Welcome back to Establish the Fun, where football is fun and we’re establishing that more and more each day. It may only be Week 2 of the NFL season and Week 3 of the college football season, but fun levels are sky high. In fact, I’d say Establish the Fun stocks are through the roof, and you should get ‘em while they’re hot!
This week, we got three more things for you to look out for before you set up your multibox and watch the games this weekend. From Texas perhaps being back to a Rams wideout that has stepped up big time, we got you covered. Let’s start with the angriest pack of elves I’ve seen since J.R.R Tolkien picked up his pen.
The Browns bring out the whole ocean
One of the reasons I was excited to watch the Browns’ season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals was because of new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Before, the Browns defense was coached by Joe Woods, who tried to implement a Fangio-style of defense that is a lot less aggressive and in your face than Schwartz, with noticeably fewer pressure packages.
If the Browns defense plays anything like they did on Sunday against the Bengals, it’ll be clear that Schwartz was a major upgrade over Woods. Yes it was in the rain, but Schwartz and the Browns brought out the whole ocean, holding the Bengals to three points and QB Joe Burrow to only 82 passing yards. When you look at the amount of explosive plays the Browns limited, it looks even better:
Explosive Plays Allowed on defense from week 1. Chargers, my god.
Why as a society we use different yards to try and make run plays seem explosive when compared to passes I have no clue, but we’ll roll with it for now pic.twitter.com/vJ1W87EwgW
— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) September 14, 2023
The Browns had so much green you can call them asparagus. Combine that with a 38.2 percent pressure rate, the fifth highest in Joe Burrow’s entire career with the Bengals, and you get a recipe of chaos that the Browns created on Week 1. So let’s get into this elven aggression and see what Schwartz did to unlock his best players on the field.
Let’s start with superstar EDGE Myles Garrett, you can call him Chandelier. Garrett was all over the field on Sunday, to the tune of eight pressures and a sack, completely dominating everyone who he was across from. However, one of the things that I noticed Schwartz doing instead of Woods was finally turning Garrett into a chess piece, moving him around the offensive line to create favorable matchups for not only him, but many of his teammates, too. Maybe this is also due to the addition of EDGE rushersmyrles Za’Darius Smith and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, but the Myles Garrett usage was super fun to see on Sunday, and one to watch out for as we get deeper into the season.
We all saw the And1 crossover play Myles Garrett did during the game, but outside of that being EXTREMELY COOL, the noticeable thing about it was that he was over the center. It’s not the most revolutionary thing in the world, but it’s giving the Browns the ability to matchup hunt with Garrett, so he can do cool stuff like this.
The Browns did a lot of work with five man fronts on Sunday, and then dropping a defender or sending them all, forcing the Bengals offensive line into isolated matchups the entire game. When you have a pass rusher the caliber of Myles Garrett, you wanna get him as many chances to play iso ball as possible. Sometimes, Schwartz would even drop Garrett into coverage, freeing up other guys as well. You don’t want to drop him in coverage often, but a perfectly timed call will have an opposing offense floundering.
This one was especially dirty. The Browns are in a “mugged” look, meaning two linebackers lined up over both A-gaps next to the center. Last year, when the Bengals saw this look, they moved their RB up out of his normal alignment next to QB Joe Burrow almost directly in the gap of the non-MIKE call, and they would sort it out and man block from there. What the Browns did was not only bring both linebackers, but also safety Grant Delpit right down the pipe, and then drop the two EDGEs, who see a lot of attention. So now that you have the OL fanning out to protect, the safety can run through untouched, like Delpit does here. Schwartz threw everything in the seven seas at Joe Burrow in their win and I love it.
However, at the most simple level, Schwartz has allowed for his stars to play much more aggressively up front. The wide nine looks Schwartz is known for allows his edge rushers to play at a better angle and give them more chances to win on the edge. In this alignment, Garrett can use his special blend of agility, size and speed to completely overwhelm opposing tackles. You remember seeing Garrett do the crossover over the center, correct? Well his best move has always been the eurostep, and he danced around Bengals defenders like Dwyane Wade the entire game. Watch his burst and acceleration on this sack. Joe Mixon can’t even get over to help in time because he’s already past him. Special player.
In the secondary, the aggression was also noticeable in a couple of major ways. The first one being how much man they chose to play … against the Bengals receiving core. Last year, across both games, the Browns played man coverage on only 16 snaps against the Bengals. They played man coverage on 15 of the Bengals dropbacks on Sunday alone. The Browns invested a lot of money and resources into that secondary, from multiple first round picks (Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II) to big money contracts (Ward, Juan Thornhill). Sometimes, you just gotta go let your dudes be dudes, and Schwartz’s willingness to let his best players be dudes is a noticeable change in the aggression of the Browns defense.
They’re in Cover 1 here, but look at the way the Browns DBs were in their face at the point of attack. Just let the boys play!
Again, the comfort of sticking in man coverage vs the Bengals is a testament to Jim Schwartz and what he’s done with the defense. They’ve always had talented DBs, just let ’em play! pic.twitter.com/32kZb6Sa7u
— JP Acosta (Pug Dederson Stan Acct) (@acosta32_jp) September 11, 2023
The Browns are headed to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers on Monday Night Football, and with the way the Steelers looked overmatched against San Francisco, this Browns defense is going to be one to watch.
A Texas-style ass kicking
If you haven’t heard, the University of Texas went into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama on Saturday.
Not only did they beat Alabama, no.
They kicked Bama’s ASS.
In a 34-24 victory that doesn’t feel as close as the score tells you, Texas’ offense was unstoppable, especially in the passing game. Per GameonPaper, the Longhorns averaged nine yards per dropback and an astounding 13 percent explosive play rate. They were’t just successful throwing the ball. They were hitting the Crimson Tide defense with haymakers that would make the strongest heavyweight fighter crumble.
Much was made about Texas HC Steve Sarkisian being a former Saban assistant, but you could tell that he knew the ins and outs of the Saban gameplan with the way he called the passing game. He knew every rule, and broke them to the point that guys were running wide open every play.
Let’s start with the big TD pass to WR Xavier Worthy. The Longhorns motion TE Jatavion Sanders out of a bunch formation over to QB Quinn Ewers’ right. Texas did a lot of work with Formation Into the Boundary this game (FIB) that I think helped contribute to this big touchdown. The outside receiver in this tight formation to the right runs an under route, and from here the outside corner has to make an under call and get to his deep quarter. However, the receiver on the line of scrimmage runs a deep hook route, and because the safety is looking from the second receiver to the first, if the second receiver runs at him, it’s his man. So he steps up. On the backside of this play is where the magic happens, though. Worthy runs a deep over from the No. 2 receiver on the weak side. This is for the backside safety to run with, but he’s supposed to have help from either the corner or safety to the FIB side. The corner gets lost in the sauce, and Ewers throws a rainbow to Worthy for the first big haymaker.
The second big touchdown the WR Adonai Mitchell was on an NFL concept vs. an NFL style defense. Alabama is in quarters coverage, and the Longhorns motion into trips to Ewers’ right. This route combination is a basic way of getting into a concept called “Mills”, where there’s an intermediate in-breaking route followed by a big post or go on the outside. It’s very popular against quarters, and if the protection holds up then you can hit a big play. Sanders runs an out, taking away the LB, and the second receiver runs the in breaking route. The safety to that side bites hard on it because there is no linebacker help in the middle of the field. Why is this? Because on the backside Alabama is in MEG coverage, “Man Everywhere he Goes”. The backside corner has the backside receiver in man, backside linebacker has the running back out the backfield. The weakest point of quarters is those big inside posts, because the outside corner thinks he has inside help, so his leverage is to the outside. If there’s no help, then a receiver has him beat to the inside, which is what happens here. Good playcall and phenomenal execution by Mitchell to set up the corner outside before breaking back across his face for the touchdown.
The Longhorns jumped to No. 4 in the AP Poll this weekend, and play Wyoming at home. The Cowboys might not have the same top end talent as a team like Alabama, but they’re smart and tough. If you want to see NFL concepts on a college field, go check out Texas and see if they can avoid the “We Beat Bama” hangover.
(Side note: Alabama travels to USF this week. Pray for your USF football friends, they’re going to need it).
Puka Nacua reminds the Rams of a WR that they once knew
Among all wide receivers in Week 1 with 10 or more targets, five had a first down rate of 60 percent or more: Tyreek Hill (LOL), Chris Olave, Robert Woods and Stefon Diggs.
Los Angeles Rams rookie WR Puka Nacua.
Nacua made waves in the preseason and in minicamp as a player the Rams were high on and someone who could see a lot of playing time and targets, even when WR Cooper Kupp was healthy. What was noticeable about the Nacua usage was how much it reminded me of a former Rams WR who used to wear No. 17. One who was also on that list of players who had an over 60 percent first down rate, actually: Robert Woods.
Nacua was making a lot of tough catches over the middle, creating separation and being strong enough to finish catches through contact. His 3.5 yards per route run was third among all wideouts within that same target parameter, and the trust Stafford showed in the rookie was crucial in the Rams Week 1 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
This is on a third and four, and the Seahawks are playing Cover 1. Watch Nacua give a little bit of a stutter and create enough separation to put this ball on Nacua and get the first down. He gets the DB set outside then breaks back in after the clearout route goes by and Stafford nails him for a first down.
Another thing that stood out was how strong Nacua was after the catch. His YAC numbers weren’t as high as other top receivers, but you combine his strength with his innate feel for finding the sticks and moving the chains, and you have at worst a baseline No. 2 wideout.
This is against Cover 2, meaning there’s a cloud corner waiting for anything breaking to the flat. Nacua has the leverage vs the slot defender, but there’s an outside corner ready to hit him into next week. Nacua makes the catch, then bounces off the defender and picks up 13 yards after the catch.
Not only do they give him some of the same routes and role that Woods had, he also is trusted enough to be somewhat of a lead blocker on the Rams staple Windback concepts, as well as some new gap scheme runs they implemented. On the Rams first rushing TD, Nacua is the motion player and the Rams are essentially running Duo with the receiver going in motion before the snap. Windback is somewhat similar, but the receiver doesn’t go in motion. Nacua gets all of this block, and helps Williams get into the endzone.
Nacua and the Rams will be facing a different beast in the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, but keep an eye out for his usage and how it reminds you of a Ram that you once knew. Hopefully Nacua’s tenure with the Rams is more successful than however Usher ended up in that song.