John Brown Looks Like a True #1 WR

Game Changers John Brown Looks Like a True #1 WR

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GAME CHANGERS WEEK 2

There are plays in every football game that impacts who wins and who loses. They can occur on offense, defense or special teams. Sometimes it’s a play everyone sees, like a long touchdown run or pass, a sack, or turnover. Other times it’s a play that goes unnoticed. It could be a key block on offense or a defender who doesn’t make the tackle himself but executes his assignment, allowing a teammate to make the play.

Let’s take a look at John Brown and how, even in a loss, he changed the game.

45-yard completion to John Brown

Q2, 10:32, 3-15-BLT32

The Ravens are trailing by 21 and in a very tough spot here on 3rd & 15. If they fail to convert this 3rd down, they’re punting and giving the Bengals yet another offensive possession. Instead, Brown makes an amazing play to extend the drive, the Ravens go on to score and make it a 21-7 game.

The Bengals defense shows some initial disguise but ends up playing cover 2 zone coverage. Pre-snap, both linebackers are threatening the A gaps, i.e. the gaps on either side of the center between him and the guards.

This is a six-man pressure look that tells the offense: Four defensive linemen and two linebackers could all be rushing. Flacco shifts Nick Boyle and Buck Allen into the backfield to help with pass protection and the Bengals linebackers drop back into coverage. SS Shawn Williams also drops back from his pre-snap alignment closer to the line of scrimmage to his deep ½ of the field coverage assignment.

The strength of cover 2 is the five underneath zone defenders. This creates a crowded field inside and makes any underneath throws very difficult to complete. The weaknesses of cover 2 zone are the deep outside holes from the numbers to the sideline and the deep middle zone between the numbers. It’s this deep middle zone that Flacco attacks on this throw to Brown.

Brown is aligned slot left and runs a deep vertical route in between hashes. The middle linebacker, Hardy Nickerson Jr., gets depth in order to carry the route down the middle of the field but with Brown’s speed, he’s able to get behind Nickerson.

The ball is underthrown, causing Brown to slow up and come back for it. He makes a good adjustment to locate the ball and despite FS Jessie Bates nearly intercepting the ball, Brown maintains his concentration to finish the catch. Bates is a rookie and maybe that was a factor, but he’s a good looking young safety who already had an interception in the game.

The deep middle is schematically a weak area of cover 2 zone to attack. But with the range of a safety Bates, the probability of successfully completing an underthrown pass in that situation decreases. But that’s why John Brown is a game changer. This was an interception that Bates should’ve made but for Brown’s effort.

30-yard Defensive Pass Interference (DPI) penalty on Dre Kirkpatrick vs. John Brown

Q2, 0:30, 1-10-CIN30

The Ravens are again trailing by 21 points after Tyler Boyd’s TD made the score 28-7. There are 30 seconds left in the half and while a field goal here doesn’t hurt the Ravens, it doesn’t help them as much as a TD. This play doesn’t result in a TD but it did set one up. Brown draws a 30-yard DPI penalty that gave the Ravens the ball on the Bengals 1-yard line on the next play.

This is a concept the Ravens had some success with last season. It resulted in a TD pass to Jeremy Maclin in Week 8 vs the Dolphins and another TD pass to Chris Moore in Week 14 at the Steelers. It’s a particularly effective concept against man coverage with only one deep safety (Cover 1), which is exactly what the Bengals run on this play.

The Ravens align 3×1 and release four receivers into the boundary (short-side of the field). Brown is #1 (closest to the right sideline), Michael Crabtree (#2) and Maxx Williams (#3) are both in the slot and Willie Snead is in the backfield next to Flacco. Williams, Crabtree, and Snead all run short out routes at different depths. Brown runs a go route down the right sideline.

The key to Brown’s route, why it ultimately threatens Kirkpatrick and causes him to interfere, is what he does in his 1st three steps. He attacks Kirkpatrick’s outside shoulder (nearest the sideline) with his first two steps. This forces Kirkpatrick to open his hips towards the sideline to maintain inside leverage. Brown then plants hard on his 3rd step and crosses Kirkpatrick’s face back inside (note the nice arm-over/hand wipe move by Brown).

Now Kirkpatrick has to snap his head around, flip his hips back inside and sprint to get back into phase with Brown, who has gained a step of separation downfield. Kirkpatrick reaches to get his hand on the back of Brown’s shoulder but grabs just enough jersey to draw the flag.

This is an example of how play design can win vs coverage. The Bengals rush five, leaving four of their five secondary players in man coverage. The strong safety comes down to cover Williams’ short out route, while the free safety is playing the deep middle but is aligned on the opposite hash and is too far away to help over the top on Brown’s go route. The coverage left Kirkpatrick on an island. Brown used a nice release off the line of scrimmage to threaten Kirkpatrick and forced him into a mistake.

21-yard TD to John Brown

Q4, 9:41, 2-14-CIN21

The Ravens are trailing 28-17 on this 2nd and long play just outside the red zone. As he did throughout this game, Brown makes another big play when the Ravens need one.

The Ravens align in a 3×1 set. Brown is the #1 (closest to the right sideline), Snead (#2) and Mark Andrews (#3) are in the slot. The Bengals counter by showing another six-man pressure but they end up rushing four and playing 1-Robber behind it.

1-Robber is a cool way of saying the Bengals played Cover 1 man with a “robber” in the middle of the field (MOF). Here, FS Bates had deep middle responsibility and SS Williams is the “robber” in the underneath MOF zone. His responsibility is to “rob” (get an INT or pass breakup) on any intermediate to short route in the MOF.

An important element to the design of this play is the route Andrews runs in the MOF. He runs directly at both the robber and deep safety. This holds FS Bates in the middle long enough to prevent him from ranging over to help Kirkpatrick. Not many safeties can get from the same-side hash to the sideline, without cheating, and beat the ball because of Flacco’s velocity.

Brown runs a double-move that Kirkpatrick actually defends really well. Brown gains a step of separation coming out of his hitch route fake, but Kirkpatrick sprints back, gets in phase and is in position to play through Brown’s hands. Brown elevates and makes a contested catch. Sometimes it’s that simple: my best is better than your best.

The Ravens came up short on the scoreboard and it’s wins and losses that matter most. That said, I came away from studying how Brown played feeling the Ravens have the true #1 WR they missed last year and haven’t had since Steve Smith Sr. retired.

Oh, I almost forgot. I’ve already written more words than I intended too but I’d be flat wrong if I didn’t acknowledge how Alex Collins played. He didn’t get many rushing opportunities but when they checked it down to him on pass plays, that man ran HARD! Here’s a Twitter moment I created to capture those plays, enjoy.

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