Welcome to our weekly look around the NFL through the lens of the all-22 film. In this space, we will be looking at film cut-ups to figure out the “why” behind the league’s most interesting on-field developments. We’ll also supplement the film with numbers to get the full picture of what’s going on.

Here are the five cut-ups we’ll be looking at this week…

1. The Browns dominant run game v. Dallas
2. The Patriots third-down coverage plan v. Kansas City
3. Justin Jefferson breakout games v. Houston and Tennessee
4. The Colts ‘Mesh’ concept in 2020
5. NFL Draft prospect Trey Lance’s rough showcase game

I’ve included *every* relevant play from the game related to the topic I’m taking a closer look at, so you can get a full picture of what happened. Then I’ll break it down and focus in on the most important plays or trends.

Let’s get started…

1
Browns’ +EPA run plays v. Dallas

The NFL world has already showered the Browns offensive line with praise this week and it was well-deserved after that performance against the Cowboys. But as good as the run-blocking was — No. 77 Wyatt Teller was especially dominant — the Browns running backs still had a lot of work to do, as you can see in the cut-up above.

The data backs this up. According to Pro Football Focus, 215 of Cleveland’s 295 rushing yards came after contact and ball carriers forced nine missed tackles. Per Next Gen Stats’ tracking data, D’Ernest Johnson and Kareem Hunt combined for 72 Rushing Yards over Expectation.

For one Sunday in Dallas, the running backs mattered!

2
Patriots third-down defense v. Kansas City

The Chiefs ended up coming away with a relatively easy victory thanks to some truly atrocious quarterback play by New England, but the defense more than held its own against Patrick Mahomes and Co.

The overall third-down numbers aren’t going to wow anyone — Kansas City converted on 45% of their attempts — but the Pats defense did about as well as you can reasonably expect against this Chiefs passing game.

Bill Belichick employed the kind of game plan we’ve come to expect out him in recent years: A lot of man coverage with some schematic curve balls throw in there. The most prominent of those curve balls being the heavy use of three-man rushes, which provided the coverage with some free defenders that could help take away the crossing routes the Chiefs love to throw at teams that play a lot of man coverage. In the cut-up, you can see those extra defenders disrupting routes underneath and picking up crossers down the field.

The third play in the cut-up is interesting. After the Chiefs burned the Pats defense on a crossing route on the first third-down play, you can see a slight adjustment from Belichick. Notice how Stephon Gilmore plays the crossing route with inside leverage to prevent the receiver from running away from him.

That’s not typical in the Pats’ man coverage scheme, which you can read about here.

3
Justin Jefferson targets v. Houston and Tennessee

Justin Jefferson proved his breakout game against the Titans wasn’t a fluke. While the rookie’s Week 4 stat line wasn’t as impressive, the film may have been better.

Against Tennessee, Jefferson didn’t create a lot separation with his route-running, but against Houston, you can see the rookie make a concerted effort to do so.

Here are his route charts from the last two games, via Next Gen Stats:

Next Gen Stats

Jefferson’s ability to earn targets against different types of coverage is what stands out to me. He’s finding holes in zone coverage and just running away from his defenders against man. And he’s already answered my biggest pre-draft question: Would he be able to beat press coverage at the pro level? He hasn’t had a problem doing so through the first month of his career.

Jefferson’s ability after the catch has also translated to Sundays. He currently ranks second in Next Gen Stats’ Expected YAC/Reception metric.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Minnesota doesn’t miss Stefon Diggs, but Jefferson is doing a good job of replicating what he brought to the offense.

4
Colts’ ‘Mesh’ concept

I don’t really have anything interesting to point out here other than the different ways Frank Reich gets into what seems to be his favorite concept, which the Colts can run from a variety of formations.

Reich’s love of Mesh goes back to his time as the Eagles offensive coordinator when Philly rode the concept to a Super Bowl. The Atheltic’s Sheil Kapadia has a great article on how the Eagles used the concept during that season.

The Colts have called Mesh seven times this season and are averaging 0.49 EPA per play. Pretty good! It helps to have a quarterback like Philip Rivers, who, with his anticipation and short-area accuracy, was born to execute this concept.

5
Trey Lance’s negative plays vs. Central Arkansas

I feel bad for Trey Lance. He had only one game in 2020 to impress scouts and may have played the worst college football game of his career against Central Arkansas.

After watching his 2019 film this offseason, I thought he had a chance to crack the top-10 in next year’s draft, but it’s hard to imagine NFL teams being comfortable spending a high pick on the North Dakota State product if this is the only tape he’ll produce this season.

I’ve included only his negative plays because that’s a good way of figuring out what he needs to work on. Based on this cut-up, it’s hard to narrow it down. Lance was late on throws, he was inaccurate, he stared down receivers and he didn’t have a great feel for what was going on around him in the pocket. So … pretty much all of the facets of quarterback play. Lance certainly has the tools but I don’t think he’s a very good quarterback at this point in his development.

I got major Jordan Love vibes while watching that performance. But, hey, Love ended up going in the first round, so maybe the outlook isn’t so bleak.

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