Cleveland Browns: Week 5 offensive line report
By Joel W. Cade
The Cleveland Browns offensive line is starting to play like the group the front office paid for. Unfortunately, it did not translate into a victory. Part of the line’s success has to do with the ever-evolving strategies defenses are employing against the Browns.
The Cleveland Browns offensive line faced a very good New York Jets front seven last week. The Jets featured several excellent defensive linemen who create havoc in the interior.
The Jets defense is weak on the edge. It came as no surprise that head coach Hue Jackson attacked the Jets defense at the edge.
The game plan changed last week for the Browns. Instead of being a pass heavy offense, the Browns came out determined to run the football.
Of special note is that quarterback DeShone Kizer played under center a lot more in this game than in weeks past. Playing under center was needed due to running back Isaiah Crowell being far more effective with his vision, balance and ability to break tackles with the quarterback under center. From the shotgun formation, Crowell seems less sure of his reads and looks confused.
Playing Kizer under center was the smart move for the running game. Giving Crowell a running start toward the hole allowed him to be more effective. He saw holes better, he was able to make people miss and broke tackles.
The Jets countered this move by playing a lot of eight-man boxes including a lot of 46 Bear defenses when Browns quarterbacks were under center. Playing the run first, the Jets often blitzed and anticipated rushing attacks.
The Browns countered this by calling play-action passes. Wow! The play action passes were wide open against the Jets. There were receivers running free on zone and getting great separation against man on play-action passes.
Unfortunately, unstable quarterback play kept the offense from capitalizing on the open receivers. Kizer struggled under center to read defenses and deliver the ball with anticipation. He wanted to wait until his receiver had made his break or was wide open before throwing the ball. In the NFL, that is too late.
Kizer’s struggles under center were hampering the offense’s ability to use the running game to set up the passing attack. When Jackson put in quarterback Kevin Hogan, there was a noticeable difference.
Hogan could throw the ball with anticipation within the timing of the play. It made a huge difference in the passing game. Hogan connected with several receivers for chunk plays. His ability to throw the ball in rhythm also caused the Jets to hesitate on running plays which opened up bigger holes in the running game.
Changing gears to the passing game. The first three weeks of the season, teams were blitzing DeShone Kizer hoping to pressure the rookie into mistakes. Week 4 saw the Bengals rush four and drop seven into zone or a man-zone combination.
Week 5 saw the Jets continue this trend. They primarily rushed three and dropped eight into coverage when the Browns lined up in shotgun in obvious passing situations.
The Browns exploited this trend in the running game. With Kizer, the Browns ran option plays designed to put edge defenders in a bind. The plays were effectively conceived and called. They should have been successful against the Jets, except the Browns had poor execution. Kizer’s poor pitch to Crowell in the red zone is a perfect example of this situation.
Fortunately, Kevin Hogan was able run the read option effectively enough to take advantage of the Jets’ defensive strategy. By dropping eight, the Jets opened themselves to big plays in the running game against edge defenders.
Kevin Hogan effectively made them pay for dropping that many defenders into zone coverage.
The tight ends are starting to block. Tight ends Seth DeValve and David Njoku have emerged as the Browns most effective blocking tight ends. They are starting to block on the edge against defensive ends and outside linebackers. This is significant because poor tight end blocking has severely hampered the Browns rushing attack. As a bonus, those same tight ends are starting to emerge as serious receiving threats downfield.
Shon Coleman continues to steadily improve at right tackle. His long, hard journey to the NFL is an inspiring story. His hard work to become the starting right tackle is paying off. His run blocking is extremely impressive. Now he is starting to figure out pass protection. If he can put it all together, Coleman could become an extremely effective right tackle.
The Browns face a great front seven versus the Houston Texans this Sunday. Even though they will be missing two key defenders, the Browns will have their hands full. Shon Coleman will have the toughest challenge against former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.
Next: Browns growing familiar with rookie first-round quarterbacks
The offense can thrive under Kevin Hogan in Houston. It will take shrewd play calling but this game will be extremely exciting.