Cleveland Browns: Austin Pasztor excelling at pass protection
Cleveland Browns right tackle Austin Pasztor has struggled mightily at right tackle this season. Find out how he has turned it around.
Cleveland Browns offensive line coach Hal Hunter deserves a raise. His work with the offensive line has been nothing short of amazing.
Just four weeks ago, the line was giving up massive hits on quarterbacks, turning the position into a living hell on earth. However, one month later the offensive line who should have struggled against a very good New York Jets front seven went out and protected Josh McCown well. Their play gave the Browns an opportunity to win the game. Unfortunately, failure to execute from the quarterback and wide receiver positions ultimately held the offense back.
Helping the offensive line was a change in the way offensive line calls were made. Josh McCown called out the mike in pass protection coverage and he made relevant line blocking calls. When a call was made at the line of scrimmage, it was usually John Greco making the calls. He called out the changes in protections and run blocking schemes.
This sounds contradictory so let me explain. McCown made the initial call based on what the defense lined up at initially. McCown then made a dummy cadence call to get the defense to show their hand. If changes were necessary after that point, they were made by John Greco. McCown made changes with the receivers and backs. This system worked very well for the Browns on Sunday.
The most improved player over the past four weeks is far and away Austin Pasztor. I have been very critical of Pasztor in my articles. It is nice to see his play not only improve but actually be outstanding for his position.
Run blocking has always been his strength. He is a pure road grater who has opened many holes in the running game. However, pass protection has been a serious struggle for him. Over the past few weeks, Pasztor has consistently improved in pass protection. Dare I say it, but Pasztor right now is a better overall tackle than Mitchell Schwartz (whose game is limited to pass protection).
What is Pasztor doing now that he was not before?
Pasztor gets off the ball
Pasztor’s sets in pass protection are much improved. Early in the season, Pasztor struggled to get out of his stance, create space and set to take on the defender quickly enough.
Pasztor was consistently late out of his stance. This created problems for him on the rest of the block. It would make sense for him to get out of his stance late because of his switch from guard to tackle. At guard, it is easier to hear the cadence and see the ball.
Tackle is like playing on an island in pass protection. There is a greater need to time the snap at tackle as opposed to guard. As a guard, one can compensate for being late off the ball because there is less ground to cover and help from the center. At tackle, especially facing a speed rusher, there is more ground to cover and less time to cover it.
In order to cover the ground quickly, the tackle must anticipate the snap count must like a defensive end. The offense knows the snap count, but if he can get off a little earlier without false starting, then a major advantage is created. This is why tackles will more often false start than guards in pass protection.
Pasztor has figured out the skill of anticipating the snap. It has allowed him to create space more effectively and to get set before the initial contact with the defender. A good start leads to a good block. Pasztor is figuring that out.
Pasztor beating the Wide-9 Rush
Pasztor has figured out how to set the Wide-9 technique. Pasztor struggled early in the season against speed rushers converting speed to power. He still struggles to an extent but he is figuring out how to cut off the inside line from rushers.
In previous games, Pasztor would be late off the ball and unprepared at the point of contact. As such, he was at the mercy of the defender. That is, his failure to set allowed the defender to make any move he wanted and take any path to the quarterback he wanted.
Now Pasztor is setting on time. In addition, he is using his body to dictate terms to the defender. In previous weeks, Pasztor would open his hips to face the defender giving the defender two options. He gave up major hits on Griffin, McCown and Kessler when beat on the inside move. Now Pasztor is keeping his shoulders and hips square to the line of scrimmage closing off that inside lane. By doing so, he dictates to the defender the lane he can rush.
By dictating terms to the defender, Pasztor is taking control of the pass protection and making his job much easier. For example, by setting setting square and closing off the inside lane, Pasztor is forcing defenders to take the longer outside lane. This plays into his hands as he can run a speed rusher past the quarterback or stand up the power rusher creating a nice pocket for the quarterback.
The improvement of Austin Pasztor is real and should be taken seriously. Hal Hunter deserves a raise for his work with Pasztor. I once asked, can Austin Pasztor be fixed? The answer is clearly yes because he has been fixed. This is great news for Browns quarterbacks.