Cleveland Browns offensive line passes tough Denver test
The Cleveland Browns offensive line faced some of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL. They took some hits but survived, eking out a 17-16 victory.
The Cleveland Browns offensive line faced some of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL in the persons of perennial All-Pro Von Miller, and rookie star Bradley Chubb. The Browns took some hits but survived, eking out a 17-16 victory.
The Browns were coming off an amazing streak after the installation of new head coach Gregg “Double G” Williams and Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator, with only three sacks given up in five games. This after the team of Hue “Hit the Road” Jackson and Todd “The Comet” Haley, led the Browns to 33 sacks allowed in the first eight games.
However, the legion of Browns critics might argue that most of the recent great numbers were posted against poor competition. For example, the Cincinnati Bengals were decimated by injury and were further handicapped by having Hit the Road Jackson helping the Bengals defense, which probably made them even worse. For that reason, many critics were of the opinion that the OL might come back to earth versus Sunday’s opponent, the Denver Broncos.
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Though overall it’s been a down season for the Broncs, the pass rush has been outstanding, led by outside linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Prior to the Cleveland game, Miller had 13.5 sacks and B-Chubb added another 12. Miller was third in the NFL, and B-Chubb was seventh, making them the top duo in the league.
Overall the Broncos ranked fifth in the NFL in sacks with a total of 40 and added two sacks versus the Browns, including the one from Miller that established him as the number one sack leader in Broncos history. Hence there was some legitimate fear that this could be a game in which the Broncos pass rush could really get to Mayfield and post several sacks.
There was a three-game stretch earlier this year in which the OL allowed five sacks in each of those three games. Some observers were expecting the Browns OL to be dominated by the Denver pass rush.
That did not happen. On a night in which Baker Mayfield threw one INT and nearly threw a few more, the OL survived a difficult test. Giving up two sacks is not great, but it is far from disastrous.
The first sack came in the second quarter when Adam Gotsis was able to get past Joel Bitonio as Mayfield attempted to move up in the pocket. The second sack, to Von Miller, came off an inside move in which Miller beat right guard Kevin Zeitler. That sack, incidentally, established a new all-time Bronco career record for sacks.
It wasn’t that the Broncos overwhelmed the Browns line with a bull rush. The Browns OL showed that they have the ability to respond to the Broncos’ challenge. Also, the tackles seemed to hold up their end of the bargain. It was right tackle Chris Hubbard and new left tackle Greg Robinson that everyone was most concerned about as they faced Miller and Bradley Chubb, but they survived and for the most part, protected the Browns franchise quarterback.
Joel Cade of Dawg Pound Daily has previously pointed out that the new regime has changed to a dish protection scheme, in which the linemen engage quickly and do not drop back as deep as in the usual scheme. That shallow dropback looks dish-shaped on the blackboard; hence the term.
In discussing the Browns-Broncos game, Cade observed “The Broncos ran a lot of Tackle End games. That is the weakness of dish protection schemes. I would expect the Bengals to do a lot of that next week. It’s difficult to pass off defenders without space.” In other words, when the defensive line stunts and change places, it can be difficult for the OL to make adjustments on the fly. The Broncos sought to exploit that potential versus the Browns, but for the most part, were held in check.
Robinson has been playing very well since becoming the starting left tackle in game nine, but the Broncos game was not his best. There was a crucial missed block on Adam Gotsis, which allowed Gotsis to make the tackle versus Nick Chubb on the critical fourth and one. In addition, an earlier holding call on Robinson wiped out a long gain by Chubb.
The bottom line, however, is that the Browns tackles held the two monster pass rushers in check. Bradley Chubb finished the game with four tackles and zero sacks, and Miller had only two tackles, and a sack versus Zeitler, as mentioned above. That is acceptable given the damage that the Broncos have done to other quarterbacks this year.
As for the running game, the Browns held things together N-Chubb averaged 5.0 yards per carry on 20 carries for 100 yards. Duke Johnson added another 28 yards on four carries. The line deserves some credit for this performance, though N-Chubb earned a lot of it by himself. Pro Football Focus tweeted the following:
"“Nick Chubb, the NFL’s leader in average yards after contact per attempt, was no easier to take down against the Broncos. Chubb forced five missed tackles and earned 79 of his 100 yards after contact (3.95 YAC average).”"
So, on a night in which only 17 points were scored, the OL was good enough to protect the passer and allow the running game to do its thing. They passed this week’s test but did not really ace it. The post-Jackson data sample is now 6 games, including games against Houston and now Denver which have highly regarded pass rushes.
The total over that period is 5 sacks, which is one of the best in the NFL. Were it not for the terrible first half performance, we would be raving about the OL this year. As it is, perhaps the fans are hung over from the mega sack days for the previous coaching staff, and thus they have been slow to realize what is happening.
Put it this way, if this is the worse performance we see from the offensive line, then the Fat Kids are pretty good, including not only the guys on the interior (guards Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler plus center J. C. Tretter) but also tackles Chris Hubbard and Greg Robinson.