BEREA, Ohio--It's hard to disagree with Joe Thomas.
“You’ve got to lie in the bed that you’ve made,” Thomas said after Sunday's whipping at the hands of the Steelers.
Thomas was vocal in the off-season urging to the Browns to find a way to keep Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz from departing in free agency. Both players left and two gaping holes were left in the offensive line.
A season-ending foot injury for left guard Joel Bitonio made another hole and the offensive line's problems have been compounded since his injury. By the way, Schwartz graded out as having the third-best performance among right tackles on Sunday for the Chiefs.
“We lost a couple really good players, I think the best at their position,” Thomas said referring to Mack and Schwartz. “But that was our strategy in the offseason. That’s what we decided to do.
“The guys that are making the personnel decisions, they’re the experts on that, so they’re the ones that have to make those decisions and look at those decisions when they’re made.”
Thomas has earned the right to give his input after having never missed a snap in his 10-year career and being voted to the Pro Bowl after the first nine seasons that he's played.
Hue Jackson was asked if he felt he needed to speak to Thomas about his comments.
“No, [I did not feel I needed to say something to Thomas]," he said. "I mean, I did talk to Joe about his comments. Me and Joe have a great relationship. Again, I just think all of our players are frustrated. Again, they want to win. It is all coming from a good place. There is not a guy in our locker room that does not want to win. When things do not go well, it is very easy to point back to some other things.
"In order for us to get to where we want to be as an organization and as a good football team, we all are going to learn from every decision that we make, but I think right here in the middle of the season and late in the season where things have not gone as well, it is easy to feel, think and wish that things were different."
The Steelers came into the game with the Browns with just 13 sacks, the lowest in the NFL, but they had eight sacks against the Browns and also an additional 14 hits on the quarterback. One of those hits by linebacker Lawrence Timmons knocked Cody Kessler out of the game with his second concussion in the past month.
According to ProFootballFocus.com Cameron Erving gave up one sack, one hit and two hurries. Right tackle Austin Pasztor gave up two sacks and two hurries. Rookie Spencer Drango gave up one sack and John Greco gave up one sack and one hurry. Thomas wasn't immune as he gave up three hurries.
Hue Jackson will not publicly embarrass any of his players and he was asked if the Browns offensive line was just totally dominated by the Steelers.
“I am not going to say we got totally manhandled," Jackson said. "There are some things that we could do better. I know it could look that way, but I think there are some things from a technical standpoint and schematic standpoint that we could do a little bit better to put our players in better situations.”
It wasn't only Sunday's game the offensive line hasn't played well.
The Browns have had their starting quarterback injured in five games this season, including three times the starter had to leave the game. Griffin suffered a broken coracoid bone in his shoulder on the next to last play of the season opener and has not played since. McCown broke his collar bone in the second game replacing Griffin against the Ravens, but played the entire game. He then missed the next five games because of it.
Kessler was knocked out of the Patriots game with chest and rib injuries. He returned the next week, but was knocked out with a concussion against the Bengals. On Sunday, he was knocked out once again with a concussion against the Steelers.
All in all, the Browns have used six different quarterbacks so far this season--Griffin, McCown, Kessler, Charlie Whitehurst, Kevin Hogan and Terrelle Pryor with another, Joe Callahan on the roster in waiting to be No. 7.
Pryor--a former quarterback himself--was upset after the Steelers game and spoke out.
"I hate it," Pryor said. "We have players that want to do great, but every time our quarterback drops back, Josh McCown, how much time he puts in it, and Cody Kessler, they can't keep getting hit like that. I don't care.
"They can't keep getting hit like that, and if I want to voice my opinion, I'm going to voice my opinion now, because it's going on too much," he said. "I don't care if you've got to hold these dudes. Hold them and take the damn penalty and stop getting our quarterbacks hit. I hate that. I don't like it.''
Jackson was asked if he minded that Pryor spoke out.
“Yes, I do because that is not Terrelle’s job," Jackson said. "I know he is frustrated and we all are. No doubt, we need to protect our quarterback, but that is not for him to say. Let’s focus on ourselves and support each other. That is what good teams do, and that is what we are going to work to become.”
Thomas said part of the problem against the Steelers was that the players up front were not on the same page.
“It’s the line getting on the guys we want to be on,” Thomas said. “It’s the running backs knowing who we’re blocking and being on their right guys. It’s the quarterbacks understanding how we’re blocking and readjusting the protection if it needs to be readjusted. We haven’t been on the same page enough and, of course, it comes down to just winning the one-on-one match ups.”
Jackson wouldn't talk about the problems for the offensive line.
“I don’t want to really get into… It is a unit issue obviously," Jackson said. "It is not one guy’s issue. It is a unit issue. We all have a part in it. The receivers have a part in it. The linemen have a part in it. The backs have a part in it. The tight ends have a part in it and obviously the quarterback. We all have a part in it. We just have to do it better.”
Always a team guy and knowing he needs them to block for him this Sunday, McCown took the blame on himself, rather than venting on the line.
“Obviously, the guys up front are fighting hard and I think it is everybody kind of took a turn so I don’t really speak on what those guys are doing," McCown said. "I feel like I could have helped direct some things better from the quarterback position. You said second half but just in the time that I played is what I am speaking about. I look at it and they had a good gameplan for some of the stuff that we were doing protection wise.
"Every time after you finish a game, you have to look at things you could have done better, and I look at that and looking back just feel like I maybe could have helped us in some of those areas as far as directing some of the protection to enable us to have better matchups at times and give those guys some help," he said. "They fought hard, though. Really looking back on it, that is my take. I felt like everybody fought hard. We just have to improve. Everybody has to improve what they can. For me, I start with me and what I can do better.”
The Browns cannot think about a franchise quarterback going forward without fixing the offensive line. The new regime cannot be blamed for not drafting offensive linemen. They drafted Shon Coleman in the third round and Drango in the fifth round, but can they play?
The last time I checked, the team was 0-11 and the third-round pick is not starting at right tackle.
Last year, Ray Farmer drafted Erving in the first round. Coleman hasn't been able to break into the lineup, despite the way it's played and Drango is just now playing. Erving has been sub-par in many of the games he's played and his future as a center with the Browns is in question.
All that you have to do is look at the way the Dallas Cowboys built their offensive line and then plugged in a great rookie running back like Ezekiel Elliott and a quarterback like Dak Prescott (taken in the fourth round) and you can see the recipe for success--at least offensively.
The defense is another story.
The Browns have a big off-season ahead of them, but they need to identify five offensive linemen that can be great as a unit, whether they are on the roster now or how they can acquire them either in the draft or free agency.
A franchise quarterback is needed, but not behind this offensive line.