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He’s More Than Just a Fast Guy

Ravens John Brown
GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01: Wide receiver John Brown #12 of the Arizona Cardinals catches the ball out of bounds during overtime of the NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. Arizona won 18-15. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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At John Brown’s introductory press conference, Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome had this to say about Brown’s route running ability:

“A lot to times when you’re dealing with a vertical receiver, they have a very limited route tree. John does not. John can run every route in the route tree. We think that will be important for us in the type of weapon he’ll be used.”

I think Brown’s signing fueled a narrative about the Ravens and wide receivers I’ve seen on Twitter. It goes like this: the Ravens sign or draft fast guys, let Flacco chuck it deep and hope for the best. Whether there’s more signal than noise in that sentiment is a discussion for another time. What I can tell you about John Brown is that he’s more than just a guy that can run fast.

Let’s look at a play from last season that demonstrates Brown’s ability and skill as a route runner.

Before I begin I want to acknowledge Coach Buddy Blevins. His YouTube channel is a great resource on the techniques involved in playing the wide receiver position. I took a lot of notes and learned so much about the fundamentals of receiver play while watching his videos. His channel doesn’t provide any information about where he coaches or I would reference it here. If you read this Coach Blevins, I’m giving you full credit for how I explain things below.

Of course, I also need to give credit to NFL GamePass. All of the screenshots below are from GamePass video.

Week 16 at Giants, Q3, 9:30

3rd & 8 at Giants 15 yard line (Cardinals 10 Giants 0)

Route: skinny post/out combination

Brown is aligned at the #1 (closest to the sideline) receiver on the QB’s right. The defensive back (DB) is 2 yards off with inside leverage. There’s also a safety with inside position about 8 yards off the line of scrimmage. Two things stick out to me here: First, the inside leverage position of these defenders is important because Brown’s route is designed to break inside at an angle about 12 yards downfield. Brown needs to find a way to regain the leverage advantage.

Second, the DB is playing 2 yards off Brown. Is he playing a shadow (or mirror) technique? If so, this is a softer coverage where the DB initially retreats. This allows the DB to guard against giving Brown vertical access early in the route. It also gives the DB a chance to be physical later into the route.

Corner and safety with inside leverage

Ravens John Brown

So how does Brown deal with the off coverage and inside leverage advantage of the defensive secondary? With his release.

Brown’s 1st step into his release

Ravens John Brown

Brown’s first step, more of a stutter/hop, reduces the space between him and DB.

Brown’s 2nd step

Brown’s next 2 steps are towards the DB’s outside shoulder and begin to sell the DB that Brown might be running a vertical route (like a fade), so the DB begins to come out of his backpedal.

Brown’s 3rd step

Brown’s 4th and 5th steps

Brown’s 3rd step is a plant step outside to set up his inside move. His 4th and 5th steps cut back inside the DB, who is now completely turned around. Brown has now regained the inside leverage advantage on the DB. But what about the safety?

At this point in Brown’s route, the safety still has an inside leverage advantage. He’s only dropped about 2 yards from his pre-snap depth. Here’s where the route combination plays a role. The #2 receiver (closer to the QB) who was lined up inside Brown, runs an out route about 8 yards down-field, right at the safety. This holds the safety’s eyes but also brings another defender into Brown’s path.

Underneath defender and flat-footed safety

There’s an underneath defender who jams the #2 receiver at his break point. He allows the #2 receiver to break towards the sideline because he’s reading the QB and sees the throw may be coming in his direction. He settles his feet (stops gaining depth) when the QB’s left hand comes off the ball. He knows the throw is coming. Because this underneath defender settles his feet, Brown is able to get behind him.

Underneath defender settles feet…

So back to the safety. In the previous shot, he’s at the 3 yard line but he has a problem. He only dropped a yard or two from his pre-snap depth. That left him too shallow to react to Brown’s post cut.  Brown is now coming at him full speed, essentially stepping on the safety’s toes. The safety can do nothing to prevent Brown from crossing face.

Brown continues to create separation

Brown continues to angle away from the trailing DB. Drew Stanton places the ball towards Brown’s upfield shoulder, at eye level. Brown extends his arms away from his body to make the catch.

If you want to watch the coaches film angle of this play on GamePass, be sure to also watch the broadcast replay. The reaction of Brown’s teammates after he scores speaks volumes. Prior to this touchdown, the Cardinals were already leading by 10 points and this score came relatively early in the 3rd quarter. But you would think they just won the game on a last second TD judging by his teammates reaction. Larry Fitzgerald practically carried Brown off the field.

There are many more examples from last season where Brown shows his refined technique as a route runner. I wanted to take some time and really go in depth on one. Who knows, if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get to share some more with you.

Either way, just remember, John Brown is more than just a guy who runs fast.

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