Cleveland Browns OL JC Tretter

How Browns Offensive Line Dominated Texans

The Browns bounced back after a tough loss to the Chiefs in Week 1 with a comfortable win over the Texans last Sunday. They went down early, but once they took the lead, they never relinquished it and seemed to be in the driver's seat the entire second half. A big part of the victory was the play of their offensive line.

The Browns were the team I picked to cover this year because I always want to watch at least one good offensive line. Cleveland's unit was well thought of going into the season and they seemed to be a safe bet to play at a high level. They certainly did not disappoint this week. They kept the quarterback clean and I really liked what I saw in the running game.

The backside of this play is so good. The combination between Wyatt Teller at right guard (77) and Jack Conklin at tackle (78) opens up a huge hole. Teller gives the defensive tackle a little straight-arm with his back hand to slow him down just enough to give Conklin an angle. Then Teller gets to the second level and completely covers up the linebacker. He brings some power with his hands at that level too. Look at how he rocks the linebacker's shoulder pads back at contact.

Conklin does a great job of ripping through to get his head across the defensive tackle. With cut block rules constantly changing, offensive linemen are more and more having to stay up on the back side of outside zone. It makes the block a lot tougher, but not impossible. By getting his head across, Conklin effectively reached his man. That feeling of being reached causes the defensive tackle to panic a bit and essentially sprint to try to get back into his gap. When the defensive end holds on the boot fake (without squeezing down nearly as much as he should), that creates that huge hole for the back.

The right side of the line are the stars again, but this time they're on the front side of the play. Teller is once again putting on a clinic. The Texans run fits are a mess, which is part of the reason why this is basically a walk-in touchdown, but Teller is kicking the dog out of this defensive tackle too. I think the defensive tackle he's blocking has the B-gap, but it's hard to tell because Teller gets his head there immediately and the defensive tackle never gets close to crossing his face. On top of that, Teller gets an astounding amount of upfield movement for an outside zone. He drives the tackle back 5 yards on a play where vertical movement isn't the top priority. Just a dominant block.

Tight end Austin Hooper (81) and Conklin at tackle aren't as good as Teller, but they're both effective. Both players widen their defenders plenty. Center JC Tretter does a nice job of working back and just getting a hand on the linebacker running through the backdoor on the play. I'm not sure that was the smartest run through by the linebacker, but sometimes it's tough to block guys when they do wild stuff. Tretter gets just enough of him to make sure the play gets sprung.

I do also want to take this time to point out how good Nick Chubb is. Obviously every back in the league would gain 12 yards here, but Chubb scores. A lot of backs would score here too, but Chubb consistently makes the first guy miss or runs through a tackle. That turns a lot of 4-yard gains into 8-yarders. It adds up over time for sure.

It wasn't just outside zone for Cleveland. That was their best running play for sure, but they ran some other stuff that was successful for them too.

This is just a classic trap play from the shotgun. Once again Teller at right guard is the standout. It's a long trap block because he's kicking out a 5-technique, but this play has been around for 100 years. Teller does a great job of dropping his pads and digging the defender out of the hole.

Left guard Joel Bitonio's (75) down block on the nose tackle gets a little movement and also seals him off. The play-side tackle, Jedrick Wills (71), does a nice job of escaping up to the second level and covering up the linebacker. Same with the tight end (David Njoku, 85). Just a well blocked play that probably goes for more yards if Chubb is carrying the ball. Still, an easy 8 yards is nothing to sneeze at.

Like I said at the top of the column, it was a strong performance for Cleveland's offensive line. The run blocking was really good, bordering on great. The pass protection was just as good if not better. Only two pressures really stood out to me and one of them was because the fullback missed his block. The other could have been easily avoided with a little movement from Baker Mayfield.

Before we go I did want to highlight a trick play that has been getting more popular the last few years. The first time I saw it was from Purdue, of all teams, in Jeff Brohm's first year there. But it's a nifty play that usually seems to work, a flea flicker tight end screen.

It makes sense why it works because all the linebackers bite hard on the handoff, then panic on the pitch back to the quarterback. So everyone on the second level has their backs completely turned to the line of scrimmage and misses the screen. It's genius, and one thing I like about it is it's a gadget play that's safe but not necessarily a home run shot. Not every trick play has to gain 40 yards to be successful. A tight end screen that can gain 8 to 15 yards consistently is a great play!

And here it could have been even bigger if the Browns offensive line blocked a single person. The new no-cut blocking rule will certainly make running screens more difficult. A year ago, I bet both Cleveland linemen in front of this play would have thrown cut blocks on these linebackers. Now they're stuck trying to mirror guys in space and it doesn't look great. I'm looking forward to seeing how teams try to teach screen blocking without the option to cut.


6 comments, Last at 24 Sep 2021, 2:56pm

2 Conklin does a great job of…

Conklin does a great job of ripping through to get his head across the defensive tackle ... effectively reach[ing] his man.

And then holding him!

Hunt is probably beyond his reach by that point. Is that why the hold wasn't called, or was it just missed by the refs?


6 o-line holding

Would be nice to have an extended discussion at some point regarding what linemen are allowed to do without getting called for holding.  They are allowed to grab the defender within the "framework" just to get a grip, for example. And as long as that grip doesn't "materially restrict" the defender's motion, it's allowed.

In this case the defender tries to pull away and go in a different direction, so the blocker lets him go.  He doesn't do so immediately, but he also doesn't use the grab to pull the defender.  

I've seen a lot more than this go uncalled.  Basically for an o-linemen to get called for holding, he has to grab and pull.

Also, it matters that in this play, the defender wasn't going to reach the running back regardless.  His reaction was too late.  Now that doesn't mean the lineman would have gotten away with an egregious hold/tackle at that point.  But holding is usually only called if its material to the play.

A Bills fan site has a good discussion of this:



3 Hey Ben,  Would love if you…

Hey Ben, 

Would love if you could analyze an example where you thought both offensive lineman and defensive lineman did their job correctly on the same play.

Too many times it gets viewed as either the d linemen lost and the o linemen won and vice versa, even though football isn't always a zero-sum game in that respect

4 In Ben's words...

If you're pointing out that that's holding, then you're reading the wrong column

5 TE screen

Looks to me as if the TE on should have continued pressing to the sideline. Once he cut back inside, 71 has nobody to block. Maybe it's just that the TE should have given 71 a chance to block somebody, because 71 looks like he is ready to engage the LB, and then sees the TE try to run through the LB. In other words, it looks like the TE needed to set up his blocks better, though the WR on that side didn't make a block either.