The Big Uglies - Week 3

<BR>There are a lot of people pointing their fingers at the offensive line for last Sunday's 27-10 loss to the Giants. But how bad was the O-Line play, really? Sobodawg provides and in-depth look at what happened in the trenches last weekend...<BR><BR>

It is ALL the Offensive line's fault.   Right?   If you tune into any sports radio station in the northeast Ohio region or delve into a few Cleveland Browns' message boards, that is exactly what you will hear or read.  It is definitely the popular complaint currently.  The question being, ‘Is it true?'   No, I do not believe so; not entirely anyhow.   The fact remains the Cleveland Browns' starting offensive line does lack talent, and some would argue needs better coaching.   I believe it is mainly a lack of execution.    Butch Davis himself admitted in his weekly press conference that the offense did not run one single play in the second half which was different from their first half play calling.   And the second half is what we, as fans, and the coaching staff need to take away from this game.   We all saw a team better executing and established its first solid drives of the season.  So with that thought in mind, let us dig into where the game is won and lost;  the trenches. 

One area I would like to touch upon quickly again is my scoring system.   I was chided a bit last week because some believed I was too easy on the offensive line, and the grades received were a bit high.  On that note I will repeat myself from last week,  "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 go into each game giving an offensive lineman a grade of 100%.  It is simple, he does his job the entire game without any negative plays, said lineman grades out at 100%.   I take into account both negative and positive plays.  I do believe there should be some reward for exceptional play which is why I do take into consideration positive plays.   But negative plays do outweigh positive plays.    It takes two plays I deem exceptional to wipe out a negative play.    Let me give you an example from last week.   In the game versus the Cowboys, the offense was on the field for 59 plays.   Ross Verba (last week's BUOTW)  had two plays the entire game I deemed negative and none which were exceptional.    The math is simple.   Divide 2 by 59, the solution is .033.   I do round up but in this case it is not needed.   Subtract .03 from 100%.   Verba's score was a 97%.   Now I will admit even I was a little perturbed by the offensive line's play this past weekend, and no one received a 97% this week.   And on that note, time to get down to the nitty gritty.

Unit Analysis:  When looking at the tape and seeing the improvement from one half to another, the cliché kept popping into my head, ‘a tale of two halves'.   But in all honesty, I cannot think of a better way to explain the improvement from what we saw in the first half to what was seen in the second half.    What was the difference?   I mentioned earlier Butch's statement to the press saying it was better execution.   And on this point, I believe he is absolutely right.  

Now I will admit, most of my grading is individual based.   It is hard to grade out the entire unit when you do not know the play calling, line calls, and audibles.   But there was one difference I noticed going through my notes.   In the second half, I did not mark down one play for any of the lineman which I deemed exceptional.    They simply went out, did their job and performed at a higher level overall.   Were they perfect?  Most certainly not, but I was impressed to see good solid drives and breaking a few big runs for William Green.   There was even a pocket for Jeff Garcia to throw in on multiple occasions which has been almost nonexistent to this point in the season.  The one thing which did worry me was the fact when there actually was a pocket, Garcia was not making plays.  He was not finding open receivers and tended to take off, getting himself hit on multiple occasions (no greater headache for a lineman than not knowing where your quarterback is).

Last week I also noted the tendency to help Kelvin Garmon in pass protection.   First I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised by Kelvin's play this week but I will delve into that a bit later.  In another press conference, Terry Robiskie admitted that the offense concentrated too much on Strahan.   I certainly cannot argue that point.   There was always a back or tight end chipping away at Strahan.   Did it prevent Michael from having a very good game?   No, but there is a reason he is the very best defensive lineman in the NFL.   In all honesty, I would have expected Ryan Tucker to have had as bad a game as Joaquin did against Strahan.   So all the attention was warranted, but there were times when the play became ultra conservative and those same backs or tight ends did not have to chip and could have gone on routes.   The Browns let Strahan dictate to them what to do on offense.   This is something that cannot be repeated later in the year with any player.

Now on to the individual performances [which I will break down half by half]….

Ross Verba

First Half:  Ross' play overall has been the highlight of my season to this point.   It literally took me until the 7:30 mark of the second quarter to find a play I thought was negative.  Granted by the time the game ended he had six notches on the negative side, it is just the fact he is actually getting the job done quite well for the most part.   Especially when you consider how many fans are continuously screaming that the Browns' need a left tackle, but I digress.   Man on man, Ross' pass blocking has been very good.   He is sliding well and keeping himself between the defender and Garcia (does not sound like much, but it is task with this group overall).  There was one occasion where Verba did not recognize a safety blitz off the edge, but the ball was gone by the time the safety arrived at Jeff Garcia.  Although Ross did miss a block on a screen, his run blocking was very strong in the first half.   Verba continuously does a nice job of walling and/or cutting off the backside.   There was a nice showing of his agility by getting to the second level through traffic and getting the block on a scraping linebacker on a Garmon trap.   The highlight of the first half was definitely the crushing down block for a pancake Ross had on a one yard gain by Willie.  It ended up being only a one yard gain, but it was a beautiful thing.

Second Half:  This half was a bit more troublesome of Mr. Verba.   In pass protection again, Ross looked a bit more vulnerable.    This time he did pick up a safety blitz.   Also there was some nice recognition and communication between he and Zuk  on a stunt which was pick up nicely.  But there were a few problems overall.  Verba gave up his inside too easily on two occasions.   Both occurrences helped to collapse the pocket.  One Verba was able to recover and made the block though.  And on another occasion, Ross was bull rushed right into Garcia's lap causing an incompletion.    Verba's run blocking was solid overall this half, but there was one instance where Ross gave up on the block too early and the defender made the tackle. 

Overall:  I know left tackle was a major concern coming into this season.  And I was the top pimp when it came to Robert Gallery.   And I should not even keep harping on this subject, but it needs to be said that Ross Verba has been our most consistent and best offensive lineman.   He is just solid overall and the least of the teams' worries right now.

Grade:  92%

Paul Zukauskas

First Half:  Let us start with the good because there was not very many positive things to talk about.  Zuk biggest strength is just plowing ahead.   He does very well on down blocks, and even got the second level effectively on a few occasions.  Paul even does a decent job in stunt and blitz recognition.   But that is where the positives end in this game for Zuk.   The no.1 problem with a bullet I see with big Z is the fact he CONSTANTLY puts his head down.    Paul lowers that head like a bull and either pops the defender and drives him, or the defender easily slides off and makes plays; the latter being the more common occurrence of the two.  Started right of the bat on the second play of the game, Paul missed the 3 technique who squeezed the gap and made the tackle on Green.   A couple plays later, Zuk whiffed on a linebacker forcing Terrelle Smith to pick up the backer and as such blew up the iso.  In pass protection Paul is not much better.  He will lower his head get his hands wide and gets pushed back WAY too much.  Multiple times getting pushed into Garcia or getting Garcia hit.   In one instance Paul was put flat on his rump because he went to pick up a stunt, let the defender into his body, and was bowled over.  It was quite pathetic actually. 

Second Half:  Again, we saw Zuk giving up too much ground in pass protection.  Paul was beaten like a top at one point because he could not reestablish his hands after being broken down by the defender.  And he even missed one of his reads, missing the safety on a delayed blitz.  In all three instances, Garcia was rushed to get rid of the ball and hit.  Zuk is literally leaning on defenders at times in pass protection giving up too much ground.   I cannot harp on this fact enough.  Run blocking is what many would consider Paul's strength.   He did not finish a block on one of Willie's big toss runs, and the defender almost made the play.  There were multiple occasion in this half where Zuk did not make it to the second level and pick up any scraping backers.  And lets add in an obligatory false start into the mix to end this pitiful showing overall.

Overall:  Paul Zukauskas clearly had the worst day of all the linemen this past weekend.   This was a surprise to me with Joaquin starting against Michael Strahan.  There are so many little things that need to be improved upon.  Zuk simply is not getting the job done right now and the Browns desperately need him to step up.   Could Enoch Demar be making an appearance in the near future?

Grade:  84%

Jeff Faine

First Half:  The one thing you always notice about Jeff is the fact he always finishes his blocks.   Just on the two guys above, I know I mentioned ‘not finishing a block' at least twice.  After Faine was drafted, he was quoted as saying "I block until the echo of the whistle."  That was not a fabrication, he does just that.   Jeff did have a couple pancakes in the first half.   Not overpowering pancakes, but the defender was definitely driven into the ground.  Jeff does a very nice job flipping his hips and walling off.  He gets his butt downfield and is always trying to make the extra block.   There is no reason to heap more praise because the fact of the matter is Faine did not play as well this week as he did last week.  On the very first play of the game, the 1 technique easily crossed Jeff's face, forcing T. Smith to pick him up, and thus the free linebacker who Terrelle was designed to block made the play.  There were multiple occasions where Faine was driven back and forced Willie Green to bounce a run out.   One of the times Faine gave up too much ground in pass protection, the defender batted Garcia's throw down.    One of Jeff's strengths is his recognition.  He always does a nice job climbing the ladder in pass protection.  A good example of his day was when a delayed blitz came, and while Jeff did recognize it a bit late and made the block, the pocket was partially collapsed. 

Second Half:  Again you will read the same praise from me here as well.  Faine did not give up on a block and made a nice athletic move to spring Green on a nice run on a toss.   There were a couple nice double teams with Zuk, where Jeff helped and then slid off on the backer nicely.  And Faine did a nice job with recognition in pass protection.  The negatives are the same this half as well.   Giving up too much push in the middle though Jeff walls off the defenders.  On one occasion Faine did not wall off, and Norman Hand easily broke down Jeff to make the play for a loss.   One thing did bother me a slight bit in pass protection though.  When dropping back in pass protection, it seems Jeff comes back a little too far in the pocket.   Faine was almost five yards deep without even blocking anyone.   He was right in front of Garcia who at the time did not have any pressure but really did not have the room to step up.   It only happened once that I noticed, but it is something I am going to keep an eye on.  And last but not least, the ugly errant snap to end the game.   Yes I made sure to dock Faine for the snap.   Granted it was still cacheable by Garcia, who did gator arm it, but it always the center's fault for being high to begin with.

Overall:  I personally have started to read rumblings about Jeff being a finesse blocker and that he might not be living up to expectations.  I contend he is clearly our most talented lineman, who finishes blocks, and will be a future Pro Bowler.  This game did not do too much to support my argument.   When faced with a monster 1 technique in Norman Hand, said 1 technique got the upper hand for most of the day.  Jeff never quit on his blocks, but was pushed around a good bit.   Granted, most centers are not considered in the mauling mold.   The two best in the league, Mawae and Kruetz, are known for their athleticism.  And Jeff's athleticism is his greatest strength as well.   He simply has not been able to showcase his talents because of the constant compensation which is required with Cleveland's two under whelming guards.  But to say Jeff's struggles against Hand are not a concern would be an outright lie.  

Grade:  92%

Kelvin Garmon

First Half:  The number one improvement I saw with Garmon this week was his ability to reach the second level effectively.  He did so throughout the entire game.   On James Jackson big draw run, Kelvin made a very nice on the blocker.   There was even one occasions where Garmon actually got to the second level, then even flipped his hips walling off almost the entire side of the line.  The one problem I continue to have is the coaching staff asking Kelvin to move in space.   His traps were just ugly, I cannot sugar coat it.  One time, Garmon just pancaked his own man while coming through the hole.  Other times he had trouble even getting through the hole because of his girth.  He has trouble making his way through traffic.   It is just plain ugly.   In pass protection it was a mixed bag.  At times, Kelvin recognized stunts and blitzes well; other times it was ugly.  One of the missed blitzers luckily hit Garcia late to keep a drive going.   On one occasion, Garmon even took too hard a step inside and almost was unable to pick up his block in pass protection. 

Second Half:  I have to start by being impressed again by Kelvin's new ability to get to the second  level effectively.  On the phantom holding call on Shea during Green's TD run, it was Garmon who got to the linebacker to help spring the long run.  And again, pass recognition was a mixed bag.  One time Kelvin picks up a stunt easily.   The next he lets Strahan get a free run at Garcia, giving up a sack.   The one other point I would like to bring up, is from time to time, Garmon does not hold his block for the entire play.  Two times in the game this came back to haunt Kelvin.  Quickly going back to the first half, Kelvin just tried to lean on the defender and hold him there.  Obviously the defender easily slipped off to make a tackle.   In the second half this problem reared its ugly head again.   On Quincy's big ‘catch' down the sideline, it was Garmon who let a block go early thus letting Garcia to get smacked and put Quincy in a bad spot between the safety and the sideline. 

Overall:  This past weekend for Garmon was a pleasant surprise for myself.   He improved greatly this week from the last.   And after a couple weeks, I am learning what we can expect from Kelvin.   I was very impressed by his ability to get to the second level, which will play a big part in the rest of our season playing the Steelers' 3-4 defense twice and Baltimore's 3-4 one more time.  Please do not ask Kelvin to pull.  His pass blocking is slowly getting better.   His feet are still sluggish, but the recognition is improving overall.   Learning what to expect from Kelvin will become a big part of our season.   The offense will know what it can and what it cannot do with Garmon at guard, and it is finally starting to become apparent why we was singed as a free agent to begin with.

Grade:  93%

Joaquin Gonzalez

First Half:  Where to begin?   Well how about the few positives I found?  We all know, Gonzalez had the unenviable task of facing Michael Strahan all day this past Sunday.  The first thing I saw from Joaquin I liked a lot was trying to establish himself against Strahan.  In the first couple plays (not sure which exact play), Strahan tried to get in on the play and was knocked to the ground.   While trying to stand back up, Joaquin made sure to push him back down to the ground just to let him know he was there.  I saw that as a big positive.  Joaquin even had a pseudo-pancake on Strahan.  Really it was another offensive lineman on the ground that Joaquin bowled Strahan over, but I gave Joaquin credit.  Well that is really it for the positives, now to everything else.  The very first play of the game, Joaquin did not even chip on Strahan and  guess what?   Strahan pursued down the line to make the tackle.  Now to the really fun part, the pass blocking, or lack thereof.  Joaquin was paying too much attention to Strahan and forgot to do his job, letting a delay blitz come through clean.  Strahan made sure to bulrush rush  Joaquin straight into Garcia, luckily the ball was already gone.  Joaquin gave up the edge to Strahan.  Joaquin's hands were easily swatted by Strahan and as such when  trying to reestablish was called for holding.    Seeing a trend here?   Oh and let us throw in a false start for good measure.

Second Half:  Wait a second, I found one more positive play!   Joaquin also had a nice block at the second level to spring Green on his touchdown which was called back by Shea's holding.  Now back to your previous program.  Strahan got great push, luckily Joaquin was finally able to wall off.  Again Strahan got a HUGE push and almost made the play from the backside.  Strahan swatted the hands again and got the corner on Joaquin, luckily the ball was gone again.  Joaquin was getting chip blocks on Strahan all game.   And last but not least, there was a giant cluster where Joaquin had no clue who to pick up on the blitz.  Garcia was obviously flushed and sacked.

Overall:  Did you notice how Michael Strahan's name came up more often than the player I was critiquing?   It is certainly obvious Joaquin had a bad day, and Strahan had a very good one.   Sad thing, because of Zuk's horrendous play, Joaquin somehow graded out slightly higher.   Well that and Joaquin was not asked to block Strahan on every single play.   Gonzalez was clearly put in a situation where the most likely outcome was failure, and he did not disappoint in that regard.  I would like to say Tucker would have done better, but in all honesty, I cannot. 

Grade:  85%

O-line Accessories

We all know that blocking simply is not the offensive lines responsibility.   And in this regard there was some improvement from the fullback, tight ends, and wide receivers from week two's game.

Tight ends:  I just said there was improvement overall, but I only have negatives to speak of right now.  Chad Mustard gave up the first sack of the game.  He was simply beat, surprisingly from a former lineman.  Shea was called on two holdings.   One in the first half, and obviously the big call which prevented Green's touchdown.  Staying with the second half, both tight ends were sliding off of blocks too early and defenders were making plays.   I will conclude by saying that the Shea did have one nice block which sprung one of Green's big runs..

Terrelle Smith:   This was the first game where fans really got to see the effectiveness of Terrelle.   He had some nice crushing blows leading up through holes.  There were also a couple occasions where Smith pussyfooted through the hole and got stuffed, thus stuffing the play.   He was called for holding once.   But it was his single block which truly sprung Green for the missed touchdown opportunity.   So a decent game overall, but I would like to see more solid performances down the road.

Backs and Receivers:  The running backs were quiet overall in this game.   But I did have to mention a very nice James Jackson had picking up the blitz, giving Garcia the time to complete the touchdown pass to Quincy.    The receivers are a much bigger part of our run blocking than one would expect.   As Mr. Phil Simms pointed out, the Browns favorite play is the ‘crack back toss'.   Meaning, it's a toss sweep, but with a receiver in motion who comes down and smacks either the defensive end or the strong side linebacker.   Not only has it been the coaching staff's favorite play, it has also been the most effective.   And many were mad when Kevin Johnson was benched because Butch said Andre Davis is a better blocker.

Big Ugly of the Week
:  Kelvin Garmon is this week's surprise winner.  Not for the fact he graded slightly higher than everyone else, but simply because I honestly would never have expected him to play so well this past week.   Now do not take that the wrong way, there is still a lot to be improved upon.   But his improvement from week two to week three was very impressive to say the least.  Thus Kelvin Garmon is this weeks BUOTW.   Congrats Kelvin, now let us keep seeing that improvement!

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