Analysis Notebook: TNF, Week 5
I started off planning to write about the Browns’ love of power-wham plays in this game, but as I went through the tape in more detail I decided to focus a little more on how those plays were being regularly destroyed by a rookie linebacker that is beginning to make waves in the NFL — Kiko Alonso.
Make no mistake, the Browns did indeed go power/wham-block crazy in this game. These are simply any play in which a blocker pulls from the backside to the play side during the run, and in its most common form features the backside guard pulling around to lead the run to the front side. That pulling player can either lead through the point of attack to take on a linebacker or look to kick-out an unblocked edge defender while the linemen to that side climb to the second level. Of the Browns 28 carries, 24 of them employed this kind of concept to the point that it must have been a significant tip to the defense whether the play was a run or pass. They started to use some influence blocking on pass plays later in the game (perhaps becoming aware of this themselves), but certainly for the first quarter the Bills’ defense simply had to look out for a pulling guard to signal the freedom to crash the run with abandon.
Alonso has been getting some major press from his interceptions, but they have featured a good dose of the ball being thrown right to him rather than any legitimately impressive feats in coverage. However, this display was a far more rounded and impressive outing, especially against the run, and will go a long way to converting any remaining doubters to the Alonso cause.
Buffalo @ Cleveland |1st Q, 10:56
As I said earlier, power or wham plays involve pulling a player from the backside of the play to the front side to give a numerical advantage at the point of attack. Often teams like to pull blockers away from the strong side of the line towards the weak side, suddenly overloading the defense with blockers they were expecting to be on the other side of the formation. In this first play, the Browns pulled LG Jon Greco away from the backside of the play to lead through the hole off right tackle. Here Alonso was the weak side linebacker and does extremely well to influence this play in the way he did.
RT Mitchell Schwartz blocked down, forming a double team with the RG on the DT to that side of the play, this widened a running lane that the Bills expected to fill with LB Manny Lawson. This is where the pull block comes in, because Greco rounded the corner and drove Lawson effectively away from the point of attack. With nobody else to fill that running lane the Browns would have a significant hole to work with and a good chance of breaking a long run once the runner got into the secondary, and only Alonso prevented that.
After the snap he read the pull block instantly and shuffled to mirror the running back on the other side of the line of scrimmage. His lateral progress stalled when he saw a gaping hole right up the middle as the Browns’ double teams created space. He honored that first gap until the running back moved beyond it and then he exploded into the intended point of attack and made the stop. Without Alonso getting all the way across the formation and timing his play to perfection, the runner would be in the secondary before he met a defender, and that’s a matchup the offense would take every time.
Buffalo @ Cleveland | 1st Q, 4:51
This time Alonso blows up the play completely, not by tracking it behind the line and tackling the runner as he comes through the hole, but rather by shooting a gap in the blocking and hitting him 5 yards deep in the backfield.
Again the Browns pull the backside guard to lead through the hole, but this time they also pull the TE, lined up behind the line on the strong side. This is a perfect example of flipping the strength of the blocking with a wham play. The defense lined up to match the offense’s strength in numbers to one side of the field, and as soon as the ball was snapped two of those blockers switched sides to what the defense expected to be the weak side. Like most basic football concepts, it is a very simple way of putting stress on the opposition and, if nothing else, asking them to execute something a little more complex than they were expecting to have to deal with.
This time the center blocked to his right and this opened up a pretty sizeable hole to the A-gap on his left. Alonso again read the play very quickly and hit that gap. It’s not clear whether the TE was expected to pick up this run-blitz or whether he was just confused by the speed at which Alonso appeared in the backfield, but either way he didn’t do anything to slow him down as he headed to the intended running lane, which allowed Alonso to hit McGahee 5 yards deep and destroy the play.
The Browns running nothing but power/wham plays all game certainly helped the Bills linebackers key in on what was coming, and Alonso showed regularly through the game that he was a step ahead in diagnosing the play. It wasn’t only on those plays, but also led him to spectacular plays like leaping clean over the pile to blow up a run play down at the goal line.
Kiko Alonso has now had three very strong games on the bounce, and this +3.1 grade is just the latest in a series of performances that are setting him up to have an extremely good debut season in the NFL. These power/wham plays are so prevalent in the NFL because they are often very successful. When you lean on them to the extent the Browns did in this game you make the keys for the defense too easy though. Part of a linebacker’s job is to ‘read and react’ on many plays, and if they know as soon as they see a guard move to pull exactly where the play is going and what is coming they can cut that time down significantly, giving them a head start on the play.
Alonso took that head start and made it count all game long.
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