The Browns Were Completely Unprepared for Lamar Jackson

I’m not entirely convinced that the Browns knew Lamar Jackson was playing quarterback for the Ravens on Monday Night. Either that or Jackson and Baltimore’s offense performed at such a high level that any plan the Browns had became irrelevant. Whatever the reason was, the Ravens showed why their running game is so difficult to stop. And the Browns weren’t disciplined enough to handle the aspects of Baltimore’s offense that make it so dangerous.

The Ravens’ rushing attack is based on gap schemes, with the read option playing a major role off multiple run plays. The read option is so difficult to defend because the offense is almost always right if it’s executed correctly, as you can see on the below 2 plays.

On this first play, the Ravens used counter action with both the guard and tackle pulling.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The read-option element called for Jackson to read the defensive end (Olivier Vernon) to the offense’s left and either give to his running back on the sweep or keep it and run the counter to the right.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Vernon didn’t crash inside and appeared to be more of a factor against the sweep, so Jackson kept it and ran the counter for a touchdown.

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Later in the game, Baltimore faced a 3rd-and-3. Here, they had the same play called, with Jackson reading defensive end Myles Garrett.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Only this time, Jackson neither gave it to his running back on the sweep or followed the counter action. He saw Garrett get too far upfield to play the sweep, so he kept the ball and stayed to the backside away from the counter action. Given how hard linebackers Malcolm Smith (#56) and B.J. Goodson (#93) flowed to the counter side, the running lane was huge for Jackson. The result was a 44-yard gain.

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Almost every time the Ravens have run this play in 2020, the option for Jackson has been to give to the running back on the sweep or keep it and run to the counter side. This was either a tendency-breaking wrinkle, or Jackson saw daylight and just ran through it. Either way, the Ravens Offense was able to be right on both plays. That’s difficult for an undisciplined defense to handle.

Which brings us to the Browns’ role in this 45-point debacle of a defensive performance against 3 ½ quarters of Lamar Jackson. Cleveland failed to prevent Jackson from getting to the edge and using his most dangerous asset. It didn’t just happen on designed runs.

On the below touchdown run, focus on Malcolm Smith and Olivier Vernon.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

You’ll see that Vernon rushed upfield and just kept going around the pocket. You can’t do that against Lamar Jackson. You have to contain him in the pocket.

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This was man-free coverage, so the hole defender (Smith) was supposed to provide help in the shallow-to-intermediate middle of the field. Normally, I have no problem with that defender helping to disrupt any crossing routes coming into his area, which Smith did here. But in man coverage against Lamar Jackson, where just about every other defender’s back is turned to the quarterback, he can’t abandon the middle of the field like he did on this play. It’s not worth it just to get a good jam on the shallow crossing route.

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Maybe Smith’s presence in the middle of the field wouldn’t have made a difference. Either way, the result was a way-too-easy scramble touchdown.

The 4th-and-5 go-ahead touchdown that Lamar Jackson threw with 2 minutes remaining in the game came off of a poorly executed blitz, where Cleveland again somehow failed to account for Jackson’s ability to use his legs.

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On the biggest play of the game, the Browns brought 6 pass rushers and all of them were inside of the right tackle. So Jackson had a clear and immediate escape lane to the right, which is where any right-handed quarterback would have the natural instinct to go. So much for keeping him in the pocket.

This is to take nothing away from Jackson’s performance. In what many are calling the game of the year, he was outstanding. That said, the Browns utilized an approach that didn’t seem to account for Jackson’s skillset at all. And the lack of discipline they showed across the board defensively won’t cut it in January.

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