Disappointing doesn’t begin to explain the Cleveland Browns' 27-26 loss in New England on Sunday. They had the game in their grasp and let it slip away. There were still plenty of positives to be taken from the loss, however.
The Browns offensive line, which had struggled mightily for the past three weeks, allowed just one sack and kept quarterback Jason Campbell clean for most of the day.
There are many factors that play into an offensive line’s performance. The blocking, the protection calls against blitzes, communication and how many blitzes the defense actually run all play a part into the full performance.
In this week’s film breakdown we look at the offensive line and see exactly why it was so successful against the Patriots.
Let’s look at three plays.
Play 1: 3rd-and-4 in the second quarter
The Browns are lined up in a shotgun formation with two backs in the backfield. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya will run to the flat on a passing route and tight end Gary Barnidge will stay to protect Campbell along with the five offensive lineman.
The Patriots are going to rush six players. This will include a double linebacker blitz right up the middle targeting center Alex Mack.
The Patriots are showing more than six defenders, so communication on this play is key. You can see guard Jason Pinkston making contact with Mack before the snap. There were multiple calls made by the lineman before this play.
After the snap the lineman pick up their assignments perfectly and Barnidge is ready to pick up the extra linebacker who will be blitzing through the center of the line.
The line also held its position at the point of attack, which is allowing Campbell plenty of room and time to scan the field.
Barnidge never actually ends up having to pick up a block because Mack is able to hold off both defenders by himself. Heroic effort.
The line has a perfect pocket formed around Campbell and allows him 2.97 seconds between the snap of the ball and his release.
Early in the year the line had a very hard time communicating and then executing assignments pre-snap. The guard position, which was a revolving door, has finally formed some continuity.
The Browns picked up 18 yards and a first down on this play. They did not score on this drive, but they did move the chains and allow punter Spencer Lanning to give New England unfavorable field position.
Play 2: 1st-and-10 in the third quarter
This is a first-down play where the Browns have seven men on the line of scrimmage. Six of these players, five lineman and a tight end, will stay to pass protect.
The Patriots have seven players around the line of scrimmage but will only end up sending four rushers.
The Patriots drop both inside linebackers and one of the outside linebackers into coverage. This is an easy pickup for the offensive line and it does it to perfection.
With little to no threat, Campbell is able to stand in the pocket and deliver a strike down the field to tight end Jordan Cameron. The line allowed him 3.15 seconds from snap to release.
The Browns deserve some credit for not being beat by a four-man rush because that has happened far too often this season. Their success on this play can be directly attributed to the Patriots' lack of blitz, however.
This is an interesting trend with New England. It did not dial up nearly as many blitzes as one would have thought against a team that had given up the second-most sacks in the NFL.
The Patriots also did not blitz the Houston Texans very much in their previous game and had to squeak out a victory there too. They allowed quarterback Case Keenum to sit in the pocket after he had proven in previous weeks he was awful against pressure.
Play 3: 2nd-and-4 in the fourth quarter
This was the play that seemed to seal the game. The Browns were up 19-14 and threatening at the Patriots 4-yard line.
New England has all 11 players in the box to stop the run. It will have one corner and one safety drop into coverage if they detect a pass.
The Browns only have eight men on the line to protect against this defense. They will run a play-action pass. The most important part of the line’s protection will be to the right side where Campbell will roll out.
The entire defense bites on the fake handoff to Ogbonnaya. The line does a great job of walling off both sides to pressure.
The outside rusher who has to bite on the play fake does and is a step behind Campbell as he rolls out to his right.
Jordan Cameron has to block his man far enough up-field that he allows Cameron to slip right by him because he believes the play is a run.
Cameron executes his block and then the route to perfection. The line does not allow any pressure whatsoever, and Campbell lobs a touchdown pass to Cameron, who is wide open in the end zone.
This play needs to be blocked perfectly from all angles otherwise it will blow up in the Browns' face. If pressure is allowed from either side of the line, it will throw off Campbell’s timing.
If Cameron does not sell his block hard enough, he will be covered in the end zone. The Browns get an “A+” for execution on this touchdown pass.
The Browns' fantastic blocking performance was a combination of many things. The biggest of them was that the Patriots did not send as many aggressive blitzes as other teams have.
However, the Browns line was able to block perfectly in each situation it was put in. For a large part of the year it struggled with simple blocking executions, which led to its 43 sacks allowed.
While it will probably need some heavier hitters at the guard position to help the run game next season, continuity is also a large part of pass protection. With all the injuries at the guard positions this season, the Browns never found their footing in this department.