Reviewing Game Film: Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots. What does it tell us about the Dallas Cowboys’ Rob Ryan?


When Rob Ryan was hired as the Defensive Coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys this summer, he was being touted as a defensive genius who would erase the memory of an atrocious defensive performance last season.

The skeptics and his detractors questioned this assertion by pointing out that the two defenses he coordinated (Oakland and Cleveland) were not elite defenses, in fact, they were lucky to be considered above average. His supporters countered by alluding to the fact that he has devised game plans that had stopped two of the league’s best passers (Manning and Brady). These two games overshadowed a much more numerous collection of mediocre games.

In preparation for writing my preview of the Dallas Cowboys upcoming game against the New England Patriots, I watched the Browns vs. Pats game from last year.  Much as I expected (if only because it is usually the case) the legend surrounding that game is part myth and part reality.

I think the majority of pundits, journalists, and analysts simply looked at the box score, saw that the normally prolific Patriot offense was limited to 14 points, and assumed that the Browns did not have the personnel to dominate the Patriots, so the offense’s trouble must have been a result of a brilliant gameplan and astute coaching.

Yes, the Browns did hold the usually potent Patriot offense to a meager 14 points.  Yes, the defense played well.  But……..

Click on the link to read my assessment of Brady’s dismal performance against Ryan’s defense.

Having just watched the game, I do not believe that Brady’s lack of success can be entirely attributed to the play of the defense or the defensive scheme.

I will discuss some aspects of the Browns-Pats game in more detail later today in my preview of the Cowboys-Patriots game, but for now, I think the following points deserve to be noted.

1. Brady had an off day.  He threw more than 4 or 5 bad passes, and it did not look like it was because he was under pressure from the defense or because he had been rattled by getting hit.  It simply looked like he had a bad day, missing several easy throws.  Many of his passes were off target for most of the day.  I do not think this can be attributed to the play of the defense, or the defensive play calling.

2. The receivers dropped easy catches at critical times on more than 4 or 5 occasions.  This was simply poor execution by the receivers, which is not something the defense deserves credit for.

3. Brady was sacked only 1 time for 9 yards.  Yes, the Browns did manage to hurry him at times, and knock him down on occasion, but Brady was not under pressure or on his back all day.

4. The lone interception by the Browns was not thrown by Brady, it was thrown by Hoyer, and it was during desperation time (2:29 remaining in the 4th quarter).

Do not misinterpret what I am trying to say: while I am trying to objectively evaluate the myth associated with that game, I am not trying to besmirch Rob Ryan.

Let me be clear:  I think that Rob Ryan is an excellent coach; Dallas is lucky to have him.  He has turned this defense around, there is no denying that.  He does deserve the lion’s share of the credit for the success of the defense.   I do believe that Ryan will be one of the main reasons this team makes the playoffs.  I thoroughly enjoy every interview he has given, and I anxiously look forward to hearing him talk to the media every week.  His swagger and confidence is infectious: I believe in him, his strategies, and his players.  He makes this club a MUCH better football team.

All of that being said, I think the film shows that at least part of the hype surrounding the Browns defeat of the Patriots is just that: media induced hype.  If it is not media hype, perhaps it illustrates the ignorance of the national media: maybe they assumed that a total score of 14 points must necessarily be the product of Ryan’s coaching without taking the time to watch the game.

I am not suggesting that Ryan doesn’t deserve any credit; he does.  Nor am I suggesting that the defense didn’t play well; they did.  I am suggesting that the performance of the defense and the coaching of Ryan need to understood in the context of what actually transpired, which is that Brady played an unusually bad game and his receivers made a significant number of costly errors.

If it seems like I have focused on the negative here, that is because I have.  I will focus on the plethora of defensive positives from the Browns win over the Patriots in my article later today.

Lastly, before you start telling me that I am a moronic imbecile, go watch the game in its entirety (not just the highlights) and then tell me whether my two main points (numbers 1 and 2 above) are inaccurate.