Leading up to the Cleveland Browns first game of the season against the New York Jets, a lot of talk surrounded the deficiencies of the Browns offense. From questions at quarterback to a lack of playmakers, the questions were certainly warranted—however, neither of those were the biggest problem with the team in their 31-10 loss.
Instead, it was the “backbone” of the team that collapsed in their first contest of the 2015 regular season—the offensive line. From getting owned by the New York Jets defensive line to contributing largely to the team’s 12 penalties for 109 yards, the unit as a whole was quite disappointing when it was all said and done.
Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine summed it up best, “I think overall we didn’t do a good enough job of blocking their front in order to sustain any type of rushing attack.”
Well, maybe he did not sum it up best, because that was pretty generous of him. When you get back and watch the game on the All-22/Coaches Film, you see a unit—especially guards Joel Bitonio and John Greco—that was constantly being bullied by rookie Leonard Williams, Muhammed Wilkerson and fourth-year man Damon Harrison.
Now, this isn’t an attempt to take blame off the likes of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson one bit. Those two left yards on the table with indecision and not hitting holes with power and decisiveness as well. But as you can see in a the images and breakdown below, there was a lot left to be desired when it came to run blocking—no matter who the quarterback was.
**Quick note, all images are screenshots from NFL Game Pass which retains all ownership and trademarks.
In the opening possession with Josh McCown in the game (90-yard drive resulting in a fumble), the Jets set the tone on 2nd down—which happened to be the first rushing attempt of the game. As you can see in the below image, Crowell starts right but the hole is quickly filled by a linebacker (first image). He cuts back to what appears to be a large hole on the left side of the line (second image), but Joe Thomas is being manhandled by the rookie Williams, who spins and has Crowell run into him to thwart the rushing attempt.
One thing people will note here is “look how big the hole Crowell has” between Thomas and the tight end on the outside. While this is true, as you can see there are two defensive backs and only one Taylor Gabriel attempting to slow them down, which allows the second DB to quickly close the hole. It appears Crowell’s only path was to try and stick as close to Thomas as possible to hit that hole—however, that was stopped when Williams spun into him.
Staying on the opening drive just two plays later, the dominance of Williams stands out again—this time against Bitonio. In what appears to be a designed run left, Williams drives Bitonio 2-3 yards back off the snap behind the line. This causes Crowell to go middle/right where he is met by two Jets linemen who have pushed Greco and Mitchell Schwartz back already as well. To put it simple, Crowell’s only hope on this play was Bitonio beating Williams, which didn’t happen.
The next run for Crowell on the drive was a run right, which you can see below. As you can see on this play, blocking tight end Jim Dray is absolutely mauled by his man into the backfield which forces Crowell to try and bounce it where he was (not pictured) met by defenders for a short gain.
Now, things weren’t all bad on the opening drive for the line—as they had positive blocking all over on a 6-yard gain. As you can see, Barnidge pulls right and leads the way for Crowell. More importantly, notice the wins all over the line, especially Greco who has his man (No. 99) completely turned around and Schwartz who is mauling his assignment to the ground.
The line’s blocking issues did not get better as the game on with a new quarterback, Johnny Manziel, in the game after McCown was knocked out either. On the first run play with Manziel in the game, Bitonio is eaten up by Williams again on a play (image one) while Greco had trouble with Harrison and Mack struggled with his block. Harrison ends up bringing Crowell down in the second image below.
We could go on like this breaking down every run of the entire game, but you get the picture–the Browns offensive line struggled and was dominated by a hungry New York Jets front. This resulted in very few running lanes, as the team ended up with 104 yards rushing, with 58 of those coming from scrambling quarterbacks. If they hope to bounce back against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday for their home opener, Joe Thomas and company better be clicking on all cylinders against a Titans front that finished with four sacks and two additional tackles for a loss.