I just got through watching every single passing play from the Browns game, and I regret to report that there was exactly one time where our pass-rush or pass-rush strategy could have been considered successful.

Yes folks, out of 30 plays, our pass-rush made a positive impact once.  It was on the Browns second series, when Jay Alford made a nice move to free himself before leaping and tipping Derek Anderson’s pass for an incompletion.  (Alforld later made an awful play on Cleveland’s 117-yard third quarter drive [literally] when he forced Jason Wright forward while tackling him, thereby giving Cleveland a key first down on a 3rd down play.)

Other than that single Alford play, they won the battle of the pass-rush every time.  Anderson was not sacked, and there was only one time – when Reynaldo Wynn battled an obvious hold to get somewhat in his face – that he was even remotely hurried.

When we rushed only four, we never got close, except for that Alford play.  When we blitzed, either it was picked up with disturbing ease or Anderson was able to exploit it with a quick hitter, sometimes for big yardage and sometimes for enough of a gain to keep the offense in manageable situations (the MNF announcers were so big on this concept).

We actually seemed to get into the most trouble when we blitzed, which we did on around a third of their passing plays.  Of the nine passing plays I counted when we rushed more than four, seven of them became bad plays for us.  That’s an astonishingly high rate of failure, which is very worrisome going forward.  Are we tipping our blitzes?  Have teams learned which audibles to call and which hot-routes to look for when they know our blitzes are coming?  I don’t know.

The following are those blitzes that didn’t work out well, interspersed with some discussion of how Cleveland was able to take advantage.

–On the 49-yard Braylon Edwards catch on the third play of the game, we rushed seven, including the safety (Johnson) on Aaron Ross’ side of the field.  Anderson took a three-step drop, hit Edwards on a quick slant, and when Ross missed the tackle, Braylon was pretty much off to the races until James Butler (the safety on the other side of the field) caught him.

This is an example of how aggressiveness leaves no room for error.  Usually, Ross is a sure tackler, but if you blitz as much as we do – and last year, we blitzed more than a handful of teams, according to FootballOutsiders’ stats – you occasionally pay the price.

–On 2nd and 15 on the Browns’ second series (on their 47 yard-line), we blitzed two linebackers.  But Anderson hit a short pass to his slot-receiver, Stallworth, who was sitting in the spot vacated by the linebackers.  After catching it, he had room to run for about 9 yards, picking up 13 on the play.  Cleveland picked up the first down on the next play.

This happened a lot on our blitzes: Anderson would hit his man for a short pass, but because the blitz had taken so many of our defenders behind the line of scrimmage and effectively out of the play, the receiver would have a lot of room to maneuver.  It sometimes looked like poor tackling on our part, but often there simply weren’t enough defenders to close in on the man with the ball before he made his way upfield.

–On 3rd and 5 from the Cleveland 28 on the Browns’ fourth series (second quarter), we brought seven guys, but Anderson took a three-step drop and hit a quick slant to Edwards in front of Webster for a 10-yard gain.

This was similar to the 49-yard play earlier, except Webster played it a little more cautiously than Ross and was able to prevent a big gain.  Credit this one to good execution by the Browns, and also good use of personnel: They have ideal personnel for those three-step drop quick-hitters they used to counteract our blitzes.  Anderson is tall and has a rifle arm, while Edwards is a big target who can box out corners.  That’s essentially what happened on this play.

–On that same series, on 3rd and 7 from our 42, we brought six guys on what seemed like an utterly telegraphed blitz.  As Keith Hernandez would say, that shit was Western Union.  Tuck was able to get through eventually, but Anderson, who seemed to know what the blitz was and whom it would leave open as a result, calmly waited until the last possible instant to hit Syndric Steptoe (tremendous name) for 20 yards.  (On the next play, we only rushed four, and Anderson had all day to wait for Darnell Dinkins to get down the seam before hitting him for the touchdown.)

Doesn’t it seem like our blitzes are less deceptive than they were last year?  As if there are guys who have committed to blitzing a full three seconds before the ball is snapped, and the whole world knows they’re committed to blitzing?  Who let Tim Lewis back onto the sideline?

–Now we’re onto the 117-yard drive.  On a 2nd and 15 from the Cleveland 35, we rushed six guys, getting a little pressure but not nearly enough.  Anderson had time to scan the field and hit Steve Heiden, who was being single-covered by James Butler.  Heiden picked up 11.

Two things here: 1) It was frightening how well they picked up our blitz.  What’s going on there?; and 2) This was another instance in which our d-backs had a hard time covering so much ground after it was vacated by our blitzers.  To be fair, this problem was exacerbated by the fact that Anderson was on point, hitting his guys in stride every time.

–This brought up 3rd and 4 from the Cleveland 46.  We rushed 5, but nobody got there, and Anderson hit Heiden again, who rumbled for 17 yards.

–That same series, on a 1st and 20 from our 37, we sent Corey Webster on a corner blitz.  Anderson quickly pivoted and hit Braylon Edwards, whom Webster had been matched up against.  Braylon made 14 yards before Kenny Phillips closed on him from his safety spot.

This seemed poorly executed on our part.  Given that Webster was blitzing, Phillips should have been in much better position to make that stop.  Instead, he allowed way too much space.  It was a rookie mistake, but when you’re running complex defensive schemes with rookies on the field, stuff like that is gonna happen.  (This is an odd time to mention this, but Corey Webster has been absolutely tremendous this year.)

–And lastly, on 1st and 15 on that same series, we rushed two off the right side and dropped left end Reynaldo Wynn into coverage.  But the 300 lb. Wynn couldn’t keep up with running back Jerome Harrison, who leaked into the flat, and was hit by Anderson for an 8-yard gain.  Once again, the Browns overcame a penalty and got back on schedule.

So there you have it.  The Browns almost always picked up our blitzes, and were able to counteract them with three-step drops and quick hitters.  They also looked for their hot-read options, who were able to gain a lot of yards after the catch because our defensive backs were scrambling to cover the ground vacated by the blitzers. 

Also, they did things specifically to exploit our aggressiveness.  They ran a couple of misdirection bootlegs – including the 70-yard pass to Braylon – and even threw in a reverse.  And most everything they did worked.