Browns Undone by Familiar Foes

Cleveland Browns OL JC Tretter
Cleveland Browns OL JC Tretter
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 12 - There's nothing worse than when your team plays on the national stage in prime time and comes out and lays an absolute egg. That's exactly what Cleveland Browns fans watched their offense do this past Sunday against the Ravens. Baker Mayfield has been taking most of the heat, but there wasn't much to be positive about for anyone on Cleveland's offense after that loss to their divisional rival. That includes their offensive line, which had been a bright spot all season.

One thing that's always interesting about divisional games is how well your rivals know you. Sometimes those adjustments are too subtle to pick up unless you have been watching tape on other teams. Other times it's not quite as subtle that a divisional rival has a bead on you.

This was the second play of the game and there's nothing the offensive line can do here. Linebacker Patrick Queen (6) jumps the snap count (off of the motion or shift maybe) and totally blows the play up in the backfield. This was as obvious as it got as far as Baltimore having a read on what Cleveland wanted to do, but when your second play gets this decimated you know it could be a long night offensively.

This isn't as obvious as someone jumping the snap, but this play has about as much chance of success as the previous one did. Cleveland is running into a nine-man box here and just doesn't have enough guys to block everyone. I don't know what Cleveland's rules are for blocking this look (the rule should be to check out of the play at the line of scrimmage), but either right tackle Blake Hance (62) or left guard Joel Bitonio (75) is working to the wrong guy here.

Hance is a backup who replaced Jack Conklin in the first quarter after an injury. He's also blocking a defensive back, which is usually not something you see from an offensive lineman on outside zone. However, Bitonio works to the same linebacker as the backside tight end (Austin Hooper, 81), so that's two guys on the same linebacker, which looks bad for Bitonio. That being said, tight ends are notoriously bad about knowing which second-level players they have to work to, so Bitonio might be right, and the tight end and Hance are wrong. It's impossible to say with certainty. All I know is you can't leave the play-side linebacker (Kristian Welch, 57) totally unaccounted for.

On top of not blocking someone at the point of attack, Cleveland's right guard gets his butt whipped too. Wyatt Teller (77) has had a great year, but I thought this past Sunday night was the worst I have seen him play in 2021. Here, his footwork is fine and he gets his head in the right place, but his hands are too wide and the defensive tackle gets into his chest. When a defender can get both his hands inside yours and onto your breastplate, you lose all your power, and that's how Teller gets walked backwards a couple of yards.

Teller wasn't the only Browns lineman to have his worst game of the year. I didn't think either tackle played particularly well. I mentioned the Conklin injury, so having the right tackle play take a dip is expected, but Jedrick Wills (71) really struggled in the passing game. He struggled with speed around the edge, but as the game went on he started overcompensating and getting beat underneath as well.

 

First of all, how the second play here wasn't called a hold I'll never know. But this was the result of getting beat around the edge a few times earlier. Wills has probably been the weakest link on a very good unit all year, and this Sunday he was a real issue for the offense. The most troubling part if you're a Browns fan is that he just looked too slow. He was too slow kicking out wide early, and when he started getting out wide, he was getting beat underneath and slow to redirect.

The footwork looks OK here on the initial set for both plays, but on the redirect, notice how he opens his hips by dropping the inside foot. He wants to come straight across, parallel with the line of scrimmage at worst, but he opens his hips and gives the rusher a path to the quarterback. Justin Houston really seemed to have his number Sunday night.

Even though this was a subpar performance for Cleveland, they still did do some good things. I thought they handled Baltimore's blitz game really well from a schematic standpoint. They were getting the right kind of blockers on the right kind of rushers—backs weren't blocking defensive ends, for example. Plus, it's not like blitzers that should have been accounted for were running free at Mayfield.

This is a great blitz pickup. Notice how Bitonio at left guard taps his helmet when Baltimore's Chris Board (49) walks into the A-gap. Board probably belongs to the back initially, but once he walks up to the line of scrimmage it makes sense for the guard to squeeze down and take him so there's not immediate pressure right up the middle. So Bitonio taps his helmet to let the back know he's squeezing and the back needs to work out to the next blitzer.

I also love Bitonio's set here. He's giving ground like that because with Chuck Clark's (36) alignment it would be very easy to run a pick stunt. By giving immediate ground he's giving himself some space for the rushers to declare their rush lane. He's letting them sort it out before he engages either one. And on top of all that, once his man drops late, he finds the looping linebacker from the other side (Tyus Bowser, 54) and blocks him. This is a great rep of pass protection from Bitonio, who was probably Cleveland's best offensive player last week.

The Browns dropped to 6-6 with the loss and are heading into the bye on the outside looking in at the playoffs. They have lost two out of their last three and are going to be missing their right tackle for the rest of the way. Cleveland will have to find some answers soon if they want to be playing postseason football.

Comments

3 comments, Last at 05 Dec 2021, 11:20am

1 Great

Great as always.  I especially appreciated your discussion of the blitz pickup.

2 Love this stuff, as always…

Love this stuff, as always.

I was rooting for the Browns to put together a decent season this year. Perhaps they still will. But not if they play like this.

3 10-7 to 11-6 was my…

10-7 to 11-6 was my prediction before the season and I'm sticking to it. :) (Figured the harder schedule by itself would keep them above 5 losses.)

I think everyone is rightly predicting Christmas at Lambeau to be a basically guaranteed loss, but every other game remains winnable...

I also may be the only person in town who is still enjoying the team more than the Cavaliers; not only is this a football town to begin with, but the "Wine and Gold" still have no true veteran superstars to allow them to do much in the playoffs if they make it., especially with Sexton out  (I would actually welcome a "farewell tour LeBron" in a coming season even if his skills are diminished...)