2009 Season in Review: The Offensive Line, the Strength of the Team


This is the first article in a series looking at the Browns 2009 season position-by-position.  The focus of these Reviews will be on the traditional and advanced numbers.  I will also do a quick peak into 2010, noting potential off-season losses and needs.  

Let's start with what I believe was a major strength of this team; the offensive line. 

 

The Players

LT: Joe Thomas (16 starts - Pro Bowl; All Pro)

LG: Eric Steinbach (16 starts)

C: Alex Mack (16 starts)

RG: Floyd Womack (13 games, 9 starts)

RT: John St. Clair (14 games, 14 starts)

Backups: Hank Fraley (15 games, 4 starts), Rex Hadnot (9 games, 6 starts), Billy Yates (7 games),

Run Blocking

The Browns ended up running for 2,087 Yards or 130.4 YPG.  That was good for 8th in the league.  That number by itself is astonishing.  The offense in the first half of the season looked completely inept.  We couldn't run, pass, block, design a play, call a play, or do anything well.  That we were 8th in the league in anything is amazing.  However, We got to over 2,000 yards by running the ball 498 times and therefore only averaged 4.2 YPC, about league average (about 18th of 32 teams). 

Clearly, the strength of our line is from C to LT.  But we ran both left and right a bunch.  We had 42 1st downs and 31 10+ yard plays to the left and we had 36 1st downs and 20 10+ yard plays running to the right.  I wouldn't read too much into this from an individual analysis though.  Many of our plays involved pulling centers, guards, and tackles from the opposite side of the field.  The rushing success was a truly team effort. 

And for those still questioning the draft pick of Alex Mack: The Browns were first in the league in short yardage situations where we ran up the middle (getting a 1st down or TD on 93% of the time on 3rd or 4th and short when we ran up the middle).  Note- we were not as good going left or right in those short yardage situations (46 and 50%).  Overall on these power situations we were successful 64% of the time, 14th in the league.

Pass protection

Browns QBs were sacked 30 times or on 6.1% of all drop backs (including things like intentional grounding).  This was good for 15th in the league.  This is where Joe Thomas has made a name for himself.  Dominating the pass rushers and protecting Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson's blind side.  I remember him giving up 4 or 5 sacks this year, and I think all but 1 was from our (terrible) quarterback running into the sack. 

I would say of those 30 sacks, most were in the first half of the season.  Maybe even in the first 4 weeks.  Since the early season woes, several things happened:

- We have passed the ball less, leaning on our offensive strength: running from creative formations

- When DA played, he stayed true to his tendency of getting the ball out quickly and decisively

- When Quinn got his second stint, he was more confident in the pocket and felt the pressure, instead of seeing the pressure.  Allowing him to avoid sacks with his athleticism, while still looking down field.

- The right side of the line gained chemistry, consistency, and confidence.

Finally, we didn't commit many penalties on offense.  I couldn't find statistical information that broke penalties down, but I think it is safe to say that a large percentage of penalties called on the offense are called on the line.  Holding and false starts being the most common and both being a big part of pass protection.  If you can block your guy without holding him and without getting a false start, you are doing well.  The Browns were 3rd in the league for fewest offensive penalties last year.  Kudos again to Joe Thomas and Company.

TEs and FBs

Robert Royal and Lawrence Vickers don't play on the offensive line.  But their contributions to both pass blocking and the running game should be commended.

Thoughts

The Browns have a good line.  Joe Thomas is a top 5 offensive lineman in all of football.  Alex Mack had an outstanding rookie season.  Eric Steinbach is a pro bowl caliber player.  Between St. Clair, Fraley, Womack, and Hadnot, we have a serviceable to good right side of the line for 3/4 of the year.  Not to mention decent depth.

There is still room for improvement, but this is probably the strongest offensive or defensive unit on the team.

What to Look for in the offseason

I haven't followed the CBA, the negotiations for a new CBA, and the rules regarding free agency and the salary cap going into next year.  So, when I list potential free agents, please feel free to double check them and correct me.  That said, best I can tell:

- Potential Losses: Rex Hadnot.  He is the only potential free agent on our line.  He will only be 28 next season.  I'd probably try to bring him back, unless you target someone else to replace the depth he provides. 

- Available FA's: I don't see this as a need at all, but there are some names out there that could be upgrades on our right side, including: Jahri Evans (NO), Willie Colon (PIT), and Logan Mankins (NE)

- Draft: We aren't drafting a LT or a C.  I don't see us drafting a RT in the first round.  Mike Iupati from Idaho seems like a good fit if we traded down to the late first or if he slides to us in the early second.  Still, it is not high on my needs list.  We have a bunch of second day picks, I say try to find a big fat 330 LBS diamond in the rough then.

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