As impressive as he is against the run, Zach Brown is not known for his smothering coverage. Up until last year, it was fair to say he was a liability in that regard. Then came the 2018 season, in which Brown posted his best coverage grade by far. His 84.4 coverage grade ranked him 7th overall at the position. He did not allow a single touchdown in coverage and limited opposing receivers to a total of 283 yards on 45 targets. In combination with his already stellar run defense, that number would slot him in as the 3rd best linebacker in the league according to PFF.
Is it fair to expect a repeat of last year? Probably not. However, Brown made some impressive strides and definitely showed enough to inspire confidence going forward. The main reason why he has struggled in the past is lateral mobility. An expert at straight line bursts, Brown is susceptible to tangling his feet against more nimble receivers. In Washington, he was asked to play both man and zone. Any NFL defense will deploy both, but the Redskins truly make an effort to mix it up.
In reality, Brown probably won’t see much play on obvious passing downs. A combination of Kamu Grugier-Hill and L.J. Fort will likely take his place. KGH is a much better cover linebacker and I’m excited to see what Fort can do. The forgotten man Paul Worrilow struggled in coverage in Atlanta and is a much better run defender, but has the acumen to be accountable against the pass. Still, when Zach Brown is stuck out there to cover, there isn’t as much cause for concern as you may think.
In zone last season, he displays some good technique and patience. Truthfully, he can get caught too close to the line of scrimmage allowing the pass to go over his head. Generally where this comes to light is when Brown is asked to cover the hook zone and gets caught flat-footed with his eyes in the backfield. This is especially true when asked to bail immediately from the line of scrimmage. Again, patience is the key. If he can learn to stay deep in his zone, and moving, he is a nightmare coming downhill. Truly a man that will strike fear into the hearts of receivers looking for passes across the middle, if he can learn to trust his instincts, his edge will be a welcome addition to this defense. Overall, his athletic makeup projects a much better zone defender than man. This is also where he made most of his strides in coverage last season.
This bodes well for Zach Brown’s seamless addition to the defense. The Eagles like to attack the quarterback in the passing game. That means playing a ton of Cover 3 and Cover 3 Robber. On those plays, linebackers are asked to rush the line of scrimmage looking for run and play bail technique if the quarterback shows pass.
Slower run defenders simply cannot be counted upon to react quick enough and do not have the speed to settle back into their zones. Brown, on the other hand, should have no trouble. This technique will also limit the situations where Brown is asked to backpedal into the mid-to-deep thirds from a hook zone. It also allows him to react quickly and curb the number of times he has to stay patient in a stationary position. Keeping him active and on the move will help mask his occasional passivity in zone coverage. In Cover 3 Robber, that is even truer. With a safety roaming the middle of the field, Brown’s zones will be flattened and put a ceiling on his deep coverage.
It remains to be seen how much he’s improved covering the flats, something he was not asked to do all that much in the nation’s capital. His coverage overall was much better last season, which is some cause for hope. Still, coming from a 3-4 defense, that is another area that is somewhat uncharted territory for the new addition. His speed should lend itself well, but he may be limited by his lateral movement against the angle and read routes.