Orange and Brown Scrimmage: How the 4-2-5 alignment will help the defense improve
By Jake Burnshttps://expo.cleveland.com/sports/g66l-2...se-improve.html
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Browns enter the 2019 preseason having completely overhauled a defense and a defensive coaching staff that needed a new identity.
Gone is Gregg Williams, and his propensity to play three linebackers. The Browns led the NFL in three linebacker usage at 66 percent, and when you consider how often opposing offenses have three or more receivers on the field, the old 4-3 scheme seems even more outdated.
With the hire of Steve Wilks, the Browns have committed to the idea of matching athletes across the field with four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. It removes one of the 4-3's slower athletes for a fifth defensive back.
Wilks touched on the scheme and his reasoning following practice earlier this week in Berea. "What we have to understand first of all is where the game is now a days. They are putting more speed on the field. You want to make sure that you are able to match that speed."
Wilks' philosophy is simple: if the offense is going to play faster players on the perimeter, he has to match that speed.
"That is the reason why we go with that look. A safety, as we consider to be a slash-linebacker that can blend in the box and stop the run but also athletic enough right there to be able to play in space."
We got our first look at the 4-2-5 scheme from a wide angle at the Orange and Brown scrimmage, but before we get to how it is applied, let's learn how the scheme looks on paper.
WHAT IT WILL LOOK LIKE
The biggest position you will need to get comfortable hearing is the nickel cornerback. That's the replacement for the missing linebacker, and he figures to be on the field on nearly every down.
There will only be two linebackers on the field a majority of the snaps in the Mike and Will position. When defenses bring on more tight ends and fullback, the defensive scheme still has the ability to match by taking the nickel out and replacing him with a Sam linebacker for a traditional three-linebacker look.
Here is what the base defense will look like with two deep safeties.
The base will have the nickel covering the slot and two deep safeties able to play any of the traditional coverage looks. This will be a normal pre-snap look in pass situations.
The nickel and weak side corner will have run contain duties.
The defense also offers the ability to play an aggressive approach with the strong safety walked down toward the tackle box. As you can see here, there is one deep safety and it means more players closer to the line of scrimmage.
The style of defense allows quick defenders to blitz from a multiple of angles.
WHO WILL PLAY WHERE
Wilks has been known for finding a player who can play his safety/linebacker hybrid role. He had Shaq Thompson during his days in Carolina, and Budda Baker with the Cardinals.
Finding that player who is athletic enough to match up with tight ends and bigger slot players, but also can be physical enough against the run is vital to the defense's success.
Wilks doesn't want to use multiple players at the position, depending on tendencies. He discussed his options in Cleveland.
"Shaq as well as Buddha (are the models for) guys that we have here with (Jermaine) Whitehead and then again with Juston Burris and (Sheldrick) Redwine. I want to make sure from a matchup standpoint when they go two [running] backs, it is totally different."
It's clear the defensive staff likes Whitehead and Burris, but Eric Murray has also had plenty of success during camp, and Redwine was specifically mentioned for his ability to play the role.
The front office spent assets on the role in the offseason, adding the flexibility in the safety and cornerback room give Wilks options on gamedays.
HOW IT LOOKED AT THE SCRIMMAGE
The application was as you might expect. They gave multiple single-high and double-high safety looks, and they rushed their group of defensive backs from various positions.
The interesting thing to note will be how Wilks uses Damarious Randall. Traditionally the free safety has been used in the deep center in single-high and two-high safety looks, but Randall has specifically mentioned he will be closer to the ball on occasion and he was during Saturday's scrimmage.
Redwine has mentioned how the two safety positions are fairly interchangable. Training camp allows for coaches to rotate players throughout the secondary. Unlike college, coaches scheme for teams, not position. The players in a 53-man roster secondary need to understand the role of all five positions.
That also helps players understand the big picture instead of one small portion of the philosophy.
Although assignments have yet to be finalized, there is no doubt the secondary is playing confidently and the two linebackers are comfortable patrolling the middle of the field instead of worrying about the slot.
The principle of having more defensive backs makes sense on paper, but the NFL is a matchup league and Wilks certainly knows this.
"Now, you are talking about old school football. When you talk about 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) when they can split (TE) David (Njoku) out (the alignment is more one running back and one tight end). ... That is the matchup that we try to make sure that we can handle.”
The good thing is the defense has the athletes who can match up with those talented interior receivers and tight ends. The ability to do so doesn't stop after the first-team players as well.
A welcome change for traditionally thin rosters.
Wilks has full autonomy of the defensive side of the ball, and spoke of appreciating his working relationship with head coach Kitchens.
"I think the communication with Freddie has been outstanding," he said. "He is heavily involved in what we are doing on this side of the ball with the communication between him and me. Constantly talking about certain things we need to be working on and trying to create those certain looks within practice.”
Kitchens will be involved in what the defense will be doing week to week, but he is trusting Wilks to run this ship correctly.
That's a big leap of faith, but Browns fans should know it's rooted in both proper scheme and a proper analytical approach.