Week 1 Preview: OLine Versus Defensive Front 7s


For every Cleveland Browns game this year we will preview the game by looking at how specific units match-up. While it is fun to compare the teams wide receivers to each other, we are far more interested in how the Browns defensive backfield matches up with the opposing receivers.  For our Week 1 Preview we will look at the offensive lines versus the defensive front 7s, pass catchers against their defenders, both sides of the running game and the quarterbacks versus the defense as a whole. We continue our series today looking at the Offensive Lines versus the Front 7s. Catch up on our series here:

Pass Catchers Versus Defenders

Pittsburgh Offensive Line

Kelvin Beachum (LT), Ramon Foster (LG), Maurkice Pouncey (C), David DeCastro (RG) and Marcus Gilbert (RT)

Cleveland Front 7

Defensive Line: Armonty Bryant and Phil Taylor (DEs) and Atybah Rubin (NT)

Linebackers: Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger (OLBs) and Karlos Dansby and Craig Robertson (ILBs)

The Steelers have 2 first round picks, Pouncy and DeCastro, on their offensive line as well as Gilbert as a second rounder. Yet it is 7th round pick Beachum that could be the deciding factor for the Steelers. Beachum is the smallest starting LT in the NFL this year. The 3rd year player has experience all over the offensive line and beat out ex-Buckeye Mike Adams to win the starting spot. Beachum wins with speed and technique over brute power and size.

The other lineman, Foster, was undrafted but has provided solid if unspectacular play on the line. Pouncy is well regarded in the NFL and Gilbert has established himself on the right side. The Steelers offensive line hasn’t put it together over the years but this might be the best line that they have had. It all depends on the left side.

Aug 18, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin (10) rolls out as Cleveland Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo (51) chases during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

For the Browns the front 7 not only is talented but is full of depth. The Browns will be able to rotate 7 starting level players on the defensive line as well as having a starting level OLB and ILB, Jabaal Sheard and Christian Kirksey, to rotate in with the linebackers. Rubin and Taylor switched spots in Mike Pettine’s defense, which should play to each player’s strength much better. Rubin can anchor the line and take on blockers while Taylor can be a force in the backfield. Armonty Bryant has shot to the top of the depth chart with his effort, use of his hands and speed.

The linebacking corp has rushers all over the field outside of Robertson. Dansby and Kirksey can rush from the inside, or stunt with the outside backers, to create disruption and confusion for the Steelers offensive line. Expect the Browns to pressure from multiple angles and spots, but to especially try to disrupt the left side of the offensive line.

The little nugget that gets missed a bit is that Ben Roethlisberger‘s ability to avoid tackles and shake off would be sacks can often make the offensive line look better. The Browns will not only have to get to Big Ben but find a way to bring him down.

Advantage – Browns – The Browns depth and talent should have a clear advantage over the offensive line of the Steelers. Even though this is the best line the Steelers have had in years, the Browns creative and relentless pressure should create havoc. Getting Big Ben down will be a different story.

Cleveland Offensive Line

Joe Thomas (LT), Joel Bitonio (LG), Alex Mack (C), John Greco (RG) and Mitchell Schwartz (RT)

Pittsburgh Front 7

Defensive Line: Cam Thomas and Cameron Heyward (DEs) and Steve McLendon

Linebackers: Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones (OLBs) and Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons (ILBs)

Opposite of the Steelers line is the Browns line. Their strength is on the left side with Thomas and rookie Bitonio. Thomas and Mack provide the veteran skill that has helped Bitonio excel in his first off-season in the NFL. The Browns, with their Zone Blocking Scheme, have 3 players there that can make a huge impact in a positive way. Thomas may be aging but continues to be one of the best in the league.

Schwartz on the other hand has been a turnstile in the pre-season with no sign of that stopping at anytime. Greco has been adequate but has never excelled in a years on the field. He can get pushed back by bigger players, which creates problems on zone runs to the outside. Schwartz has been okay in run blocking but struggles with his first step in pass protection. Quick edge defenders can get past him on the outside by dipping their shoulder. If he sets the edge well he is susceptible to a swim move back inside. Expect Schwartz to be picked on by defensive coordinators all year long.

For the Steelers the defense is in transition. The defensive line has never been the focal point of the defense and has 3 starters who will do well to hold the point of attack to free up the linebacking corp. The line also has some ability to drop back in the zone blitz scheme the Steelers run. The two Cams, Thomas and Heyward, have developed to the point that they can make some plays in the backfield and cause problems in the running game.

Aug 18, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz (72) lines up against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The linebackers are where the biggest transition is. Timmons is the lone big name remaining. Many around the NFL are high on Worilds, but he hasn’t proved a ton, even with his 8 sack season last year. Worilds and Jones are shorter than most pass rushing OLBs but use their leverage to get around linemen. Jones rookie season, 1 sack, was a disappointment but the Steelers hope their system will help get him on track.

Buckeye fans know all about Shazier. He is a dynamic player who plays at a lower weight but can make plays all over the field. Much like Kirksey, Shazier is expected to make huge plays as a rookie. Shazier can rush the passer and play backs and tight ends out of the backfield. Running stunts on the right side of the Browns line with Shazier and Worilds could create problems for the Browns in passing down. The Steelers lack size to compete against some power running games but their speed comes in handy against the Zone scheme of the Browns.

Advantage – Steelers – While the Browns line could be a strength of their team, the weakness at right tackle has been obvious. The Steelers will look to exploit that. This is close to a push but with Timmons and the Dick LeBeau scheme gives the Steelers the slight advantage.

Overall – 2 – 2 – So far we are tied in our match-ups. We still have a few to go before Sunday’s game. While many focus on the Browns lack of receivers it seems like the two rivals may just be evenly matched. The difference could be at the QB position.

What do you think of the advantages we have handed out so far?