Will Covering Tight Ends Be the Achilles Heel of the Browns Linebackers?
After watching last night's game against the Detroit Lions, two things stood out in my mind about the team I love to watch and follow. The Browns offense is light years ahead of where it was last year, and although I still wish we had a old-school NFL stud like Matthew Stafford, who has a big arm and receivers like Calvin Johnson to play catch with, Jake Delhomme is a huge upgrade over either Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn as a starting quarterback and the receivers are adequate.
The Cleveland Browns defense did not play very well as a whole last night, but the secondary had some positive moments and the defensive line looks like they are just waiting for Shaun Rogers to solidify as a unit.
The other thing I noticed, and I hope that this was just a blip on the radar screen, is that our linebackers may be plentiful but that doesn't necessarily make them good.
For the second game in a row the linebackers were unable to generate any semblance of a pass rush. Last night, they were also consistently beaten in pass coverage.
They were especially outplayed in the second half when they faced Lions backup quarterback, Shaun Hill.
Hill came in and on successive drives conducted a free dissertation on the topic of how to find your tight end in the passing game, and then, when the Browns defenders were on their heels, how to land a haymaker by turning loose running back Aaron Brown to seal the deal.
The linebackers were not solely at fault as strong safety Abe Elam either whiffed or failed to wrap up on his primary cover several times during the game.
He prefers to launch his body through the air in attempt to make a crowd pleasing, bone rattling crack like rookie teammates T.J. Ward and Larry Asante rather than wrap up the player in a conventional tackle.
When he attempted to do this against Detroit's wide receiver Nate Burleson he whiffed and against tight end Tony Shefller, he just slid off.
The linebackers were just flat out beat by Detroit's tight ends which included: Dan Gronkowski who had two catches for 22 yards, Tony Sheffler with two catches for 19 yards, Will Heller who had two catches for 12 yards and Brandon Pettigrew who had one catch for 16 yards.
The numbers were not overwhelming, but almost all of the catches came during two scoring drives that resulted in touchdowns and turned the game's momentum towards Detroit.
The tight ends also were able to get open often when the Browns sent only a standard three man rush and had adequate options available in pass coverage.
For the second game in a row the Browns were unable to generate a pass rush with either the defensive line or their outside linebackers as they were held without a sack.
This doesn't help the pass defenders but after watching the Browns linebackers get flat out beat or dragged around the field, I wonder if they are big enough to adequately handle NFL tight ends or if this will be an Achilles heel all season?
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