Can the Cleveland Browns protect Robert Griffin III in his return to action this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals?
Protection has been an issue all year for the Cleveland Browns. Early in the season, individual performances by the offensive line created unnecessary pressure on quarterbacks.
Austin Pasztor struggled mightily against speed rushers who could convert speed into power. He was unable to get set quick enough to establish a strong base to bring the action to the defender instead of receiving the blow. This made Pasztor a reactionary in pass protection instead of the aggressor.
Cameron Erving has looked lost all season. Easily confused by defensive fronts, Erving found himself out of position using terrible technique. Unlike Pasztor, he struggles with effectively using the techniques necessary to succeed at center.
The center position is different from every other offensive line position. A center must use independent hand movement to compensate for snapping the ball. The “off hand” must do the work of two hands. Unfortunately, Erving waits until both hands are available before engaging the defender. Like Pasztor, this makes him passive in pass protection instead of the aggressor.
Beyond individual performances, the offensive line as a unit has struggled to protect any of the starting quarterbacks this season. The line has been unable to gel as a unit due to massive amounts of turnover along the line. With season-ending injuries to Joel Bitonio and John Greco combined with Cam Erving’s prolonged absence, the offensive line has yet to find a stable group that can begin to work together.
The interior of the line is new once again this week. Spencer Drango has begun to hold his own at left guard. Cam Erving is still struggling and needs a veteran presence somewhere in the offense to help him. New this week is Johnathan Cooper at right guard replacing the injured John Greco. Cooper is a relative unknown with the unit of five. He has shown the ability to pass block but he struggles in the running game. How he will fit in with the group of five remains a mystery.
The key to great offensive line play is not individual performances. The key is how these five individuals can function as one. The five offensive linemen each have a unique skill set they must all work together to use against the defenders. Figuring out each skill set and how to use it is a time-consuming task.
And time is a luxury the Browns do not have.
However, there is hope for the Cleveland Browns this Sunday. Should Robert Griffin III start, there is no official announcement at the time of this writing, he will bring a quality of leadership that has been missing thus far.
The impact of the endless string of starting quarterbacks the Browns have employed extends beyond the wide receivers. It greatly impacts offensive line play.
The offensive line needs a steady voice at quarterback to set their game plan. They must know where the quarterback likes to set up. Where does he like to throw the ball, to the left or right? Will he change the protections at the line of scrimmage (Josh McCown – yes, Cody Kessler – no)? Does the line have a belief that if they screw up the quarterback can compensate for their mistake (or do they have the added pressure of needing to be perfect)?
Robert Griffin III provides a familiar voice and way of doing things to this offensive line. He took all the reps in the spring and training camp. He was in control of the total offense which will allow for a greater diversity of play-calling.
In short, his presence will take pressure off the offensive line. With less pressure they should be able to play better as a unit, as they can relax knowing there is a familiar person under center and a confidence that this guy can get the job done.
This week Griffin will need to shake some rust off. His presence may not lead to a win, but it will greatly help the offensive line play as a unit and progress.