BEREA—This is no slight on Joe Thomas or Alex Mack.
Both were just named to the Pro Bowl and the duo has amassed 12 between them.
However, on the surface it doesn’t make a lot of sense that the Browns had two of their five offensive lineman named to the Pro Bowl, despite ranking near the bottom in rushing offense.
Throw in the fact that right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was rated as the top right tackle in the NFL earlier this season by Pro Football Focus. Last year’s second-round pick Joel Bitonio (currently on injured reserve) was an All-Rookie selection at guard last season.
First-round pick Cameron Erving has had a disappointing rookie season, but all totaled the Browns have three first-round picks of their top six players on their roster, as well as two top of the second-round players. The Browns have put a lot of their resources into trying to build the strength of the offense in the trenches.
Mike Pettine admitted there have been variables offensively, that have contributed to the poor numbers, including switching from Kyle Shanahan’s primarily wide zone run scheme to new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s scheme.
“That is a function of a lot of things," Pettine said. "This year was a different year. I think it took us a while to figure out who we were from a staff standpoint, figuring out where we were schematically. Having to make the change at offensive line coach was something that was difficult to overcome. We all know what transpired there.
"The running game is not just a function of the offensive line, and I have said that all along," Pettine said. "It is the tight ends. It is the receivers blocking. It is the backs making the right reads. We went against a who’s who of the top-10 in the NFL. We have gone against some pretty good fronts, and there were games where we went into saying running the ball will be an afterthought and that we needed to throw it first to set up the run."
Pettine still has hope in the rushing offense.
"We have had some recent success and that has been good to see," Pettine said. "Hopefully, we have two more weeks to continue it.”
The Browns are averaging just 86.5 yards a game and are tied for 29th in the NFL with the Colts in that department. The only teams the Browns are ahead of in rushing offense is the Lions and the Chargers. The average per game is buoyed a bit in recent weeks for their 230 yard performance on Dec. 13 against the 49ers.
The Browns have went over the 100-yard mark just three other times: 116 vs. Titans on Sept. 20; 109 vs. the Broncos on Oct. 18 and 100 vs. the Chargers on Oct. 4.
The perception was that Mack was not back to 100 percent and that contributed to the team’s poorer numbers.
The perception was that Mack was not totally healthy in his comeback from a broken ankle. Pettine admitted that was a factor.
“(Mack) has improved,” he said. “ It was more than just a broken ankle as there was ligament damage. There was a lot for him to overcome. In the spring, he had a tough time because he wanted to go full speed all the time, but there’s no substitute for time with that devastating of an injury.
“He’s improved significantly from the start of the year, but has been playing his best football in recent weeks,” Pettine said. “It’s a statement for his perseverance.”
Pettine Praises Pro Bowlers: Pettine opened his press conference by recognizing OL Joe Thomas and OL Alex Mack on being named to the Pro Bowl.
“I just want to recognize Joe Thomas and Alex Mack for making the Pro Bowl,” Pettine said. “Both of these guys epitomize a team-first mentality.”
Pettine said the Pro Bowl should be re-named.
As I joked last year they should re-name the Pro Bowl “Joe Thomas and friends”.
WR Travis Benjamin, TE Gary Barnidge and DB Johnson Bademosi were all named as alternates.
“It’s great to see those guys recognized and hopefully, they’ll find a way to (the Pro Bowl).”
Hawkins to IR: The Browns officially placed WR Andrew Hawkins (concussion) on injured reserve and signed LB Jayson DiManche to the active roster from the practice squad. The club also signed OL Conor Boffeli to the practice squad.
Hawkins started all eight games he played this season and recorded 27 receptions for 276 yards. He suffered a concussion at Pittsburgh on Nov. 15 and has been inactive the past four games.
DiManche (6-1,245) is in his third NFL season out of Southern Illinois. He spent three weeks on the Browns’ active roster this season, appearing in one game and has been on the practice squad the past five weeks. Originally signed by the Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2013, he has appeared in 29 career games with one start. He has totaled seven tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery on defense, while adding 17 stops on special teams.
Boffeli (6-4, 295) is a first-year player out of Iowa.
Duke, Desmond, Mack Slowed: Several players were on the injury report: DL Desmond Bryant (thumb). K Travis Coons (groin), OL Cam Erving (ankle), RB Duke Johnson (hamstring), OL Alex Mack (calf), QB Johnny Manziel (right elbow), WR Marlon Moore (ribs), DE Randy Starks (rest), OL Joe Thomas (knee), DB K’Waun Williams (shoulder) and RB Glenn Winston (concussion) were all limited or out of Wednesday’s practice.
Pettine also said that RB Isaiah Crowell and WR Taylor Gabriel were excused for personal reasons.