Playing Team Defense: When Run Fits Go Wrong

This post is an excerpt taking from a much-longer breakdown of the Cleveland Browns’ poor run defense posted at The Orange and Browns Report

In addition to poor technical fundamentals we often saw errors in role and responsibility due to communication and misunderstandingduring the 2015 season.

An early-season 28-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans provided a great example of errors in responsibility when strong safety Donte Whitner and OLB Armonty Bryant both attacked the same gap, leading to a 44-yard run by Titans’ running back Dexter McCluster.

The Titans are in 12 personnel with the strength of the formation set to the field (wide-side). The play call is outside zone with an ‘arc’ block by the wing on SAM Paul Kruger #99. The offense wants to seal the left edge of the defensive front by ‘reaching’ Whitner and Bryant, controlling their outside shouldesr and turning them away from the play. McCluster will make a set of reads based on the blocks to determine when to cut upfield.

The defense breaks down immediately as both Whitner and Bryant attack the D-gap, leaving the C-gap wide open. Watch the right tackle (#73) looking for a defender that should be there.

What makes the play even more frustrating is that nose tackle Jamie Meder (#98) has stifled the center’s jump through, using leverage and a one-armed bench bress to get under his pads and take him off balance. The guard can’t navigate through the pile, creating a two-for-one trade off, a victory for the defense. Most importantly Meder has kept ILB Craig Robertson clean so he can pursue the ball.

When the left tackle finds no defender in the C-gap he does a great job peeling back and ‘looking for work’. Get your head on a swivel, find a defender, and block him. As we will see momentarily, his awareness springs the play.

The tackle gets his eyes back to the inside in time to pick up a scrapping Robertson, sealing the C-gap for McCluster on the way to a 44-yard scamper.

If Bryant or Whitner (it’s impossible to say with certainty who made the mistake here without the play call) had fit the C-gap as designed Robertson would have become a free hitter on the ball carrier, likely stuffing the play for a minimal gain. However, because Bryan/ Whitner blew their run fit, their assigned blocker is able to peel back and pick up the scrapping linebacker.

Was this fundamental mistake caused by confusion or miscommunication? We’ll likely never know, but the important take away is we witnessed similar blunders throughout the season.

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