Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

 About the only thing surprising about how inefficient the Browns’ offense was in the tie with Pittsburgh on Sunday was coach Hue Jackson’s reaction to that fact.

Jackson, who has forgotten more about coaching offense than any of us know, has been around long enough to not be “surprised” that was the case with many factors as the major contributors.

The Browns owned the ball on an incredible 19 occasions (six in the first half, nine in the second half and four in overtime) and ran 85 plays. The defense, meanwhile, was on the field for 19 possessions, six of which ended in Cleveland takeaways, only one of which was converted into points

The best series for the offense, by far, was its first in the second half, The well-coordinated, well-executed 10-play, 86-yard drive took nearly five minutes off the clock and generated more yards than it did in the entire six-possession first half (82).

With the exception of a two-play, 55-yard drive that tied the game with two minutes left in regulation, that was it. For a vast majority of the afternoon, the offense lacked crispness, looked slow and was clearly out of sync. It was almost as though they had never played before as a unit.

Which they hadn’t. Ever.

It was the first time these 11 men were on the field at the same time. That’s right, the Cleveland offensive line had never played a single down as a unit in the exhibition season.

Now how in the world can anyone realistically expect this unit, which relies heavily on timing, rhythm and cohesion, to come out of the chute and play well? It takes years for the big group up front on any team to achieve the necessary level of play associated with success.

How they perform has a domino effect on the performance of the offense as a whole. And it sure showed Sunday against the Steelers.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who played sparingly during the exhibition season, looked rusty and definitely out of rhythm. He was sacked seven times in 47 dropbacks. If it weren’t for his ability to scramble, that number surely would have hit double figures.

When you begin a season with a brand new quarterback, not to mention a whole new system, it’s usually wise to give him as much exposure in the preseason as possible so that when the real games begin, there is a comfort level that theoretically should enable him to have a good chance to succeed.

Taylor’s poor timing with his receivers was a reflection of the absence of reps needed to hone the passing game. He failed way too often to find open receivers and often looked confused. And when he found them, he overthrew them on at least three occasions.

The ball came out of his hand too slowly when he delivered it. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry bailed him out on at least three occasions. Josh Gordon made an exceptional catch on the game-tying touchdown throw.

And yet Jackson was “surprised” at how poorly the offense played? Shocking.

It would be easy to point fingers of guilt at new offensive coordinator Todd Haley. It also would be foolish.

It wasn’t Haley who decided to plug in rookie Desmond Harrison at left tackle, shift Joel Bitonio back to guard and drop rookie Austin Corbett all the way down to inactive status on game day. That one came courtesy of Jackson.

That’s why the running game looked a little ragged; why Taylor looked so bad; why his timing mechanism with his receivers is shot; why the offense failed to take advantage of six takeaways.

Now it is entirely possible this offensive line could eventually develop into something special. But it won’t happen this Sunday in New Orleans. Maybe not even until midseason, if that. It takes time to develop a chemistry up front.

To believe otherwise is folly and Jackson knows that.
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Haley’s offense seemed to do better in the ground game when plays were designed to go north or between the tackles. Zone and trap blocking opened up some holes, but plays that went east or west were not nearly as successful.

This line right now does not have the athleticism or quickness to run plays on the edges. Haley cannot expect his current unit to play nearly as well as the Steelers’ terrific offensive line, with which he worked for the last six seasons before being cashiered at the end of last season.
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Addendum: In praising Myles Garrett for his virtuoso performance against the Steelers in Monday leftovers, I neglected to point out his only negative. And as it turned out, it was a game-changer.

After rookie Genard Avery strip-sacked Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger with a half minute left in overtime and Joe Schobert ran the ball back to the Steelers’ 12-yard line, Garrett needlessly blocked a player in the back in support of Schobert. He didn’t have to because the middle linebacker had already passed him.

So rather than Zane Gonzalez in position to win the game with a 30-yard field goal at that point, the ball was placed a dozen yards back, just far enough back to allow the Steelers’ to block his more difficult 43-yard attempt.

Now maybe a shorter attempt would have been blocked, too. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

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