Cleveland Browns: Grading the offensive line after Week 1
By Joel W. Cade
The Cleveland Browns paid a lot of money this offseason to revamp their offensive line. Were there any positive returns on their money in Week 1?
The Cleveland Browns offensive line struggled against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday. The good news is that most mistakes and struggles are fixable. The offensive line needs to play together more to develop the cohesion necessary to resolve the issues.
Let’s start with the Browns’ non-existent running game. Browns running backs combined for 25 carries with a 2.3 yards per carry average for a grand total of 57 yards rushing for the game. This is not a good rushing attack. But given that the Steelers only rushed for 2.1 yards per carry, take it in stride.
There were three major issues with the rushing attack that need to be addressed by the offensive line and tight ends.
First, the line needs to double-team key defenders. Not sure what the Browns were thinking but rarely was Cameron Heyward double-teamed. When he was, the Browns had success running the ball. When he was not, the running game was often disrupted by his actions.
Moving forward the Browns need to plan for key defenders that can disrupt the game. It is a good offensive line, but not good enough to allow players like Heyward to be single-blocked.
Second, the tight ends need to block. David Njoku had an extremely rough day blocking in both the run and pass games. He had a holding call and several missed blocks that ended with loss of yardage.
The tight ends need to block for several reasons but the most important for the running game is that their blocks create an edge allowing the backs to get outside. The Browns cannot afford to have Njoku singled up on Terrell Suggs at any point this week.
Third, the line need to figure out the twists and stunts by defensive linemen. Throughout the game in both the run and pass games, stunting and twisting defensive linemen were extremely disruptive. When asked this week why the run game was unproductive, Joel Bitonio stated it correctly when he said:
"Just little things here and there. They did some internal twists and sending backers through where it was one guy. It seems like that is always an issue, but one guy misses a block or the hole is a front side and he hit the back side on that play. Just little things. You can fix those. We haven’t played that much together, but we are going to improve. We are going to work to improve it and we will see. Pittsburgh did a good job of slowing us down Week 1."
Bitonio describes what every fan can see when watching the coaches film. The Browns struggled to pick up twists and stunts which stifled the running game. The Browns will need to improve greatly in this area as the Baltimore Ravens like to run twist stunts with linebackers and defensive linemen.
The passing game was a completely different story. Yes, the Browns gave up seven sacks against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But most of those sacks were avoidable. Only one of those sacks can be laid directly at the feet of the offensive line.
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Running backs and tight ends are responsible for two of those sacks. Finally, DeShone Kizer and the wide receiver room can carry the blame for the other four.
The seven sacks were a team effort. The line had several issues with communication. Kizer was able to bail the line out by scrambling. The running backs also helped pick up the slack for the offensive line.
But it was not all bad. There were times that the offensive line held their blocks for much longer than the design of the play to give Kizer extra time to find an open receiver.
Receivers got open allowing Kizer to deliver the ball on-time and early offsetting some bad line blocks. There were times it looked great, there were times it looked awful.
Moving forward: The good news is that all the issues are fixable for the offensive line. Playing together more as a unit will help clean up the communication issues and the twists and stunts. The offensive line looks like the unit the front office paid for. They need time to mesh together.
Overall: The offensive line pass protected well. The run game needs work, particularly at tight end.
Next: Kizer facing tough task against the Ravens