Inside linebacker, Preston Brown is entering an important year in Rex Ryan’s defense. The Bills drafted inside linebacker Reggie Ragland to pair with the third-year veteran but that plan will have to wait another year. Regardless, Brown is ready to step up his game and become a leader.
“It’s time for me to be that kind of player, I kind of set back and didn’t do as much as I could’ve last year. We’ve got to go out there and get these wins so I think me being vocal and helping guys out will serve as a recipe to get that done.”
Only appearing in two preseason games, Brown appears to be doing just that.
Offensive motion sometimes causes the defense to change responsibilities, especially in the coverage department. The TE motions and once he is set, Brown sends a hand signal to the Safety that sets the coverage. As the Mike linebacker, he calls the play in the huddle and makes sure the defense is set. It is 3rd and 12 so Brown keeps the offensive player in front of him and makes the tackle for a 9 yard gain. This forces the Giants to punt.
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In 2015, Preston Brown struggled versus the run. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he was graded as a -22.9 against the run. At times he seemed to struggle filling run windows that opened once the two-gapping defensive lineman made their moves. So far this preseason, Brown has looked much more comfortable reading defensive lineman in front of him and filling windows.
Brown and Hughes execute a gap exchange. Hughes slants inside, Brown reads it and flows over the top to make the tackle.
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But the linebacker’s play isn’t always about making the tackle. Players are counted on to execute their assignment to help others make plays also. On this play, Brown’s key is to read through the guard to the FB/H-back. Brown reads the play well, follows the H-back to the hole and takes him on. This leads to a modest gain. Very good team defense. That’s a great read and execution.
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Part of being a good linebacker is the ability to sift and work through the “garbage”. Brown has done a very good job so far at working through the traffic. On this play the middle is clogged up so the back tries bouncing it, Brown reads it and fills the window.
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The defensive scheme should also help Brown make plays. Dareus takes on and “occupies” two linemen. Hughes again causes the disruption by slanting inside. This allows Brown to roam free and make the tackle for a short gain.
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Rex Ryan’s scheme is definitely linebacker-centric and an important role that backers play are creating pressure. Most of the time it is through overload blitzes. In 2015, Brown registered 12 pressures, zero of which were sacks. His ability to blitz (-6.6 rushing QB in ’15) is something that the Bills were relying upon from Ragland. This will be a huge story to keep an eye on. On this play he executes a cross dog blitz forcing Eli to move in the pocket, but he can never get his feet set to throw it down the field. Once he does, Seymour is in place for the deflection.
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He registers the QB hit versus the Colts on this inside blitz.
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The other area of concern for Bills fans is how Preston Brown will be in coverage this season? Last season PFF graded Brown as a -5.5 in coverage. He does have limited capabilities in coverage and again, the Bills were relying on a more athletic Ragland to help in that department. How Brown plays in coverage will depend on how well Rex schemes versus the Bills’ opponents. Zach Brown who is starting at Will LB will definitely be the inside backer heavily relied on in coverage. But Rex has a tremendous secondary this season so he can tweak the scheme to keep Preston in advantageous situations.
On this play, the Bills are in man coverage, but Rex has Zach in man coverage to the “strength” atypical of a normal Will LB alignment. The Colts are in a tight trips formation to the wide side of the field. Preston is in man coverage to the boundary, reducing the area he has to cover the receiving threat out of the backfield.
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In two games, Preston was in coverage 14 times. Seven of those plays Preston was in man coverage. How quickly he reads the play will determine how often he is beaten by offensive weapons. He reads the play quickly here and takes a great angle on the tight end.
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Preston has been targeted three times so far this preseason and allowed all three catches for 16 yards. So you know that offensive coordinators will try to scheme to get their more talented players matched up against Brown. Especially on play action plays on early downs. Brown tends to take himself out of position at times because he doesn’t always stay true to his “keys”.
Rex Ryan typically teaches the “pointer step” technique:
Linebackers’ Initial movement:
“Our linebackers take a pointer step (i.e., jab step) in the direction of the fullback’s flow. This step puts him in a good leverage position against a jump-through blocker or a reach blocker. Just as importantly, the pointer step allows the linebacker to keep his shoulders square during the initial read. And by keeping his shoulders square during the initial read, he is able to redirect upon his recognition of an alarm such as a pull-away or pull-to.
So Brown should be “keying” the near FB, but he comes off his key and it takes him out of position on the pass. It is unknown on which fullback he or Hughes had in coverage, but you can bet coordinators noticed this play.
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Now that Rex Ryan is running his scheme I expect Brown to take his game to the next level. He should be much better this coming season. The playbook is smaller and less complex since the defensive schemes aren’t blended anymore. This will allow Brown to read and react quicker. That seems to be translating on the field. So far this preseason he has 6 tackles, 2 QB pressures and 5 stops registered in only 33 snaps. Among inside linebackers, Brown ranks #10 in run stop percentage (25%) and tied for the 8th highest pass rushing productivity (30).
His weakness will obviously be in pass coverage, he was in pass coverage 14 times and allowed 3 receptions. That means he allowed a reception every 4.7 snaps (14 snaps/3 recs). Brown will need to be put in the position to minimize his coverage limitations, which is why how well Rex matches opponents personnel groupings will be important.
Overall I agree with Rob Ryan:
“This Preston Brown is going to be a star”
Now that Brown knows his role and understands the playbook, I expect Preston to step his game up. He is a hard worker and that hard work in the offseason will pay off in 2016.