Allen Park — Because of the short week of preparation ahead of Thursday’s game with the Chicago Bears, we’re probably not going to hear from Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn until early December. But if did his normal media session this week, there’s little doubt he’d enthusiastically praise his unit’s performance in Cleveland after holding the Browns to 13 points, including zero in the second half.
Glenn is a glass-half-full coach, who believes in the power of positive messaging. There’s nothing wrong with that and it fosters an environment where players listen to him and play hard for him. But after re-watching the film of Sunday’s narrow loss to the Browns, Glenn has to be careful to not allow the players to be content with their hearty haul of fool’s gold.
Against an opponent capable of executing more consistently, Glenn probably has much less to be enthusiastic about. The Lions benefited heavily from sloppy quarterback play and penalties, while laboring through some execution errors of their own, both against the run and in coverage.
For this week’s film review, we’ll explore those hidden flaws in greater detail.
Let’s start with struggling Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has a QBR —a metric that measures a quarterback’s play-by-play impact — that ranks 27th among 33 qualifying passers and is easily a career-worst for the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Despite largely working with a clean pocket, particularly in the first half, Mayfield was erratic, missing a number of open throws.
His first misfire had the potential to be the most damaging. On the first snap of the Browns’ second possession, the offense came out in a heavy formation, with a tight end off each tackle and a third in the backfield as part of an offset-I with running back Nick Chubb.
The Browns ran a play-action fake to the back, with the two tight ends to the right side of the formation releasing on routes. Detroit’s deep safety, Tracy Walker, provided over-the-top support on David Njoku’s deep crossing pattern, going right to left, leaving cornerback Amani Oruwariye alone in man-coverage on shifty receiver Jarvis Landry to the right side.
Landry ran a good route against the off-man coverage, pressing into and getting Oruwariye turned toward the sideline before breaking inside on a post pattern. That created significant separation, and with Walker occupied to the opposite side of the field, the Browns had an easy 30-plus yard gain.
Instead, despite a clean pocket, Mayfield sailed the ball over Landry’s head, into the waiting arms of the otherwise out-of-position Oruwariye, who made the pick.
Baker missing on intermediate and deep throws was a theme in this contest. Among them, he had tight end Austin Hooper open on a deep corner pattern in the second quarter and sent the throw wide. Mayfield also put another one short and behind Landry, running a similar post pattern to the one Oruwariye intercepted.
In all, Mayfield missed an open man six times, conceding well over 100 yards of passing. And that doesn’t even factor in his second interception, where the quarterback simply failed to read linebacker Alex Anzalone’s zone drop, resulting in the pass being tipped and picked by nickel corner AJ Parker.
Penalties were also an issue for the Browns, with four holding calls and one particularly dumb block in the back, helping kill nearly half of their possessions that didn’t end in a touchdown or field goal attempt.
Outside the coverage lapses Mayfield failed to capitalize on, the defense’s biggest issue was protecting the edges against the run.
The Lions actually did a solid job limiting the damage the Browns’ backfield was able to do up the gut, but when the play designs went wide left and right, the defense was terribly inconsistent.
The first chunk gain came on Cleveland’s third possession, when a shotgun draw to Chubb to the left gained 12 yards. The primary culprit was outside linebacker Charles Harris, who gave up an inside lane by failing to recognize the play and overrunning his gap responsibility.
The consistencies continued into the first half, with the Lions stringing out Demetric Felton to the right side, where cornerback Jerry Jacobs made the stop after a 1-yard gain, only to see D’Ernest Johnson escape the backfield penetration of Alim McNeill two snaps later and get to the left edge, where Harris was sealed off by Njoku. That resulted in a gain of 13 to convert a third-and-4.
The edge setting crumbled down the stretch, including a couple blown tackles by Walker in one-on-one situations against Chubb. The second came on the game’s final possession, preventing the Lions from getting the ball back with a chance to tie it or take the lead.
According to data tracked by Pro Football Focus, the Browns finished with 108 of their 184 yards on edge runs.
Other concerning takeaways from the contest start the continued struggles of Anzalone, who is getting overwhelmed by second-level blocks far too often, limiting his ability to contribute in run support.
And then there was the disastrous handling of the broken play out of the wildcat formation that resulted in the Browns’ first touchdown.
So much went wrong on the direct snap to Landry, starting with Michael Brockers’ seemingly lackadaisical effort after breaking through the protection, followed by Anzalone, Nick Williams and Jalen Reeves-Maybin all overcommitting to unlikely passing options, opening a wide lane up the middle for Landry to scramble for the 16-yard score.
In terms of positive takeaways, there were several that contributed to Cleveland’s low-scoring afternoon.
► Austin Bryant arguably had his most impactful day as a pass-rusher playing in an expanded role with Trey Flowers out. While Bryant had some edge-setting issues of his own, he did net a handful of pressures on Mayfield.
► Outside of the wildcat touchdown, Reeves-Maybin was a clear bright spot in the second level. He showed great recognition on a play-action pass to a motioning Landry, making a strong stop after just a 3-yard gain. The veteran linebacker was also steady with his run gap assignments, rarely getting hung up on blocks like Anzalone.
► Jerry Jacobs continues to flash potential. Not only did he have the aforementioned perimeter stop on Felton’s run, but the rookie corner had a nice pass breakup on third down, and was tight in coverage on another third-down throw that went incomplete. He finished allowed one short completion on four throws his direction, but the other incompletion was the result of a Mayfield misfire to an open option.
► Glenn schemed up a couple of effective pass-rush packages on third down, including a Cover-0 blitz against max protection that resulted in Will Harris getting home for a sack.