Cleveland Browns: Week 3 offensive line report card
By Joel W. Cade
The Cleveland Browns offensive line was supposed to be an asset against the Indianapolis Colts. Did the line come through in the clutch?
The Cleveland Browns laid an egg last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. The entire offense struggled. The receivers dropped passes and struggled to get open. Quarterback DeShone Kizer played better but struggled to with accuracy. It did not help that the Browns offensive line regressed when dealing with blitzes.
In this week’s look at the play of the offensive line, we switch gears to look at third-down efficiency, a breakdown of the running game and, as always, an analysis of every sack given up in the game.
The good news is that the Browns only surrendered two sacks last week. The bad news is that the protection given by the offensive line was bad enough to merit four or five sacks on top of the two that was officially recorded.
Sack 1: The first sack came on a 3rd and 13. The Browns offensive line missed a twist stunt by the defensive line that lead to pressure coming up the middle. The pressure forced Kizer out of the pocket where he was caught from behind.
This sack belongs to the offensive line. Picking up stunts is difficult but one must be looking for them on long third downs.
Sack 2: The second sack came on a 2nd and 19. The Browns ran a slow developing route combination which the offensive line blocked very well. Kizer dropped back, scanned the field for an open receiver then took off to make something happen with his legs. He was caught from behind and sacked.
The offensive line is off the hook for this one. Receivers must do a better job getting open for Kizer to throw the ball.
Pass protection was a struggle all game for the Browns. The guards and center regressed in stunt recognition and blitz pickup. The worst thing an interior lineman can do is give up pressure up the middle. That is where sacks and quarterback injuries occur (just ask former Browns quarterback Josh McCown).
The pressure up the middle was complemented by the continued struggles of starting right tackle Shon Coleman with leverage and balance. Although Coleman is an excellent run blocker, he is learning on the job in pass protection. He continues to struggle with his kickback in establishing a low center of gravity (bending at the knees not waist) and balance when engaging defenders. This is not a major concern but he needs to improve.
The concern is the pressure up the middle. Both the interior line and Coleman gave up pressure up the middle. This simply must stop for the health of Browns quarterbacks.
The Browns are seriously struggling on third down. There are many factors that play into the struggles. Among a number is reasons, the offensive line is struggling on third down.
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The run/pass breakdown on third down is as one would expect of a team playing from behind. The Browns threw the ball 11 times out of 12 third downs. The one run play was a beautifully executed speed option on 3rd and 2. It was that speed option that was running back Isaiah Crowell’s only major gain in a zone run scheme (more on this later).
Nine of 12 third-down plays were considered third-and-long. Playing in third-and-long with a predictable pass scenario puts the entire offensive in a difficult position.
The defense can bring a blitz while disguising coverage. As a result, the offensive line is in a position to react to the defense instead of dictating terms.
The offensive line gave up pressure on seven of 11 pass attempts on third down. This is not a formula for success. At the minimum, the Browns must try to balance out the run/pass breakdown on third down to give the offense a fighting chance.
Last week I wrote an article detailing my suggestions for jump starting the running game. I argued that Crowell was better when given defined holes with a running start. He struggled with zone schemes. The opposite case was made for Duke Johnson who thrives in zone schemes but lacks the power to be successful in a power run scheme.
Interestingly, a breakdown of Crowell’s rushing attempts against Indianapolis support my suggestions. Of Crowell’s 12 rushing attempts, seven were downhill runs to a defined hole. In those seven attempts he gained 28 yards for an average of four yards an attempt.
Conversely, Crowell had five rushing attempts in zone schemes. He gained 17 yards in those attempts. One of his longer gains came on the speed option play with Kizer. Take that play out, he gained 13 yards on four attempts for just over three yards a carry. Most of which came on one run for eight yards.
The best way to use Crowell is in a power run scheme with defined holes. Crowell will often overrun holes and miss cutbacks in the zone scheme. The inability to thrive in a zone scheme may be Crowell’s undoing as a running back. He needs to make strides in this area.
Duke Johnson had a phenomenal game at running back. He had two carries on the day. The first was a buck sweep that gained 19 yards for a touchdown. The second run was in a zone scheme for four yards. His sample size is too small to confirm or deny my suggestions. But it can be stated that Johnson’s vision makes him a better option than Crowell right now, particularly in the zone based running scheme.
The offensive line struggled this week. It regressed in areas of pass protection, particularly on third-and-long. The running game was much improved. There was balance early (before going down 28-7) in the game which played into the offensive line’s favor.
Moving forward, the Browns need to figure out the stunt game. They cannot continue to give up pressure up the middle. Shon Coleman needs to work on his balance and bend during his kickbacks in pass protection.
Next: Talking the Week 3 loss in the DPD Podcast
The running game is coming along, they just need to stay in the game to maximize it.