5 Impactful Plays and Players Film Review: Week 11 Browns/Steelers Game

November 22, 2023

Tony Camino

Impactful Plays from Browns’ Game Against Steelers in Week 11

Despite all the adversity, the Browns somehow sit at 7-3 with wins over the Steelers, Ravens, and 49ers. It wasn’t always pretty at times, but they did just enough yet again to deliver a win and position themselves in the race for the AFC North and the first seed in the AFC. While the defense shined yet again, the offense led by Dorian Thompson-Robinson came through just enough for the Browns to improve to 7-3. Here are five notable plays from the Brown’s win over the Steelers in Week 11.

Myles Sack Disguise

The Browns’ defense continues to evolve for the better, and it was on display in their dominant win over Pittsburgh. On the first play of the game (which should have been a safety), the Browns are blitzing Grant Delpit off the edge. More importantly, the defensive backs are walked down onto the receivers, which is a clear indicator of man coverage.

Since the Browns are typically so man-heavy, Kenny Pickett is already thinking he knows what the defense is going to play. Instead, the corners bail immediately and it turns into a fire zone covering three blitz. With an elite pass rush like the Browns where they are bringing an extra man, the ball has to be out almost instantly to have any sort of a chance.

Garrett wins inside easily, and nobody picks up Delpit’s blitz off the edge. Najee Harris has two guys he needs to pick up and already was getting the free rusher in Delpit, which allows Garrett to easily get to the quarterback and pin them all the way on their own goal line.

This evolution from the Browns’ scheme will make them nearly unstoppable, as Pickett talked postgame about how the Browns were confusing him with the different looks they showed. Combined with blitzing with a dangerous pass rush, buying that extra second of confusion will do wonders for the defensive line and make quarterbacks’ lives miserable against this unit.

Another Blitz Disguise

The biggest takeaway from this game was the continued ability to play zone off their man coverage looks and vice versa. The Browns used it all game to really confuse Pickett, and they succeeded again here. The Browns again walk all their cornerbacks down onto receivers and make it look very clear that they are running man coverage. In addition, the Browns are showing heavy pressure, and Pickett is figuring out his hot options. On the snap, the ends drop into coverage while the corners bail and make it a similar fire zone cover three blitzes showed earlier.

Pickett has to get rid of this ball in a hurry and he knows it, and he targets his only hot option from the side with the most shown blitzers. Because of the drops from the ends, Garrett ended up taking away the middle and Newsome was right there for a tackle, PBU, or even an interception if the ball is thrown accurately. Pickett has pressure right in his face and throws way off target which allows the Browns to get off the field on third down.

The Browns are dominant in man coverage, good in zone coverage, and can get to the quarterback very well with just four or five guys. Evolving to a defense that can give confusing pre-snap looks only makes life on the quarterback more difficult and allows the pass rush, the strength of the defense, to really shine and disrupt the day. If they can continue to have success showing coverage they aren’t playing, this defense will continue to dominate.

QB Pin-Pull

With DTR taking over at quarterback, more designed QB runs were always going to be added because of the speed and ability in the open field at the position. The Browns run a variation of one of their favorite run concepts where they pin down the edge and have two pullers out front to lead the way. While this is typically run as a toss play to the running back, the Browns decide to utilize DTR’s legs twice on third downs to convert.

David Njoku has the hardest job on this play, as they are asking him to pin TJ Watt and not allow him to get outside to make the play. Watt has played the Browns a lot and can get a feel for when the pin-pull is coming, and does a great job beating Njoku, but Joel Bitonio notices it immediately on his pull and cleans it up. Njoku does a great job not giving up on the play and instead turning back to find more work as a blocker.

Ideally, Ethan Pocic would feel that Njoku has that defender handled and he can move up to the next level and block the only man from keeping DTR out of the endzone. It’s third down, however, and Pocic makes the safe play by finishing off the block with Njoku to ensure DTR picks up the first down.

Designed runs with the quarterback are going to have to be a part of this offense to take advantage of the skillset of DTR. While more runs will be incorporated going forward that allow him to pull the ball on zone reads, the early signs of some run creativity with DTR show what they can do on third-and-manageable situations to convert.

Possible Chunk Play In The Future

With Jack Conklin and Jed Wills out of this game and Dawand Jones being very limited, the Browns were not going to let the strength of the Steelers (Alex Highsmith and TJ Watt) feast all day and disrupt the game. To take them out completely, the plan was to get the ball out of DTR’s hands as quickly as possible and make the reads quickly.

This play shows that clearly, as it’s a designed one-two read for DTR. Kareem Hunt is swinging out with Cedric Tillman for a quick read if the short hitch route from Njoku wasn’t there. His first read is Njoku, and it’s there along with Watt beating James Hudson immediately which forces the throw there as well. Any option would have worked, but DTR had to get the ball out fast to negate the pass rush.

However, the runoff corner route from Elijah Moore ends up being wide open, although not a part of the read in this game. Going forward with a healthy Jones at right tackle and against weaker pass rushes, the Browns need to let DTR sit in the pocket and deliver this football because there are openings for big chunks down the field.

While most of the plays neglecting receivers open downfield is a result of the game plan to throw quickly, there were plenty of times where throws could be made if the pocket was clean. With the dynamic pass-rush duo of Highsmith and Watt, the Browns weren’t going to even chance it with them, and forced the ball out as soon as he could. If the Browns’ offense is going to put up more points against weaker defenses, they are going to have to protect long enough for DTR to be able to get to these types of routes downfield.

Throw of the Day

It wasn’t always pretty for DTR in the win, but he was fantastic in both two-minute drills he had. After leading a field goal drive to end the first half, he gets this drive going against a cover three look from the Steelers. The play call is perfect against that coverage, as the three deep curls find themselves right in the holes of the zone defense.

DTR recognizes this immediately and throws with some good anticipation to hit Moore before the window closes. He puts it on time and on target in between the defenders and gets a huge chunk to start the game-winning drive. To no surprise, this came with Jones in the game as the Browns felt much more comfortable throwing downfield with their standout rookie in the game.

This week was a step in the right direction for the rookie QB against a tough assignment and he showed composure in the game’s biggest moments. There are plenty of things to work on, but it’s hard to evaluate him truly because of the game plan to get the ball out of his hands as soon as possible. Denver’s defense isn’t nearly as much of a challenge next week, and I expect the Browns to protect the QB more and allow him to take some shots downfield to stretch out the defense.

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