Missed Opportunities, mental errors, and miscues…… maybe it was better to start this column last week when the Browns beat Baltimore. While struggling through technical difficulties, alas, that was not the case.
This past weekend's game just hurt to watch, and I put myself through it twice. You saw a quarterback who had a quarterback rating of 0.0. You saw receivers dropping balls. You saw a defense giving up 322 yards to a 40 something quarterback. Let us be honest, the game was downright ugly.
But for me, the game of football is won and lost in the trenches. And that is exactly what I am here to report on. How is the play of the offensive line week in and week out? Is it simply that, offensive? Everyone and their mother has been laying the blame on the offensive line the past few seasons. Yes, we could use an influx of talent up front, but they are not always to blame. On further review you would actually be surprised about their play (for this week anyhow).
Before I go a step further, I would like to discuss my grading procedures.
I have to be honest, I do not know what the O-line is doing every play. I am not in the huddle. I do not know every play call. I have no clue what offensive line calls are being made. I am simply looking for the basics. So I decided to keep my grading policy simple. I count how many offensive plays for the offensive line. Then as I watch the game, I decide whether a lineman deserves a positive, a negative, or nothing. A lineman should not be rewarded for doing his job. There are occasions though where I do feel they deserve a positive because their play was extraordinary for that given play. Whereas a negative is warranted for any missed block, sack, penalty, etc. Negatives outweigh positives in my book, and it takes 2 positive plays to wipe out a negative play. When the total negatives are tallied, I find the percentage of negatives for total amount of plays and subtract that number by a hundred.
A lineman should grade very high on most accounts. But as I learned reading in an article about Jonathan Ogden, it is that one play where a lineman messes up where he will actually be recognized and the defender is allowed to do his stupid little dance and that one play will haunt him. So the scoring is pretty simple, right?
Well to me it is, so without further adieu let us rip into the meat of this piece.
Unit Analysis: As a whole, a few trends began to appear to me. First of all for those curious about Kelvin Garmon's pass blocking abilities; the Browns certainly adjusted to help his needs. In most passing situations, one side off an offensive side is zoned off while the other is hat on hat. I would estimate about ¾'s of the time, the zone side was to the right side of the Browns offensive line. Jeff Faine's first read in pass blocking was always to look over to Kelvin's side and helped on multiple occasions.
The second trend I notice was the Browns tendency to zone block on run plays. Run play after run play, it was either a zone block left or a zone block right for the offensive line. This does help to hide some of the athletic limitations or the Browns starting line, but there also plenty of times when holes did not open for William Green (one note on Green real quick: there was a smash ran and a gaping hole actually appeared. Where did Willie run? He cut back. I almost threw my remote control through my television).
Lastly, Jeff Garcia initially did not have as much pressure on him in the first quarter as he did later in the game. Watching the tape, four of the first eight passing plays were max protected. Jeff had timed, he simply did not make the throws needed. Later in the third quarter after more pressure was applied by Dallas, Robiskie began to roll Garcia out. Four designed boot plays were called in the first nine passes of the second half.
What does this tell me? The coaches are not too comfortable with the offensive line's pass blocking and took precautions to put Jeff Garcia in situations where he would feel more comfortable. Did it work? No, but at least the coaching staff did recognize their teams' weaknesses and did try to adjust.
Now on to the individual performances [which I will break down half by half]….
First Half: It was a quiet first half for Ross. His one negative was giving up on a block too early. Willie then cut back, and the defender who Ross was blocking then proceeded to make the tackle for no gain. Otherwise Verba did a very nice job walling off backside. He showed he could get to the second level and block scraping linebackers. He had a very nice cut block on Winslow's one catch, the screen. And in pass protection; Verba slid nicely, keeping himself in front of the defender, and showed some very nice handwork. There was one occasion where Terrelle Smith did come over to help Ross in pass protection.
Second Half: Ross again looked very good in the second half. There was one occasion where the defender clearly beat him around the edge and would have clocked Garcia, but Jeff got rid of the ball in time. Otherwise, Verba did a good job run blocking. Had a very nice down block that caved the left side and then proceeded to slide of to the linebacker and make the cut block there.
Overall: What is the trend you are seeing? Ross had a very solid showing against the Cowboys. Really did nothing extraordinary, but simply got the job done. As I mentioned earlier, the right side was the predominant side for zone blocking in pass protection. This left Ross on an island most of the game, and he performed admirably. So many are crying for a left tackle, and right now that is the least of my concerns on this offensive line. Ross proved himself to me in this game that he is still a reliable veteran.
First Half: First thing I noticed was something that was a major concern of mine and major weakness of Paul's last year, his athleticism. Yet our coaching staff continually asks him to pull on screens and traps. Zuk struggles mightily in space. But Zukauskas does a great job in the box. On multiple occasions, Zuk got great push on down blocks and really drove some defenders off the ball. In pass protection, a trend started appear here as well. Paul likes to lead with his head. He is completely off balance as he leads for in initial pop in pass protection. On multiple occasions in the first half, he was broken down by the 3 technique and blown by. And when Zuk actually kept contact in pass protection, he would be driven back almost into Garcia's lap.
Second Half: As the game progressed, the same tendencies started to appear. Zuk was broken down by Glover, who then made a tackle for a loss. Paul missed a scraping linebacker on a zone play, when then went on to make the play. In pass protection on a particular play, Zuk made the right read. But as the Cowboys overloaded the side for some unknown reasons, Paul came off his block and did not block anyone. Garcia, needless to say, got whacked. There were two good things I noticed, not to be all bad. Paul did have one nice trap to allow Willie to break to the outside for a nine yard gain. And after lambasting Zuk for his bad blitz pickup, late in the game he did have a nice pickup on a twist stunt.
Overall: La'Roi Glover had a very good game against Zukauskas, getting multiple pressures and making a few plays. Also, whereas Verba stepped up, Zukauskas seemed to struggle with the predominant man on man pass blocking. He is by far better than Garmon, but left guard is still a major area of concern. Overall, despite his own efforts, Zuk did grade out decently. Does he need to improve? Most certainly.
First Half: Faine was getting some very nice push. Doing a nice job of reestablishing the line of scrimmage, driving the 1 technique five yards deep on multiple occasions. Too bad he was doing it all by himself. Jeff's play was solid and very good at points. He had a major pancake on a draw play, and another one followed a couple plays later. He did a decent job getting to the second level and reaching linebackers. The one problem I did pick up on Faine in run blocking is the fact he starts to overextend when he tries to drive a defender off. There was at least two occasions where Jeff drove the 1 technique back a few yards, only to have that defender break down his arms and make the tackle for only a 3 yard gain. In pass protection, Jeff was equally solid. I did enjoy watching him trying to break a defenders ribs who was giving Garmon some trouble. But again, the point comes up that Faine's first read is to Garmon's side in pass protection. He repeatedly had to help Kelvin. One instance arose where Zuk was beaten clean on Jeff left side, but because he immediately looked to Garmon to help the defender got a clean shot on Garcia. And there was even one occasion where Garcia got happy feet even when there was a pocket and decided to run. Faine had his block, but because Garcia took off his defender could read and help make a play on Garcia for no gain.
Second Half: Really nothing of major concern in this half. Faine had a quiet half and just went about doing his job, as any lineman should. He did show some great push on double teams with Zuk. And he did come off nicely to a linebacker on a couple occasions. The one negative of this half was, again, a defender taking advantage of Jeff overextending and getting in on the play.
Overall: The last couple weeks, the first round bust jinx has already made its way to Faine. Not that he is a bust, but some are already talking that maybe he is not playing as well as he should be for first round center. Fact is, Faine is doing some very nice things. He is getting push up the middle. He is doing a nice job in pass protection. He is doing everything that is asked of him and even a little bit more. Are there some ‘rookie' mistakes. I would say so, yes. But of all our former first rounders, Faine is the one who has actually played to his talent level. Not consistently, but he has played to his talent level. Look for more good things down the road.
First Half: Really where should I begin? How about in Kelvin's first six plays, he already amassed three negative tallies in my book. Definitely not the start one should expect of a veteran starter of this league. In the very first series I see our 350+ lineman asked to pull and lead on a screen. Are you kidding me? Has anyone seen how slow this guys feet are? Next play, Garmon did not get his head across and the defender slid off to make a tackle on Green for a loss. The coaching staff continually called zone runs to the right side of the offense. Now is it just me or should a 350 lbs man not be driven back, because that is certainly what happened. Maybe I am just losing my mind. I came to find, Kelvin has a nasty habit of letting defenders get inside on him and underneath his pads. So yes, even a 350 lbs man can be driven back. And it happened on multiple occasions, in one instance, Garmon was driven back fours yards. That is simply unreal. Oh and you remember when we were on inside the five early in the game right? If you go back and watch the tape, watch as Garmon misses his block and THEN stands in the hole , not allowing Green to score. Utterly amazing. In pass protection, Kelvin is constantly getting help from Faine. Kelvin gets driven back because, again, he lets defenders in his body. Now he did show a good punch on a couple occasions, so I have to give credit where credit is due. There was one instance where Tucker and Garmon simply did not communicate with each other. A twist stunt with the defensive end and the 3 technique made Garmon and Tucker look like there were trying to figure out the theory of relativity. The result was a tackle for a loss. Did I even mention his false start and holding call?
Second Half: Kelvin's play did improve some in the second half. He got a very nice down block on one of Garcia's boots. He was able to get to the second level and block some linebackers on a couple occasions. There were a couple other snafus, but I want to get to the overall on Garmon…
Overall: What I am seeing does not make me happy, and feels this is the most worrisome position on this team. Yes when I put the grade up, it is alright. Garmon did get the job done a good bit of the time. But it is his inability to get push, and instead being pushed back. It is his constant attention he needs in pass proctection. It is his continued allowance to give up his chest to defenders. Overall, Kelvin probably is not as bad I am making him out to be, but he does some things that drives me crazy and scares me for the long haul.
First Half: The day started well. Tucker was showing nice ability in pass protection, sliding well and using good handwork. He had some devastating down blocks which really opened large holes off his hip. And toward the end of the half Ryan had a monster down block on James Jackson big run. It was between those lines where Tucker struggled. Well we already know to chalk up one false start for Tucker, so I will just get that out of the way. There was a pancake or two sprinkled in between. Then in pass protection, Ryan did not pick up the inside blitzer making the wrong read, almost rendering a sack. Later, when he completely WHIFFED on his punch, Tucker did give up a sack to Greg Ellis. And again even later, gave up the inside to the defender who just missed another sack. I was even surprised to see Tucker giving up a bit too much ground in pass protection forcing a bad throw on one of the bombs to Morgan.
Second Half: Again, we see a good start for Mr. Tucker. He walls of on a left zone run, cuts offs the defender, and quickly flipped the hips. As mentioned with Garmon, Tucker and Kelvin had a little bit of a problem with a stunt earlier in the game. A second time the same stunt was attempted, this time it was recognized and snuffed out. And then we have another false start. And again Ryan gives up too much ground in pass protection, this time helping force one of Garcia's interceptions. One running play thereafter Ryan lead with the wrong shoulder, the defender slid off to get pressure on Garcia. Tucker ended his day with a pancake on a down block, and then went to the bench to tend to his injuries.
Overall: Sorry Tucker, despite what you think, you are not a top offensive tackle in this league. You are solid, I will commend you on that. You are a reliable and very effective run blocker on our right side. In pass protection we can expect a false start or two a game, and some pressure on the quarterback at one point or another. And we could always expect you to be in the lineup, hope to see you there next week.
Second Half: Talk about being thrown between a rock and a hard place. Problem is, Joaquin did not make the best of his opportunities, quiet the contrary. Now I have been very high on Gonzalez, and I have no problem admitting it. But his limited play in this past Sunday's game was downright putrid. Seven total snaps, and I had three negatives attributed to him. Of course we all know of the holding which lead to the safety (ironically it put us in a better position). The first two plays started out decent though. Joaquin walled off nicely on a run play. He then followed that up with a nice pass set. Then the games began. Gonzalez was driven back into Garcia's lap in pass protection. Next play, completely broken down by Greg Ellis who had a free shot on Garcia. Luckily Jeff got rid of the ball. Then again the holding for a safety (should I have mentioned that twice? Well I guess it is worth two points, I might as well mention it twice).
Joaquin's play was awful in relief, no need for an overall.
When it comes to blocking, there is more than just the offensive line who contribute. And let us just say, the tight ends, fullback, and running backs did not help the situation. In more than a few cases, they were the reason there was pronounced pressure on Garcia and there were no holes for Green.
Kellen Winlsow: For months leading up to this past year's NFL draft, I was an avid proponent against Winslow. Not that I do not think he is an impact rookie, but I felt he was a complete prospect. Yes he might have been the most physically gifted tight end prospect ever, but is blocking skills worried me. These concerns came to the forefront again for me. KW2 did some nice things at first. He had a nice one on one block in pass protection. He walled off on the backside a couple times. And he got to the second level, making blocks downfield. He was the key component as to why James Jackson sprung the big run near the half by walling off the safety. That was the good, now on with the bad. Junior missed a blocks on the backside on at least three occasions where his defender made the play. One was on the goal line. One of Jeff Garcia's interceptions were a result of Winslow's inability to hold off a defender in the passing game. Overall not a good showing for the rookie, but I will not add anymore insult to injury.
Terrelle Smith: I was getting so infuriated watching our beloved "Terminator" getting blown up by Dat Nguyen. Granted Nguyen is one of the best middle linebackers in the league, but Terrelle simply cannot be stuffed in holes and it happened on multiple occasions. There were holes opened by the linemen, just Terrelle was stuck in them and William could not run through them. One time Terrelle even whiffed on lead block.
Running Back Tandem: How many saw the Willie Green blitz pickup while in our own end zone? Want to talk about a thing of beauty. Defender jumps up to swat the ball as Garcia throws it. William punches the defender in the gut and just power slammed him into the turf. It is that kind of play that brings a tear to my eye. Problem was, this was the only good block I saw out of the Browns running backs. Williams missed on a cut block that allowed Wiley a free run on Garcia. There were multiple times when delayed blitzers would come through and our backs had a hard time picking them up, putting more pressure on Garcia.
Overall: A fan's first reaction is to blame the offensive line when there are not holes, or there is pressure on the quarterback. But as you can tell, there was a lot of pressure on Garcia and holes not being opened because of the extensions of the offensive line.
Big Ugly of the Week: The game was ugly, cannot say that enough. But I will award this each and every week, win or lose. This week's BUOTW is Ross Verba. With all the crying and moaning I have heard for the past two years that the Cleveland Browns need a left tackle, Ross quietly goes about his business and effectively does his job. He did not struggle when the Browns left him on the island most of the day. And I must commend him on his solid play.