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Chiefs vs. Brown: how the Chiefs offense beats Cleveland

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The AP Laboratory’s game plan for the Chiefs offense vs Browns defense

Cleveland Browns v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns entire organization has been turned upside down, then inside out, shaken up a little bit, and now placed in the hands of Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens.

It’s a hard task to ask a team to play super well under these kinds of circumstances but equally as hard to prepare to play the team. Usually, teams that lose their head coach, or even coordinator, come out with a little fire and passion. The Browns play hard every single week, as evidenced by the four overtime games, but tend to fall apart consistently. With a new coaching staff in charge, it’s impossible to tell what will be new and what will remain consistent.

With that said, Gregg Williams is now the head coach, so the defense should remain the same. Let’s head down the AP Laboratory and breakdown this aggressive Williams’ defense.

Cleveland Browns defense

Personnel preferences

The Browns predominantly run a 4-3 defense that spends a fair amount of time in their base package using their talented linebacker group. The injury to Joe Schobert has forced rookie Genard Avery into more playing time, which actually provides them with some extra flexibility, as Avery is a very good pass rusher as well.

The Browns rotate their secondary players often. Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall will play every snap but the second and third safeties and cornerbacks rotate frequently. A nickel defensive back does often come in as Avery is slid down into a defensive end position as someone else kicks inside.

As with any Gregg Williams defense, the Browns defense plays aggressively and often dials up blitzes as well as shows pressure and drops out of it. Even when playing from a “base” alignment, the Browns’ front seven is playing downhill first while the secondary plays to keep stuff in front of them.

Pass defense

The Browns mix up their coverage type, shells and techniques rather frequently.

The most common coverage is a Tampa-2 zone, which is Cover-2 (two deep safeties, five underneath zone players), in which only one of the underneath hook defenders plays deep in the middle of the field. With their athletic linebackers, who can play the pass well, they can remove one of the bigger holes against a traditional Cover-2 zone and still have enough speed underneath to not be picked apart.

The Browns will play different techniques when in man coverage or zone as well. Press-ball technique, which is aligning near the line of scrimmage but retreating as the ball is snapped, is the most common man coverage for the Browns. Even in their zone coverage, the Browns look to usually play top-down, reducing the big play with their secondary players while allowing their second-level players to play more aggressive.

Denzel Ward is having a good rookie campaign, proving to be a playmaker. However, he can be beaten for big plays, given the risks, and the second and third cornerbacks for Cleveland haven’t been anything more than adequate most of the year.

New York Jets v Cleveland Browns Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Everyone knows about Myles Garrett and his freakish athletic ability and how much of a terror he’s been as a pass rusher, but the lesser known Larry Ogunjobi is almost as important to their defense. His ability to penetrate and rush the passer on the interior is huge and their pass rush goes even beyond just those two. Mahomes, when asked about Garrett praised his ability first then had this to say:

“People always focus on Myles and don’t realize how good their whole D-Line is as well as their defense. For me and for us, I’m going to trust in my O-Line to handle up front and then I will get it out of my hands and get it to the receivers and running backs.”

Run defense

The Browns’ defense has struggled this year with their run fits and not over-pursuing runs that are designed to offer to back side cuts. Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey are very talented linebackers that can cover a ton of space on the second level and Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah do a good job of holding the edge against the run.

Their issues against the run aren’t for a lack of talent but rather playing a bit too fast and struggling to fit the right run gaps.

How the Chiefs win

Basic gameplan

When dropping back to pass, the Chiefs will have to correctly identify what coverage the Browns are in but have to have combinations called to beat Tampa-2.

A lot of the Chiefs’ damage through the air against the Browns should come in the intermediate soft spots of the zone and underneath, but they should also dial up some shot plays off of play-action. The biggest key for the Chiefs is going to be handling the pressure packages of the Browns and how they go about beating those looks. The Chiefs have to get their protections correct to pick up these blitzes or accurately identify hot routes and get the ball out of Mahomes’ hands quickly to the open receiver.

When the Chiefs hit up the ground game, they should emphasize the misdirection game using counters, traps and wide receivers in the run game. As an extension of the run game, the Chiefs’ use of the shovel pass and various screens should help open up the downfield passing attack. Using the aggression of the Browns defense against them will be paramount in the run game.

Misdirection and the run

The Chiefs have been good at finding success with outside runs the last few weeks and their multiple-runs scheme has provided them a good base to catch defenses unsuspecting. Against the Browns they may be able to find some success on the ground but the team speed and talent on the Browns defense is pretty good and given such the Chiefs should use misdirection in their run game.

This long-trap run by the Los Angeles Chargers goes for a good chunk without the running back being asked to make anyone miss or anything over the top. Instead, the counter footwork by the running back gets all three linebackers to either freeze or start flowing the wrong direction.

The right tackle leaves what appears to be his man on the backside of the run unblocked, allowing him to climb quickly to the second level and reach a linebacker reaction late to the running back. The fullback comes across the formation and wham-blocks the unblocked defensive end, kicking him outside and opens up a hole.

The pursuit is late because of the misdirection and the Chargers offensive line have easily reached the second level defenders. The Chiefs should use Long Trap, Counter, and Counter Trey to take advantage of the fast-flowing run defense.

Time to hit the post

Mahomes has been fantastic this year, throwing short, throwing long, under pressure, in a clean pocket, etc. One thing the Chiefs have yet to connect on is the deep post. The Browns will run a lot of Tampa-2, which attempts to help that middle-of-the-field hole that the Chiefs destroyed against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but dialing up some deep, middle-of-the-field shot-plays off play-action should find some success.

Off the play-action, the offense has a deep dig to hold the weak-side (of the passing formation) safety while on the strong side, the wide receiver runs a deep post. Due to the run action, the hole-defending linebacker bites up, then has to recover 40 yards downfield to get underneath the post. The combination of the deep post and play-action just created too much open space for the offense to exploit. Whether deep posts like this, vertical concepts stretching both seams, as well as the numbers or Bang-8s (skinny posts) these middle of the field vertical routes are going to be an option if the play is designed well. Mahomes has the arm and confidence to try to fit the ball into these tighter windows and hopefully connects on one of these deep post routes this week.

Glutton of gimmicks

The Chiefs offense has been accused of being “High School” or gimmicky often and this is the week that Andy Reid should embrace that mold, at least early on. Take advantage of that Browns defense, again, and get them moving one direction while the ball goes elsewhere. The screen game should make a big comeback this week. The Steelers had a ton of success hitting screens to every position.

The Browns’ pass rush pins their ears back and gets after the quarterback, which often results in them not identifying when they are released during a screen play. The shovel pass after the jet motions and outside run action is also something that should be used to slow down the pass rush and find easy yards.

Even simple end-arounds like this one from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can take advantage of a relatively fast defense. The blocking motion toward the backside mimics a traditional run but creates natural down blocks that the offensive line is able to release and move on to the second level as the defenders all crash toward the running back. The Chiefs will always have a package of “trick” plays like this, but they’ve taken a bit of a backseat for the RPO-heavy attack and traditional plays.

This may be the week to bring them back in conjunction with the normal offense.

Handling pressure looks

We’ve talked about it all year: as impressive as Mahomes has been, his biggest weakness has been operating cleanly when a defense crowds the line of scrimmage with bodies and blitzes and drops them at what seems like random times. He hasn’t made the right protection calls (OL is involved here too) as frequently as you’d like, which has resulted in some overload blitzes, forcing him to move or throw early. The Browns will continue the trend of defenses doing that to Kansas City, and this is a big test for the offensive line and quarterback with their protection calls. When the protection holds up, Mahomes has to stay patient and wait for hard breaking routes (in, out, or back) as the Browns defensive backs will be in bail technique or playing soft in their zone.

Another way to beat the pressure packages is by identifying the hot routes, both the quaretrback and the target wide receiver, and working to them quickly. The trick is to not get locked in on the read (see interception against the Patriots) if the pressure doesn’t come. It’s a thin line to walk, but if you want to free up space at the line of scrimmage, then hit a few slants, seams and “open” routes behind the defensive front.

The bottom line

There are clear areas in which the Browns’ aggressive defense can be taken advantage of in both the run and pass game. The misdirection in the run game, as well as the behind-the-line-of-scrimmage passing game, should be a major weapon used to get the offense in rhythm.

Exploiting the holes of the Tampa-2 defense on corner, post, seam and dig routes will be paramount to sustaining offensive drives. The Browns also give up big plays, so a few shot plays should be called and have a relatively high success rate.

The most important aspect of the game for the Chiefs offense is to continue to show growth against the crowded line of scrimmage alignment that defenses have used to slow them down this year.

If the protection calls and hot routes are correctly identified, there should be plenty of time and space for big plays behind the blitz.

If the Chiefs can execute in a few of these areas, they should have no issues putting up big points against the Browns and forcing a struggling Browns offense to play catch-up.