Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mid-week thoughts

Meandering through the notebook while the Browns practice for their first trip of the season to Baltimore . . .

Much has been discussed about the performance of the offensive line in the season-opening loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday. More than a few fans were disappointed with what transpired.

The good news? The five plug uglies along the line played every snap. No disabling injuries. That’s really good news.

The bad news? They watched as quarterback DeShone Kizer was sacked seven times and running backs Isaiah Crowell and Matthew Dayes had to scrounge for 57 hard-earned yards. That’s really bad news.

One of the reasons for the high sack total was a quarterback playing in his first National Football League game. Either throwing the ball away or more effective scrambling or better pocket awareness could have reduced it. Kizer is smart enough to eventually correct that problem.

The ground game is an entirely different animal. Based solely on this one game, this line is neither physical enough nor athletic enough to produce a high-octane infantry attack.

As strange as this might sound, the unit is better, but not by much, at pass protection. And even then, Kizer could be provided with even better protection by keeping either a tight end or fullback in to block.

The line opened up several holes against the Steelers, but they disappeared quickly while Kizer was handing off to either Crowell or Dayes out of the shogun. The timing was way off from that formation.

Kizer rarely worked from a pro set under center against the Steelers. Fullback Danny Vitale was absent except when the Browns tickled the Pittsburgh goal line in the final minute of the first quarter.

When Kizer sneaked in from the 1 behind blocks from Joel Bitonio and Joe Thomas, it was Vitale who trailed the quarterback and literally shoved him into the end zone from behind.

Coach Hue Jackson throughout training camp told the media he would place a greater emphasis on the ground game. Ostensibly, that meant more reps for Vitale in power run formations.

So why then was Vitale in for only four offensive snaps the entire game? If he is going to be used sparingly, why in the world is he on the roster? He can’t block from the bench.

If you are going to commit to the run game, at least give those who operate it a chance to succeed. Continuously running from the shotgun, at least with this personnel, appears to be futile.

Two more thoughts about the OL: Right tackle Shon Coleman is a decent pass protector. He is not quick enough or athletic enough to be anything more than adequate, at best, in the run game. And center JC Tretter is not strong enough in pass protection. The Steelers several times pushed the pivot right back practically into Kizer’s lap.
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Now on the other side of the ball, it is a totally different story.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ aggressive stance when it comes to the game is such that opposing teams will have problems advancing the ball that way this season. That, of course, is based on just one game.

Shutting down Le’Veon Bell of the Steelers was a significant accomplishment and forced Ben Roethlisberger to turn to the weakest area on the Cleveland defense. The secondary.

The line did its job well. Playing a very good Pittsburgh offensive line to a virtual standoff is quite a feat. And since consistency is the hallmark of any good defense, the next litmus test lies dead ahead Sunday in Baltimore.

What made the performance against the Steelers revealing was the absence of rookie Myles Garrett, who was expected to figure prominently in Williams’ confusing schemes. As a result, the defensive boss rushed only three men more than he usually would. Even then, the Pittsburgh run game was stopped cold.

That’s one reason Roethlisberger was sacked just once and sported a relatively clean uniform at the end of the game. Another was the quick-developing plays in the Pittsburgh game plan with regard to the forward pass. 

In order to keep everyone as fresh as possible, Williams rotated starters Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib and Trevon Coley with Danny Shelton, Larry Ogunjobi, Nate Orchard and Tyrone Holmes and, to a much lesser extent, Jamie Meder, who was in on only 10 snaps.

With Garrett out for at least the next month, those eight can expect a lot of playing time against the next drive or six rivals.

By causing enough havoc up front, this group kept Steelers offensive linemen from getting to the second level and taking out linebackers. It enabled linebackers Joe Schobert, Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey, who run-blitzed a lot, to be in position to make plays at and sometimes behind the line of scrimmage.

Games, as has been mentioned here many times, are generally won and lost in the trenches. Right now, the Browns’ offensive trench is in need of repair. The trench on defense is hurting somewhat physically (i.e. Garrett), but in much better shape than the offense.

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