It hasn't been a great year for Bryce Brown. After an extremely promising rookie season, and a skill set that seemed like a pretty nice fit in a run heavy offense, Bryce Brown has just not been able to get it going. While he has appeared to clean up his fumbling issues (although he still carries the ball away from his body) he just hasn't been the explosive back we saw last year. Watching him on tape, he looks like the same guy, so I don't believe there is anything "physical" going on.
The biggest criticism of Brown in most circles has been the accusation that he "takes it outside" too often. Watching the games all year, I think one thing people are missing is that a lot of Bryce's called runs are designed to go to the outside. Bryce seems to be Chip's go-to guy for the outside zone read and read sweeps. This makes sense given Brown is faster than McCoy. For those types of plays you want a guy who has the speed to get to the edge. I also think, as we've shown, that Chip Kelly likes to stretch the defense horizontally. We run with McCoy primiarly between the tackles by design. I feel as though Bryce Brown is being used as the equalizer to ensure teams respect the edges. Before my research, I had the impression that Bryce has run many more plays designed to go to the outside (OZR or SR) than he has inside. Note, DESIGNED is the key word. There were some plays where Bryce bounced outside or cut inside that some stat will track, but I actually tracked the play design which is pretty easy with the All-22. So I reviewed all of Bryce's carries this year, and was a little surprised to see this:
So Bryce actually has more than double runs inside as he does outside. That was a little surprising, but then again, he is the back-up RB, not just the OZR and SR specialist. Chip clearly prefers running between the tackles so when Brown comes in as a sub, he's going to run some between the tackles stuff. In addition, Bryce has been used as our short yardage back. Those plays are designed generally to go between the tackles.
I didn't do a McCoy breakdown (too many snaps to watch) but my overall impression is that we run a lot fewer OZRs and SWs with McCoy, so I think my theory is somewhat valid. We run Brown a lot on the outside plays.
Bottom line, those ypc #s are not good. He's struggling between the tackles as well as outside the tackles. So let's investigate the accusation that, "Bryce takes it outside too much"
1) There is an element of truth to this argument. When reviewing all 58 carries I saw a couple of examples of this:
With Herreman peeling off his block, it sure seems this IZR is designed to follow the yellow line. Brown instead goes to the red:
Here's another example. Bryce has a gaping hole up the middle and Kelce is peeling off to pave the way. But there's no defender in sight:
Bryce inexplicably cuts it outside and while he still gets a nice gain, he potentially missed a TD on that one:
2) The Outside Zone Read and Sweep Read are proving to be tough for this OL to execute
I think one thing Chip is learning is the speed of NFL defenses is really limiting the success of his edge runs. The OL is really having trouble executing them with the exception of a few.
Here's how they should look (Note the most success we've had to date was against the Broncos. Something to keep in mind when we play them in February):
But more often than not, they end up looking like this:
And it's not just issues sealing the edge. More often, it's penetration on the interior line which forces Brown to go backwards:
Here's a good example of the "fallacy". Maybe there is an inital hole in the A gap here, but #56 is going to fill it. Besides, you can see from Bryce's eyes and the motion of the OL, this is a designed outside zone. And Kelce gets blown up at the line:
Bottom line is, the Eagles are just not executing this play all that well. On many of these plays, Bryce is following the design of the play, and he just doesn't have a chance. That said, I feel Chip truly believes it is a necessary evil to test the edges. And despite not executing it well, when we do, the majority of Bryce's 5+ yard carries have come on the outside.
3) On the between the tackle runs, he just isn't getting good blocking. Bryce wants to hit the B gap here. You can see Herremans in great position to get his block at the second-level:
But he misses it, and what could have been a huge gain for Brown, is a minimal one:
Here's another. The peel block just doesn't happen:
Bryce has nowhere to go:
Huge hole for Brown, Kelce can't quite get his block on Sean Lee. Lesean probably wins this matchup in open space, but Bryce can't beat him:
Here Bryce has nowhere to go:
Again, Peters loses on his block. Brown has nowhere to go:
Kerrigan cleanly beats Celek and Brown has no chance to even get started:
And this just had to be a mix-up. You leave the unblocked defender on the side you are going to run it?
Bryce Brown has been tackled for loss 11 times this year for a total of -38 yards. Contrary to popular belief, almost none of those were his fault.
So for those calling for Chris Polk, I don't think he's going to make a difference. I've even seen the discussion of the need for the Eagles to acquite a "BIG BACK" re-emerge in some circles...please...
Also, as long as Chip continues to run the OZR and RS as an equalizer...Polk is not suited for that either.
Finally, the one thing that stands out from this whole discussion is just how good Lesean McCoy has been and why he should be considered as a legitimate MVP candidate. I don't think the OL is blocking worse for Bryce than they are Lesean. We've all seen how often McCoy is making defenders miss and turning negative yards into positive yards. Bryce can't make up for that, Lesean is. And maybe, just maybe this OL is still not playing quite as well as we all think it is. I take that as encouraging.