Mano A Mano: Mathis vs. Shaffer

With Joe Thomas anchoring the left side of their offensive line, the Browns are hoping they can neutralize Dwight Freeney. But will Robert Mathis see a favorable one-on-one matchup on the right side? Greg Talmage previews the battles on the edges inside!

After being the unsung heroes of the 2007 Cleveland Brown season, the Browns offensive line, like most aspects of the team, have underperformed this year.

Vinny over at the Orange and Brown Report details the problems for this unit, focusing on the right side of the line: "the hard word is this: the right side of the Browns offensive line has played average, at best, this season. Guard Rex Hadnot lacks lateral movement and is slow coming off the ball. Despite being a one-time starter, Hadnot was signed for depth purposes, and is not nearly the player Ryan Tucker is. Tackle Kevin Shaffer hasn't looked good this season. Some of Shaffer's issues are due to the play at right guard, as Shaffer moves adequately for a linemen, but has troubles with quick rushers with good burst due to his slow drop and plant."

Mathis has a favorable matchup against the Browns on Sunday
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

Colts DE Robert Mathis is the type of quick rusher with good burst that should give Shaffer headaches all afternoon. Mathis brings an uncanny quickness at the snap and is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback.

So far this season, Mathis has 6.5 sacks and a team-high four forced fumbles. After going sackless for 5 straight games, Mathis got back in the sack column with a sack and a half last week against the Chargers.

The big question here is how the Browns choose to block not only Robert Mathis, but also RDE Dwight Freeney. Last week, Freeney so dominated Pro Bowl LT Marcus McNeill that the Chargers had to change protection schemes in the 2nd half and have OG Kris Dielman help the two-time Pro Bowler with Freeney. This week another 2007 Pro Bowl left tackle — Joe Thomas — will attempt to slow Freeney.

RT Kevin Shaffer has greatly benefited from the emergence of Joe Thomas at left tackle because it allows the Browns to give Shaffer help if overmanned. Browns Head Coach Romeo Crennel trusts Thomas one-on-one against nearly anyone.

But can Thomas block Freeney without help? Freeney is in the midst of a real hot streak and is arguably coming off his best three-game performance streak as a Colt. How they block Dwight will have a real effect on the Mathis-Shaffer matchup.

I think Cleveland, like San Diego, will start by putting a single blocker on Freeney with the hope that a constant running game will keep Derek Anderson out of many certain passing situations. If the running game isn't working, and Thomas is struggling with Freeney, then look for the Browns to provide help and in turn leave Shaffer on an island against Mathis.

Shaffer struggles mightily against elite speed-rushers. He isn't very nimble or fluid and lacks the ability to consistently play the game low. If the one-on-one matchup presents itself, Mathis should be able to take advantage. Still watch for plenty of max protect calls and for the Browns tights ends to do more blocking than receiving on Sunday.

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