The Cleveland Browns offensive line has looked at times like a scene from the 3 Stooges with everyone running in every direction. When will it stop?
The Cleveland Browns offense has been sputtering the last couple of weeks and the main culprit is communication.
Communication is the responsibility of the leader of the offense, so you could draw the conclusion that there is a leadership problem at the quarterback position. However, this article will focus on the communication issues that have arisen in the absence of strong leadership in the huddle.
The Browns offensive line has looked like a scene from the 3 Stooges at times. Everybody has seen the video of guard Spencer Drango completely missing his block against the Baltimore Ravens with what looks like a lack of effort. A closer look at the play reveals that he was trying to pass off his block to center Cam Erving whom Drango thought was helping on the inside. When Drango engaged his man, the defender went inside and Drango tried to pass him off but nobody was there.
The real question in this scenarios is: why was nobody there? The original protection call must have been a slide left protection. A slide left protection means the whole or part of the offensive line slides to the left. In this case, it was most likely a three-man slide to the left.
The problem occurred when a defensive player walked up in to a blitz position over the A gap. Quarterback Josh McCown saw the threat and changed the protection to pick up the blitzing player. The change in protection took Erving out of his responsibility to the left and put it to the right to cover the threatened A-gap.
Drango either did not get the change in protection call or did not understand that Erving would be in the other A-gap. Thus, when engaged by the defender, Drango thought he had help to the inside with Erving. However, because Erving was helping with the stunt on the right side of the line, there was no inside help for Drango. The result was a defensive lineman running free for a quarterback sack. Also resulting from the play is an embarrassing clip played ad nauseam.
But such is the way for an offensive line playing musical chairs. If it were only the offensive line, the problem would be easily corrected. But it is not only the offensive line, as the quarterback position has been playing musical chairs all season as well.
Upon watching the coaches film on NFL Game Pass, it is easy to see that Cody Kessler and McCown have two different understandings of the game. Like a rookie, Kessler assess the situation and runs the play. He rarely calls out protections or changes protections. However, McCown is more engaged with the offensive line during the game. He is up at the line changing protections and even calling protections when appropriate.
The difference is quarterback style is confusing. The offensive line must be aware of potential changes when McCown is in the game, as were Kessler seems to roll with whatever protection is called. Potential confusion is heightened when quarterback changes are made mid-game.
Further compounding the issue is the fact that Drango is a rookie who does not have much NFL playing time. His head is spinning trying to adjust to the freak athletes that play defensive line in the NFL. Add another level of complexity in the ever-changing protections and blocking schemes, and it can easily overwhelm a young offensive lineman.
Of course, this is one of the reasons opponents are stacking the box and disguising blitzes. Kessler and the younger members of the offensive line are not keeping up at this point to the complexity of changes each situation presents. For the defense, it is like taking candy from a baby.
Sadly, the only way to fix this is playing time together. The offensive line needs to play together to get used to how each other handles adjustments, and how each players’ skill sets can allow one to adjust and to what degree. There also needs to be time with one quarterback playing with one set offensive line. Each needs to learn how the other operates and this season has not allowed this to occur.
Moving forward, the best thing for the Browns is for Robert Griffin III to return under center. Even though he only played in one game, Griffin seemed to have the pulse of the offensive line and they seemed to understand his style of play.
Either way, don’t expect the communication issues to resolve themselves any time soon.