After taking an All-22 look at the Browns' offense on Friday, it's time to look at defensive coordinator Ray Horton's crew. Horton is a seasoned defensive playcaller, a student of the legendary Dick LeBeau and is as versatile as they come from a schematic standpoint. He's worked in multiple defensive fronts, orchestrated a high-pressure attack, been conservative at times and runs a lot of different concepts from a coverage standpoint. Now back in Cleveland for his second stint as the defensive coordinator, he has the task of taking over a defense with a lot of unproven talent. Cleveland's depth chart is full of really young players, especially on defense.
There's no established pass rusher on this defense. The Browns drafted a handful of defenders in the front seven, but it remains to be seen whether or not they can be consistent disruptors. A few weeks ago, I thought Horton would feel that he'd be forced to blitz. With a veteran quarterback in Sam Bradford, however, maybe he'd instead choose to be a bit more conservative against a quick passing game from Doug Pederson. Well, after last weekend's big trade, I think the thought process will likely change.
I expect Horton to send a lot of different pressure looks at a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz. Whether it's double A-gap looks, overload blitzes, or defensive back pressures from the slot or the boundary, Horton has a lot at his disposal to try and mess with Wentz. It will be up to the entire Eagles offense to "burn the blitz."
Shot 1 - #Browns Ray Horton likely to blitz plenty Sunday. Brings slot CB & 1 LB from mugged look here, ATL beats it pic.twitter.com/bjAhpOfKFK — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 9, 2016
This is a great example of something Wentz and the Eagles may face. Before the snap, the Browns line up in a wide front with two linebackers "mugging" the A gaps inside. When a defense does this, it tries to force the offense to set the protection in one of two ways. Either the running back and the center pick up the linebackers, or the offensive line slides away from the running back, with the back picking up anything extra from his side of the field.
Defenses know this, and so while they may show two linebackers in the A gap, that may not be what the blitz actually looks like after the snap. Just one of the linebackers inside comes after the quarterback (after initially bluffing as a dropper in coverage), and Horton sends a nickel corner from the wide side of the field. The Falcons attack this pressure call perfectly, as quarterback Matt Ryan hits his receiver for a quick slant in the void created by the blitzing defensive back. These are the types of things we saw from Wentz this preseason, but he'll need to do it against this Cleveland defense.
Shot 2 - Outstanding job by #Bucs offense picking up #Browns Triple A Gap blitz. Just how you draw it up. pic.twitter.com/i8FKXaID6A — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 9, 2016
Here's another example from the Browns' third preseason game against Tampa Bay. This time, Horton doesn't show anything pre-snap, but afterwards he sends three rushers up the middle of the protection - a triple A-gap blitz. The Bucs block this up perfectly.
Even though the Browns send three second-level defenders, it's still only a five-man blitz. Horton has both of his defensive ends drop into the flats. Tampa Bay's guards both pass the defensive tackles to the offensive tackles on the outside, turning their eyes back inside to the blitzing second-level defenders. The running back steps up in protection as well, giving Jameis Winston enough time to hit his receiver on a crossing route in the wide open middle of the field for a first down. This is a great job by the offensive line, the running back and the quarterback all working together to burn the blitz. It's this kind of effort that the Eagles' offense will need to replicate on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.
With no veteran pass rusher on the roster, the two defenders Cleveland selected early in April's NFL Draft will be in the spotlight. Philadelphia-native Carl Nassib, the team's third-round selection, is a former walk-on at Penn State. What he lacks in physical ability, Nassib more than makes up for with his motor.
Shot 3 - Easy to see why #Browns (and @MikeMayock) loved Carl Nassib. Non-stop motor. Will be relied on this year. pic.twitter.com/tVNGxPKRTZ — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 9, 2016
This is an outstanding play against the screen pass from the Green Bay Packers. The Eagles figure to be a pretty good screen team in 2016, so expect to see Nassib running sideline to sideline to defend them on Sunday. Nassib made a handful of plays in the backfield this preseason, and while most of them were thanks to his effort instead of his first step, brute strength or natural athleticism, they're still welcome in this Cleveland defensive scheme.
The other rookie the Browns will rely on heavily is second-round pick Emmanuel Ogbah, one of the most productive pass rushers in college football a year ago.
Shot 4 - Nassib & Emmanuel Ogbah will be leaned on this year as disruptors on #Browns D. Nassib sets up Ogbah here pic.twitter.com/4hRz5Mq3tA — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 9, 2016
Here, you see how Nassib's disruption in the backfield helps force the quarterback up in the pocket, allowing Ogbah to collapse on him in the backfield. Ogbah was a bit of a divisive prospect among NFL Draft analysts. Some saw him as a top 20 talent, others more of a mid-round selection. Regardless, Cleveland used him at a number of different spots this summer, first seeing time as a backup defensive end in their base 3-4 front, inside as a subpackage 3-technique and then later as a pass rusher off the edge in nickel fronts.
Shot 5 - #Browns Ogbah lined up and down the DL this summer. I personally like him more inside than off the edge pic.twitter.com/IZJ58PLcT8 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 9, 2016
On this play against Green Bay, you see the motor that Ogbah flashed during his time at Oklahoma State. He lines up as a defensive end in the base package here, and while he's initially blocked he gives good effort chasing the quarterback down in the flat.
Against the run, and I expect the Eagles to run the football a good amount this Sunday in Wentz's first game, the offensive line will obviously need to be concerned about nose tackle Danny Shelton in early downs. There's another player, however, who I think has really flourished into one of the best players on that roster - linebacker Christian Kirksey.
Shot 6 - Best player on the #Browns D not named Joe Haden? IMHO it's LB Christian Kirksey. Play speaks for itself. pic.twitter.com/NozXqQNcjK — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 9, 2016
Kirksey does a great job attacking this lead play, destroying the fullback at the point of attack and falling off him to make the tackle in the run game. Shelton can be a load to handle up front, but the Eagles will need to be sure to block up Kirksey at the second level to get the run game going on Sunday afternoon.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.