I already pointed out one aspect of how pressure affects Titans QB Jake Locker more than the other quarterbacks the Browns have faced so far this season. What about the Titans pass protection? What kind of pressure can we expect the Browns to get on Locker?
1. The Browns defense has been struggling against the run: Through three games, the Browns have given up an average of 153.7 rushing yards per game on 5.2 yards per carry while the Titans offense has averaged 119.5 rushing yards per game on 5.0 yards per carry over 4 games. Also, there are rumors that rookie RB Bishop Sankey will see a bigger workload starting this week. He's averaged 5.1 yards per carry so far. Regardless of who the back is, the Browns need to step up the run defense to keep opposing offenses behind schedule and off balance. If they do so, they can "pin their ears back" and "tee off" in the pass rush.
According to Kevin Jones of ClevelandBrowns.com:
"During the bye week evaluations, the coaching staff took an inverted look at things and studied themselves. Which play calls and schemes are working? And which are not? [Cornerback Joe Haden] said the Browns completely eliminated some of the calls where big plays were given up."
2. Another note on QB Jake Locker: He's eager to tuck the ball away and commit to a quarterback run when he has a lane. Defenses can take advantage of this in two ways:
First of all, they can sell out on their pass rush moves without too much fear that he'll buy extra time to find an open receiver...as long as they have are prepared to catch him running in the open field:
Secondly, they can attempt to bait him into taking off while actually being prepared to tackle him:
Baiting the quarterback into rushing doesn't have to be so elaborate or dramatic to be effective:
Here's an example of the Browns doing this against Roethlisberger in Week 1 (although it appears to have happened on accident as a result of DT Armonty Bryant being stopped on his outside move and deciding to redirect inside to get free from his blockers):
3. I've graded pass rush effectiveness in eight Browns games so far, but the Titans offensive line stands out as the least cohesive group of I've studied: To this point, the worst offensive line I've seen is that of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their O-line is made up of mostly below average players who have good awareness and do a nice job of working together and helping each other out. Their Achilles' Heel is losing individual matchups. The Titans have better individual players that have poor awareness and do a poor job of working together, making them less vulnerable blocking one-on-one but much more susceptible to stunts, overloads, exotic looks, and other attempts to create confusion and chaos.
4. Titans Right Guard Chance Warmack: Speaking of talented offensive linemen with poor awareness, Warmack is the most extreme example of this on the Titans. He is stout and can handle power. He's not very quick or mobile but he holds his own pretty well "in a phone booth". His awareness is a major weakness, though, as he is slow to notice additional rushers other than his initial assignment.
In this particular case, the pass is toward the direction Chance Warmack is blocking and the ball is out quickly. His assignment almost certainly was to help on the defensive end to that side if possible, which he did. I simply take issue with him not even taking a peek at what was happening right next to him. He could have found a split second to check how is center is holding up without compromising his job on the play.
Here, the defensive tackles are stunting again. In this case, though, Warmack appears to have the tackle across from him as his assignment. The DT slants left and Warmack sticks with him too far and for too long and is late picking up the other DT looping in behind (yellow):
Warmack also does a poor job providing assistance to other blockers. On this play, a safety blitzes through the B-gap. The running back is lined up in shotgun on the other side of the formation and has a long way to go to get to the blitzer. A single raised arm from either RG Chance Warmack or RT Michael Oher could buy the running back the time he needs to get there. Instead, both linemen tunnel vision into their assigned blocks:
...And here we go again. Same situation but with a linebacker this time. The back needs help getting to the blitzer in time and no one is able to assist him. Oher, the right tackle, notices but is too far away to do anything about it. Warmack is within reach but once again does nothing:
I would recommend that the Browns blitz or zone blitz into the B-gap or A-gap right beside Chance Warmack. So far this season, when other teams have overloaded one of these gaps they've often been able to get free rushers into the backfield. I think it would be wise to test the Titans on this and see if they continue to struggle handling it.
5. Titans Left Guard Andy Levitre: There have been some rumblings to the tune that Levitre may get benched for first round rookie Taylor Lewan. Part of that has to do with the high draft position of the rookie and part has to do with Levitre's performance. His biggest issue is that he struggles against power:
In the play above, he gets knocked off balance and driven into the backfield. Below, he gets knocked down and the defensive tackle sacks QB Jake Locker:
In base defense, I'd think Phil Taylor and John Hughes could really challenge LG Andy Levitre. In sub defenses, Billy Winn would be my top choice to face him with Desmond Bryant my second (if he's healthy enough to play). I'd rather have Armonty Bryant face Chance Warmack, who he may be able to threaten or at least occupy and distract with his agility and quickness.
6. Titans Center Brian Schwenke: Schwenke has been the Titans most reliable pass protector this season. By my count, he's only been beaten twice so far in four games. That's very solid. One of those times was due to his feet getting entangled with a stunting defensive tackle that the RG was blocking, causing him to trip:
The other time that he got beaten on a pass rush was on a play where he thought he had help from the right guard on a double team (but RG helped RT), got caught leaning, and got beaten through the A-gap:
Him tripping on the first play is unfortunate but still his fault for not getting his job done. I'm not certain who was wrong in the miscommunication on the second play, as I don't know what protection was called for that play, but generally the guard is responsible for helping to the inside first and Schwenke sure seemed to be expecting Warmack to lend him a hand. Overall, I'm very impressed with the young center's pass protection.
I'd like to see Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor rotate at nose tackle and take turns squaring off with Schwenke. Billy Winn and John Hughes actually saw a few reps at nose versus the Ravens, but I'd rather not waste their penetrating ability against the Titans best interior lineman. They have much more favorable matchups against either of the guards.
7. Titans Right Tackle Michael Oher: Oher was the starting right tackle for the Ravens last year, who the Browns faced twice. As a result, there is plenty of film of our pass rushers facing him, so I studied that tape more extensively than his performances this year and will reference examples from it instead. Kruger faced him a lot more than Sheard or Mingo did. In the play below, Paul Kruger gets Oher leaning, uses his strength and leverage to shed the block, turns the corner, and closes on Joe Flacco:
Now Kruger uses an inside move. Oher is anticipating an outside rush and gets his shoulders turned just a tiny bit too much to the outside. Kruger bear hugs him, wraps his right arm around the right tackle's inside shoulder, shoves him to the outside, and gets by him to the inside:
This next play is sort of the middle ground between the two previous examples: Kruger starts an outside move and then redirects inside. He sets Oher up outside and initiates contact with a hand to the tackle's chest. He then redirects, gets his other hand into Oher's chest and under his pads, drives him back toward the quarterback, and powers through him to the inside to tip Flacco's pass:
Sheard didn't match up against Oher very much last year, as former Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton preferred not to alternate what sides his outside linebackers lined up on and Sheard was usually on the other side of the formation. He did face Oher on one noteworthy play, though. D'Qwell Jackson got early pressure on Flacco up the middle, forcing him to step up in the pocket. Sheard was coming on an outside move, noticed the changing situation before RT Michael Oher did, redirected upfield, and secured the sack:
8. Titans Left Tackle Michael Roos: The former Pro Bowler is chiefly recognized for his run blocking, but he's also a capable, though not elite, pass protector. He doesn't fit the left tackle dynamic athlete prototype, but is coordinated with good balance and sound technique. Roos is vulnerable to edge rushers with elite power, making this a favorable (though not great) matchup for Paul Kruger. Margus Hunt and Tamba Hali demonstrate this below:
So far this season, the Titans haven't faced any pure speed rushers that can really bend the edge (Robert Mathis was suspended for last week's game against the Colts). Roos appears to be somewhat vulnerable to that type of threat, but the Browns don't have a player like that anyway. Versus the kind of quickness he's faced and the kind he will face in Week 5, he's fared well protecting against the speed rush. He has had a couple bad plays against speed -- the following being the worst he's had this season, with the end beating him around the corner, albeit rather deep in the backfield:
# # # Bonus for your amusement: Titans left tackle Michael Roos gets set to catch Tamba Hali on his rush and RB Leon Washington decides to lend a helping hand:
Roos was in good position to block Hali but Washington bumps him inside, past the left tackle, and into the quarterback's lap.