Pryor’s comments came after the game. It was clear he was frustrated about the amount of hits the quarterbacks are taking.
Pryor is justifiably upset over the lack of quarterback protection. He is correct to say that the hits on the quarterbacks are “bullcrap.” When asked what can be done about it, he correctly deferred the question to management. I personally do not like the fact that he made the comments. However, it is understandable after a 0-11 start for players to be frustrated.
The focus of his frustration centered on the quarterback hits. As a former quarterback, he understands how hits on the quarterback affect the outcome of games. As a wide receiver, he understands how lack of time for a QB to throw impacts the passing game.
All that said, hits on the quarterback are a team effort. It is silly to think that the totality of the blame can be placed at the feet of the offensive line. The quarterbacks are holding on to the ball too long. They hold on to the ball too long when receivers are not open down the field.
If defenses can identify tendencies and patterns of each particular quarterback, they will take away what that particular quarterback likes to do best. This is clearly going on with the Browns right now. Cody Kessler and Josh McCown are known entities to NFL defenses. The offense must adjust. A failure to adjust allows defenses to take away what an offense does best. The result? Quarterbacks will hold on to the ball too long and get hit.
The offensive line deserves plenty of blame in this fiasco as well. The group up front has failed to mesh as a unit. It has also failed to mesh with a quarterback. Changes in the quarterback position affect offensive lines more than any other group.
Most of the linemen are playing well as individuals. The tackles both have excelled in pass blocking as individuals. The interior sees individuals struggling. Cameron Erving struggles at center and a position change may be in order. He may not play well, but he shows a lot of spirit and fight. John Greco is usually reliable but gave up multiple sacks and hits against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Spencer Drango played well enough to not be noticed, which is good enough for a rookie.
Oct 2, 2016; Landover, MD, USA; Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas (73) prepares to block Washington Redskins defensive end Trent Murphy (93) during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
The problem for this line comes when they are asked to play as a unit. The Browns offensive line looks like five individuals trying to pass block – which is not good. The offensive line need men of five acting in one accord if they are to be successful. In addition, there must be a leader of the offensive line who galvanizes the group and sets the tone.
The Browns offensive line lacks that leader.
Do not get me wrong. Joe Thomas is a great individual player. He is not a great leader. After the game on Sunday he decided to express his feelings when asked about the protection issues.
When asked about the possibility of demanding an influx of talent, Thomas referred to the loss of Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz as “the best at their position.” He then, correctly, looked to management as the decision makers as to who will be retained and who will not.
As to the loss of Mack and Schwartz, last year’s offensive line gave up the most hits on the quarterback of any team in the NFL. So, it is not like the offensive line was providing stellar protection when they were in Cleveland. Pass protection was a mess last year, it is still a mess this year.
Austin Pasztor struggled early in pass protection but has come on strong lately. Cam Erving continues to struggle at center. However, unless he played center this year, the front office would never had known what they had in him.
Oct 9, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas (73) against the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Patriots won 33-13. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
The real problem with Thomas’ comments came when he described his role on the team. He added, “For me it’s about trying to do my job to the best of my ability. And do everything I can to help our team win.” On the surface this seems innocent enough. He is doing everything he can as an individual to do his job and help his team win.
The problem comes with leadership. Joe Thomas is the leader of the offensive line room. In this interview, he does not give the impression that he is trying to rally the troops and fight to work through the problems. Instead, he comes across as aloof and above the issue.
As the reader, you can fault me for this take on his interview. However, my position is consistent with what I have witnessed over the past two years (to set an arbitrary limit).
Last season Arthur Moats beat Alex Mack and almost ripped Johnny Manziel’s head off. How did the offensive line react? Nothing. They did nothing to protect their quarterback. There was no fire in the offensive line to protect their quarterback. They simply seemed to be here to do their job, collect their paycheck and go home.
Everyone has seen the vicious hits quarterbacks have taken this season. How does the leader of the offensive line, the leader of the entire offense react? He decides to point out that the front office let his buddies leave and now they have to “lie in the bed” they have made.
Where is the fire? Where is the leader calling out his teammates to protect the quarterback? Where is an offensive line that fights with an attitude and anger that says, “not on my watch!”? Sadly, that leader does not exist within the offensive line room.
The offensive line needs a new leader. It needs one who focuses on the play of the group over their individual job. One who cares if the quarterback gets hit repeatedly. The line needs a leader is who sets an aggressive and nasty tone.
Joe Thomas is still having a great season even though signs of decline are everywhere. It would be smart for the front office to trade Joe Thomas, get as much value as they can. Then they would be in position to overall the attitude and mentality of this offensive line – which needs it badly.
Maybe Joel Bitonio is the leader this offensive line needs. He plays nasty and with aggression. The Browns will never know until they give him a chance to lead.
Joe Thomas’ time as the face of the franchise needs to come to an end. He is not the leader to shape this rebuild. He is not the leader who rallies the team to play better or work harder. Under his watch quarterbacks are taking beatings while the offensive line takes a “ho-hum, that’s what we get for letting people leave” approach. This is not how a face of the franchise responds.
Want to see how a face of the franchise responds? Look at Terrelle Pryor.
Terrelle Pryor is making the case to surpass Joe Thomas as the face of the franchise and the leader of this team. He plays with fire. He is determined to win. He is competitive. He hates losing. He is young and is exactly the type of personality the Browns need in a leader moving forward.