July 29, 2014

Browns Offensive Line Dismantled Once Again, But Why?

The 2011 NFL season for one Cleveland Browns franchise has been nothing shy of perpetual chicken-egg debates surrounded by a (once again) disappointed franchise and a local media scene left in bewilderment.  Is Colt McCoy the answer? How can he be when he has no time to throw?  He wouldn’t need time if he had playmakers – Peyton Manning makes his receivers better! He wouldn’t need playmakers if he could read blitz packages or had better plays drawn up. But what about if the plays were just executed better?

And so on…and so on…

This past Sunday, at least for one day with Colt McCoy playing in front of a hometown crowd, we saw a quarterback who withstood everything thrown his way and looked increasingly more comfortable doing so.  The unfortunate part, as has been well-documented over the past 20-or-so hours, was the final score of what amounted to be yet another dismal performance by the offense which hs is supposed to lead.

**

In 2006, Cleveland Browns quarterback Charlie Frye found himself on a mid-week injury report with “general soreness” listed as his ailment.  In a day where the list of bruised and battered within a professional sport often needs a medical translator (akin to Montario Hardesty’s “moderate tear of a medial gastroc”), being shelved due to extreme discomfort thanks to being manhandled by the Baltimore Ravens ever-physical defense is quite the rarity.

In Cleveland, however, little is rare.  Where the Hillis’ and Hardesty’s  of the world receive physical therapy and potential rehabilitation stints, Frye’s treatment involved a methodicaly, snail-paced walk to the ice bath where his musculature would be submerged for several minutes – what would undoubtedly feel like an eternity – with the goal of being able to stand stay upright as much as possible the following week.

It is difficult to envision much of a scenario different from that this week, five seasons later, as Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was on the receiveing end of several high-impact collisions this past Sunday.  Sacked four times, hit and hurried many more, McCoy was responsible for the football through 24 minutes of the Browns possessing the football. Receiving snaps, back-pedling three, five or – gulp – seven steps, only to find countless defenders screaming relentlessly toward him, mostly untouched, destined to turn the quarterback clad in all white into a human golf ball, crushed at a 10-degree angle off of a navy blue, white and red driver.

Someone needs to check the field turf at Reliant Stadium, because there is bound to be a mirror-like “1″ and “2″ near the Houston 29-yard line as the second-year quarterback was plugged into the ground like a mid-April range ball, complete with the orange markings to ensure he can be located in the snow.   He would subsequently be bailed out by rookie receiver Greg Little who would make an athletic catch, leading to the touchdown pass to Joshua Cribbs -  not exactly commonplace when it comes to the men in orange helmets.  The mere fact that the six-foot, 215-pound quarterback was able to peel himself off of ground without a spatula was even more surprising.

**

In search of answers, WFNY reached out to former Pro Bowl center and Ohio State product LeCharles Bentley who, like most of us, watched and analyzed Sunday’s debacle in Houston from the confines of his home.  What he saw witnessed was no different from what our eyes were forced to endure, but his experience in the trenches allowed for some additional commentary to the issues currently being sustained by the Browns’ offensive line.

To Bentley, the group of men tasked with the responsibilities of not only creating holes for their tailbacks but protecting their quarterback are marred with three things: the inconsistencies at right tackle, schematic imbalance, and the complete lack of fear in the Browns’ passing game.

Even when Tony Pashos has been healthy, which has been few and far between, the bookend oppsite of All-Pro Joe Thomas remains incrasingly weak.  Offensive lines thrive on continuity; the right tackle position for the Cleveland Browns has been everything but.  Browns general manager Tom Heckert has used mid-round draft selections in back-to-back seasons to bolster an otherwise aging offensive line, but even with Shaun Lauvao (who planted a nice headbutt on Houston’s Brian Cushing) in his second season with the team, the Browns essentially have two rookies attempting to block opposing rushers in a pass-first offense.

Compounding these issues is the continual use of the double-tight end sets, bringing additional defenders into the box.  When additional tight ends are brought in to help a struggling offensive line block, there are defenders that end up being unaccounted for from their offensive counterparts – the responsibility then comes down to the running back recognizing where he needs to be from a blitz standpoint.  Couple this with the fact that the Browns are now using their fourth- and fifth-string running backs, both of whom have little-to-no experience with this team’s offense, and McCoy finds himself in situations like the one described above where his teammates need a spade shovel to remove his remains from the depths of the earth.  Earlier in the same contest, Browns running back Chris Ogbonnaya opted to block an invisible defender behind Shaun Lauvao on the right side of the line; the Texans countered with a linebacker streaking through the left side of the interior, meeting McCoy in un-blocked fashion, sending his corpse flailing into the ether.

Which all boils down to the skill players who surround McCoy.  The Texans bolster two strong running backs, but they’re aided by the zone-blocking scheme that has made Pro Bowlers out of countless ball-carriers – the School of Shanahan.  The Browns’ running game, conversely, is more power-based and requires increased skill from the man carrying the ball – recognizing holes, thinking multiple steps ahead.  The team had something that resembled this last season with Peyton Hillis, and had flashes of it in 2011 with a then-healthy Hardesty.  Needless to say, the talent gap widened this past Sunday with practice squad players getting the start, looking lost and lifeless from the onset.

“If you’re going to have a donkey in the backfield,” said Bentley, “you can line him up behind five stallions, but it’s still going to make everyone look like a jackass.”

Not having a true tailback allowed the Texans defenders to creep even further into the box, daring the Browns to throw the ball in the face of blitzing defenders.  With the Browns seemingly refusing to use Football 101 concepts like “hot route” receivers or sliding blitz protection, McCoy is left on an island with defenders being the only ones with access to bridges.

Browns head coach Pat Shurmur confirmed this sentiment in his Monday press conference, stating that the blitz pick-up was properly schemed, but his young, inexperienced players need to do a better job of executing, thus saving his quarterback from being dismembered in front of thousands of fans in his home state.

**

When struggles continue to mount during what is otherwise a developmental season for McCoy, the offensive line becomes a focal point, allowing for increased scrutiny and hand-wringing.  Bentley assures WFNY that both Joe Thomas and Mack are doing everything they can in their power to ensure that No. 12 can leave each game with his helmet on straight.  Sure, every player has good days and bad days – Thomas even had a rare false start this past Sunday.  But with a team completely absent of play-makers, opposing defenses have been afforded the opportunity to go all-out against an otherwise helpless quarterback.

Last season, despite the perpetual revolving door on the right side of the line, the Browns managed to bolster a physical run game behind Thomas, Mack and Eric Steinbach manning the left side of the line.  Having a talented back like Hillis running the ball with power and efficiency made two of those men Pro Bowlers with the other just being on the outside looking in.  With Hillis now succumbing to injuries and a team that has had to throw the ball more than they would like due to being on the wrong side of the scoreboard early, the focus has turned to an offensive line that is merely being overpowered by opposing defenders.

The Browns players were not afforded a Victory Monday this week due to the fact that they were not only beaten, but their offense was rendered useless against a team which happened to be without it’s top pass-rusher.  While the rest of the team likely took to the film room before continuing on with the rest of their day, you can bet that McCoy stuck around for some quality time with the giant stainless steel vat of ice located in the trainer’s room.  After the beating he took this past Sunday – one that continued to leave more questions that answers about the players, the coaching staff and the city - the goal is to conquer what will undoubtedly be immense soreness as the team prepares to host the St. Louis Rams.

With Hillis and Hardesty likely missing next week’s game as well, the grass isn’t looking much greener.  Unfortunately, if this is the case, McCoy’s jersey will not be any less.

(Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

  • oribiasi

    A more competent/capable QB (Rodgers, Manning, et al) can make a poor team/receiving corps) look better, plain/simple. If he can make long-distance throws accurately and multiple times, it can force the defense to commit more players to protect the passing routes, which logically leads to less pass-rushing and so less work for an offensive line and therefore, finally, more protection for the QB. That’s how it works. Throw in solid RB production which causes LBs to think twice about rushing or dropping back to pass protect, and you have the recipe for offensive success.

    If the OL is a swinging door all around, then all of that can be thrown out of the window, but I don’t think its that bad for the Browns. Where it is bad is at the skill positions, QB, WR and RB. They are abysmal; McCoy can’t throw the ball where it needs to be; the WRs aren’t where they need to be and the RBs we are “starting” are pathetic right now.

    When we had a strong RB available, what did Shurmur do? Did he give him enough carries to make a difference? No, of course not, because he chose to run his insanely predictable WCO. And the results are what we have seen thus far.

  • Eric G

    Painfully accurate

  • stin4u

    Nice write up, Scott.

    I agree that McCoy looked a little better yesterday, a bit more confident maybe. The line clearly didn’t do him any favors, the play where Brooks Reed came off the edge and did his best impression of a Mack truck on Colt’s blind side made me sick to my stomach. There are plenty of weak points on this team but I think the o-line (justifiably or not) have to take a huge chunk of the responsibility for the offensive struggles.

  • Subadai

    Man… that was a lot of words. You gotta go easy on us after games like we has yesterday.

  • EdgewaterJoe

    Riiiiiggggghhhhhttttt … Peyton Manning in his prime could make chicken salad with receivers that can’t separate, fifth- and sixth-string running backs, an turnstile on his blind side, and a system he is trying to learn on the fly in under six months.

    And people wonder why Cleveland fans get laughed at …

  • Shamrock

    How are McKinnie and Gurode doing in Baltimore? Oh that’s right the Browns had better guys.

    The problem now is not only do you need a RT and RG but who knows if Steinbach returns 100%. Add in the worst WR corps in the league and potentially no RB and what a mess. Nice job H&H!

  • oribiasi

    @ EdgewaterJoe: Look at Indianpolis now. It’s the SAME GD TEAM without Manning…and they are 0-EVERYTHING. No major injuries to the offense except Manning.

    Explain that, please.

  • Harv 21

    Here’s what I saw: D-linemen and blitzers, over and over again, almost beating McCoy to the spot he intended to set and throw. Meanwhile, Schaub standing back at his set spot, waiting and waiting until he looked bored.

    Here’s what I read: Texan defenders saying our (lack of) blocking cost them some plays as their reactions were slowed by their shock.

    Look, anyone that proclaims that they’ve known all along that Colt will never be a legit NFL QB certainly knows a lot more than me. (and were you saying so last year, after the Pittsburgh, New England and NO games?). Right now this offense has such a multiplicity of issues crashing down on it – injuries, huge talent holes, an unfamiliar system, over-their head coaches -I for one can’t tell where one problem stops and the others starts. To solve it will require teasing apart the problems and trying to analyze each. Just screaming that it’s all this, or all that, or all some third thing is not consistent with what I’m seeing.

    Everyone is sick to death of waiting. But we’re gonna wait some more.

  • ben

    @Harv – I agree. With the increasing number of “things gone wrong” on our offense, it’s difficult (and impractical) to identify the scapegoat for whom the media and fans are dying.

  • Josh Stein

    @7 – that’s the key. Peyton Manning is proving himself the NFL’s MVP this year because, well, look at the Colts without him. The Browns’ skill slot guys sadly aren’t much worse than what Indy has, if they are worse (I do like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, but the others are a whole pot of ‘meh’).

    It doesn’t help that the other teams pretty clearly know what’s coming. You can’t blitz that many times perfectly with the guy always hitting the QB unless you have a strong idea what’s coming.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Thanks, Stin

  • Big Z

    Ugh… Imagine how Pittsburgh and Baltimore will treat our O-line.

  • BillTheHammer

    Sorry to get off subject but I had a guy from the Browns call me right now and wanted to sell me season tickets. I should have told him he deserves the day off with extra pay.

  • mgbode

    @Shamrock – explain again why McKinnie would accept coming to the Browns when he stated he wanted to play for a contender; not to mention that the Ravens are the NFL’s ‘the U’ program (he’s an alum).

  • Chris

    I think a lot of McCoy’s problem honestly has to do with the scheme (ore lack thereof) that we’re running.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com Cleveland Frowns

    “Browns McCoy Falls Victim to Lack of Offensive Playmakers”?

    How does this follow? What in this post even starts to establish that it’s not the “offensive playmakers” who are falling victim to lack of competent NFL quarterback or head coaching staff?

    This team is being blitzed by linebackers and defensive backs on more than half of its plays. They know it’s coming, which means that it doesn’t matter who’s blocking on the line or who is running the routes, there will be an open receiver at the snap. I don’t see how Colt’s inability to ever find that receiver reflects on any ‘playmaker’ or lack thereof as much as it reflects on Colt himself, and his coaches.

    I guess you can try to blame the running backs, but this team wasn’t moving the ball when Hillis or Hardesty were in there, either.

  • Craig

    @1 Comparing McCoy to Rodgers/Manning is completely unfair at this time in his career. Of course, Manning and Rodgers could do better with this O line because they’ve had years and years to learn defenses, identify hot reads and adjust play calls. Next week is Colt’s 16th game (first year). And he is not learning, he’s scrambling around trying not to get his head knocked off. No wonder he’s regressed.

  • mgbode

    let’s all repeat: Colt McCoy has not regressed.

    his YPA is down under this version of the WCO. but he is throwing less INTs and more TDs

    2010 6TDs 9INts in 8 games
    2011 10TDs 6INTs in 8 games

    Yes, more attempts to get those TDs, but that also means more attempts and still less INTs.

    The biggest worry is that despite getting less YPA, he is also getting less completion %. He really should have gone up a bit on that and we have all seen him miss on some of the rather open underneath throws.

    But, I would not say he has regressed this year (better record, more yards, more TDs, less INTs, higher QB rating, less sacks).

    The offense looks worse because we have absolutely no run game.

  • Harv 21

    @16: are his receivers open? No sarcasm, I want to know. Haven’t gone to a game this year where I could see the play develop.

    When Frye had Braylon and Kellen, each week’s telecast featured replays of open downfield receivers who Frye couldn’t connect with and shots of those two angrily waiving their hands at him as they came back to the huddle. Say what you want about Braylon, but that dude was open like as a convenient store. I have yet to see a single replay this year of a receiver open downfield and ignored by Colt. What I can see within camera shot is tons of pattycake with the db’s and very truncated routes. And no one obviously open.

    Am I wrong?

  • Original Spin

    I don’t buy the whole “no playmakers” thesis. What I see is a predictable offensive scheme, a lack of blitz protection adjustments, a lack of outlet receivers, a lack of imagination on the part of the coaches and an obstinate insistence on running vanilla for the sake of “establishing the WCO.” Yes, I see problems on the line. But it’s up to the coaches to scheme for those problems. I refuse to believe that a line with Mack & Thomas can be the worst line ever assembled.

    What I saw in the NO game last year was a tremendous amount of imagination to overcome the disparity in talent. I saw fake a fake punt, I saw a coach go for it on 4th down, I saw the RB throw a pass to the QB for a first down. In other words, I saw the element of surprise expertly handled by a QB in his 2nd pro game.

    I think the Browns biggest problem is coaching: lack of imagination, a conservative/predictable game plan, poor schemes/adjustments (where are the audibles and hot routes?), general mis-use of what strengths we do have (where’s Evan Moore?) and a lack of will to take chances (punting from the opponents 40 on 4th and 2?).

    In short, how are we supposed to “think TD instead of FG” when the offensive mind behind the whole endeavor is overmatched and won’t admit it?

  • ben

    SCORCHED EARTH! LEAVE NO SURVIVORS!

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com Cleveland Frowns

    @19: If there’s sending defensive backs and extra linebackers on the blitz, there has to be a receiver open somewhere, or the quarterback should call into a play where there will be. Saw it a few times on Sunday. Will try to post a breakdown with coach’s tape on the issue this week.

  • oribiasi

    @ mgbode: How many of those touchdowns are garbage time TDs? For example, the one to Cribbs yesterday?

    Subtract the garbage time performance wherein teams are playing with us like a cat with a mouse, and you’ll see that he has regressed.

  • oribiasi

    @ ben: I imagine you’re reading from the defensive playbook of our opponents each week?

  • Josh Stein

    @oribiasi – is there a larger version of that profile image anywhere? I’d love to send that to a couple friends that don’t visit this site.

  • oribiasi

    @ Josh Stein: It’s wonderful, isn’t it? It’s saved on my PC but I’m guessing you don’t want to throw your email address up here for all to spam…hmm…let me see if I can put it on a website somewhere for you.

  • Harv 21

    @21: agree that’s theoretically true, but the receiver must also read blitz and change routes. Want to know if they are.

    If receivers are in the right spot but Colt can’t see them from the pocket – because of he’s relatively short or has bad field vision – now that’s a prob. Some shorter QBs are only effective with rolling pockets – Jeff Garcia comes to mind, struggled here in a stationary pocket but had some truly great years in west coast offenses built to fit his strengths. Or Doug Flutie. (i know, Drew Brees is effective in the pocket, he’s not very tall, but there’s one Drew Brees so far).

  • Josh Stein

    It took me a few minutes to figure out just who it was. It’s perfect.

    While I do think Shurmur can be a good coach…he did need more than one “meh” year as an offensive coordinator before getting a head coaching gig.

  • oribiasi

    @ Harv 21: Our receivers have to learn how to do that, and to learn you need a teacher, someone knowledgeable about the offense. Someone who can teach a receiver how to adapt to the what the defense is throwing at you in a relatively quick way. To read blitzes and be where your young, inexperienced QB thinks you’re going to be to offer support.

    We have Pat Shurmur. We have “I’ll see you Wednesday.” We have “All we need to score is 4 points if our opponent scores 3.” We have the “architect” of the NFL’s 27th ranked offense from 2010.

    ‘Nuff said.

  • Harv 21

    Except for the rook, those same receivers were taught by Mangini too.

    Nuff said?

  • oribiasi

    @ Harv 21: Oh but come on now, you can do better than that. This is a new system…isn’t everyone always harping on that whenever they jump on the excuses train for why this offense is suffering? A new system and so it doesn’t matter what was said/done/drafted/etc. in the past!

    But, now it matters, right? In the development of WRs it matters.

    Puh-lease. Any intellectual (ahem) acumen left over from the Mangini days must be long gone by WEEK 8 of the season. Pat is force-feeding his ridiculous offense so diligently that I’d be surprised if MoMass could remember what his production was last year…or maybe it’s the concussions. Who knows?

  • ben

    Nuff said is the new OBSERVE.

  • WhatsamattU

    Scott: First of all that’s the OU Bobcats in the video not tOSU Buckeyes.
    I say this all falls on Holmgren as he’s the one that hired Shurmur and insisted we draft McCoy and insistute the WCO. All are failing miserably. Shurmur’s in over his head, McCoy will become roadkill and this WCO is in bad need of resuscitation.

  • Harv 21

    Oribiasi, I will continue to see some charm in your extreme position until the moment I suspect you actually believe you are being objective, that you don’t understand your obviously visceral distaste for Shurmur is fueling your buckshot spray against all commenters who suggest otherwise. Like, there’s a teacher in every junior high who may be a little off or is in the middle of figuring out how to teach and whose name makes all the kids go “eeewww!” but even as we mocked her we didn’t really believe she was evil, or totally incompetent.

    I didn’t mention the new system, you know that, right? Not everyone who disagrees with your simple premise is an idiot, right?

  • oribiasi

    @ Harv 21: I can’t decide if you’re being condescending or flippant. Please clarify. I’m assuming you wrote this to illicit some kind of over-the-top response, so I’ll do my best to satisfy you in that respect.

    I’d be curious to know what is extreme about seeing something as a failure when it, you know, fails. There are plenty of people who are seeing the same thing as I. I imagine you are trying your best to keep your head above what you see as knee-jerk, reactionary thought. If you’ll permit me to further this straw-man description, I also think that in so doing, perhaps you even see yourself as an objective voice that can recline and consider yourself the sole voice of reason, passing judgments on the lesser minds that squabble over statistics, performance, coaches, players, et al.

    It’s a sterile, safe ivory tower that you and some of the writers on this site inhabit, but it’s not for me. My distaste for Shurmur is in what he produces on the field. The ancillary stuff (his demeanor, his press conferences, his mumbling tone in interviews) are all what I see as by-products of a poor coach, but they may not be related. There are just so many things to dislike about that man that the parodies/jokes practically write themselves. I’m surprised that as a self-respecting (I assume) Browns fan it doesn’t anger you in the slightest identifiable way.

    Admittedly, it’s hard to see if you are moved by what happens on the field from the unimaginable distance of the slums you believe my mind inhabits and the great towering OZ that you call home, but let’s play fair. The only idiots here are those who see what is produced on the field and aren’t disgusted.

  • Shamrock

    Just saw Shurmur’s news conference on STO, ugh.

  • oribiasi

    @ Shamrock: Careful, you might be labeled as irrational for your dislike of Pat Shurmur. Remember, it is only rational to dislike a coach after a certain number of games.(*)

    (*Number of games is subject to change without notice/reason).

  • Shamrock

    ^^^^ I could care less bad coaching is bad coaching but I was eluding to how bad his andwers/demeanor was during it. He didn’t even get any tough ?s, big surprise.

    I just think first time head coaches has run it’s course here. The first year is always a throw away it seems.

  • mgbode

    @oribiasi – all stats get included. sorry. that’s the way things work. did he not have garbage time stats last year when we went 5-11 (and he went 2-6)?

  • mgbode

    @Shamrock – because the first year was not a throw-away w/ Mangini (or at least the first 12 games)?

  • stin4u

    But guyyyyyyssss the radio says we’re supposed to be mad! Why wouldn’t you be mad?! Sheesh.

  • Yngwie

    Peyton Manning’s first 16 games with a bad team:

    6.5 ypa, 71.3 rating, 26 TD, 28 INT

    Colt’s with a slightly better team:

    6.3 ypa, 75.7 rating, 16 TD, 15 INT

    The fact someone threw out “capable” or “competent” to describe guys like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers is just delusional. Those guys are once or twice in a decade talents in a league with 30 teams.

    Nobody disagrees that the offense is lacking. Personally I’m willing to give H&H 1 or 2 more years because they have drafted defense and our defense is performing well. Just like Manning’s Colts, it took years of drafting on that side of the ball to make for a successful offense. Look at how the Colts set up their team for the long haul in the late 90s out of just their 1st round picks in 4 consecutive years.

    Marvin Harrison
    Tarik Glenn
    Manning
    Edgerrin James

    Only after they drafted James did they take off. It was after a full offseason for Manning, a 4th year HoF quality WR in Harrison and a Pro Bowl LT in his 3rd year. It takes multiple years of successful draft picks to turn a bad team into a contender. And 3 of the next 4 years, they STILL picked Pro Bowlers.

    By comparison, the only thing the Browns offense has for sure is a top quality LT. All the other pieces (and time for those pieces to develop) is just not there yet. I’m not ready to judge a QB that spends all his time running for his life.

    The one thing I will say about Shurmur is he at least publicly seems to lack the attitude to be a leader, to be THE guy. But in terms of whether his offense is working, he deserves an offseason and a draft pick or two on offense before anyone calls for his head.

  • oribiasi

    @ Yngwie:

    You said, “Personally I’m willing to give H&H 1 or 2 more years because they have drafted defense and our defense is performing well. Just like Manning’s Colts…”

    Please explain their defensive prowess this season.