free" as the back swung out to the flat opposite him.
So, you can see in this shot that QB Andy Dalton's options are limited based on the tremendous man coverage in the secondary. But, he had one option and it was a good one. TE Gresham was running the in route and headed for the orange circle with safety Gipson trailing him by three or four yards.
But, Dalton either didn't see Gresham, didn't read the coverage properly, locked in on Green the whole way, didn't have the time to get him the ball and/or didn't think he could get it to Gresham. No matter which aspect it was, Dalton eschewed the throw to Gresham and threw to a well-covered Green (white arrow) incomplete.
Gresham was clearly open and with the linebacker chasing the shallow, Dalton should've known that his best option was Gresham. Did he trust what he saw? Not sure. Did he have the arm to get it there? Not sure either.
Mallett will and does.
Now, it's difficult to compare what it SHOULD look like in college to what it WILL look like in the NFL, but here's a similar example in Mallett's last game at Arkansas against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Second and five
This was almost 100% analogous to the Bengals concept - outside verticals, shallow crosser and tight end on the in route.
The Buckeyes played zone on this play, as opposed to the cover one the Browns played, but the similar route combination was evident. Mallett got good protection and allowed his tight end DJ Williams to get into the open area. He didn't get rattled and perhaps held the ball just a millisecond longer than he should've. But, it paid off.
Mallett trusts his arm to be able to fit the ball into tight spaces, which is both a blessing and a curse. But, on this play, one that Dalton struggled to see and execute, Mallett trusted his eyes and his arm to deliver a shot into the gut of Williams for a big first down on a scoring drive.
The Browns aren't about to give Mallett those easy shallow crossers and they're going to force Mallett to throw it down the field into a three or four yard window, not the bay window sized hole the Buckeyes gave him. There is a difference in college and pro and this is probably the biggest one - the tighter throwing windows in the secondary. I'm well aware of that for sure, but Mallett has the guts and the arm strength that other quarterbacks don't possess to make that decision problematic for the Browns on Sunday.