If you judge the outcome of last Sunday’s Jaguar game solely by the numbers, it’s obvious why the Browns could not pull out a victory.
Beyond the sheer failure of turning six Jacksonville turnovers into ten points, the Browns managed only 88 rushing yards and gave up six sacks. Not exactly the stuff of legends….even despite the extraordinary circumstances of the game.
Logic would point to a faulty offensive line for the Browns’ regressive offensive performance on Sunday, but then again it’s worth noting that sometimes even logic doesn’t make much sense.
After all, most NFL teams tend to win a game in which they collect six turnovers.
Yet in this most illogical of games, there wasn’t much the offensive line could do to prevent a different outcome on Sunday.
In many respects, Sunday’s loss could be reduced to a simple numbers game.
The Jaguars simply loaded up their front seven against the Browns’ rushing attack and then began to squeeze a hobbled McCoy. Once the twin threats of Hillis up the middle and a mobile McCoy were extinguished, the Browns’ glaring lack of offensive playmakers fully emerged.
As for the offensive line’s overall performance, the shades of dominance we have witnessed over the past month of the season were not on display. In fact, the offensive line tended to play from a defensive standpoint for most of the game.
Early on, the Browns’ offensive line struggled with Jacksonville defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. Knighton usually lined up between Alex Mack and Eric Steinbach and was able to get a solid push on each. On the occasions when Steinbach drew a solo assignment on Knighton, the agile Jacksonville defensive tackle simply dominated.
It was obvious from the first quarter on that Knighton altered the Browns’ game plan. Even on the Browns’ marathon first quarter drive, the rushing attack spread more horizontal and the passing game relied on a series of quick passes by McCoy.
Very few of Peyton Hillis’ first half runs went between the tackles – which became a trend that continued into the latter stages of the game. Beyond Knighton, the Jaguars loaded up their front seven with the likes of Daryl Smith and a host of quick linebackers.
In the second half, the Browns’ offensive line encountered a series of overloaded matchups – as the Jaguars brought a variety of corner blitzes, in addition to relying on their quick defensive ends. During most of these plays, the Browns’ struggled to pick up advancing defenders.
Perhaps the best evidence of this was shown on a series of fourth quarter sacks by the Jaguars. Jacksonville’s Derrick Harvey rushed around the right side of the Browns’ line and beat Hillis on a critical third down play. One drive later, John St. Clair couldn’t contain his defender, which forced a one-legged McCoy scramble. A few plays later, Jeremy Mincey beat Steinbach for yet another sack.
Along the way, Steinbach was badly outmatched by Jaguar rookie Tyson Alualu and at times Knighton overpowered Mack. The Browns’ backfield struggled in blitz containment throughout – which may be an indicator of the overall lack of production by the team’s wideouts downfield.
To this point, when the offensive line could manage to pick up what was often six or seven Jaguar defenders, the Browns’ receivers simply couldn’t get open downfield.
In a nod to last week’s soul-numbing loss to the Jets, the lack of offensive playmakers again hurt the Browns against Jacksonville. Once the Jaguars took away Hillis’ inside running lanes, the pressure was turned up against McCoy. Jacksonville rushed linebackers and blitzed corners, knowing that the repercussions downfield were virtually non-existent.
In the end, the overall performance by the Browns’ line didn’t exactly cost their team the game. While Billy Yates’ rugged interior play was missed, rookie Shaun Lauvao managed to turn in a decent performance. Joe Thomas was solid and St. Clair performed better than expected, at least considering the quickness of the Jaguar defense.
However, one truth about the Browns’ current offense has emerged over the past two weeks. Simply put, this is an offense – and an offensive line – that cannot afford to play one-dimensional football.
Unfortunately, the one dimension that this offense has – a power running game – was taken away early on Sunday.