The Panthers offense is based on an inside zone and read option rushing attack. They often run inside zone (with and without the read option), outside zone, Power, and occasionally Pin and Pull (refer to this article for detailed analysis of some of these plays).
With a healthy Cam Newton, they are a threat to run the ball from any formation and in almost any game situation.
Coming off a bloodbath of a loss to the Bengals, the Browns need to figure out how to stop the run and figure it out quickly. Defensive linemen Ishmaa'ily Kitchen and Ahtyba Rubin got bullied and manhandled by the Bengals interior linemen. Inside linebackers Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey had serious difficulties getting off or avoiding blocks.
The Panthers interior linemen should have a considerable edge in this one. Center Ryan Kalil and left guard Andrew Norwell both look like the kind of solid run blockers that could pose problems for the Browns interior linemen and linebackers. Right guard looks like much less of a threat with rookie Trai Turner falling off his blocks rather often due to poor technique and Amini Silatolu nursing a knee injury.
As a result, I take an in depth look at the Panthers offensive tackles and see if this is an area in which the Browns defense can find favorable matchups.
LT Byron Bell
Byron Bell bends well, has average strength, has decent balance, his agility is average to below average, and he has somewhat heavy feet. He's a pretty good athlete for the position but not an elite one.
What about his technique? He's not an overaggressive lunger who attacks the defender too early and off balance, whiffs, and is beaten immediately. He plays on the balls of his feet, keeps his hands down, prioritizes getting his inside arm on the defender to protect against counter moves, is patient, and trusts his technique.
However, he is passive rather than patient, often letting the defender initiate contact. Because his opponent is often the one to dictate when contact is made, Bell tends to be caught on the balls of his feet at the time, which takes a lot of the strength and leverage out of his punch. He also fails to get his hands inside and into the defender's chest and instead settles for blocks on his man's shoulder pads.
...Then there's the footwork. Byron Bell stops his feet too often, especially on contact. He should be focusing on cutting off the rusher with his feet but once his hands get involved he loses sight of that. He also has issues with staying square to the line of scrimmage. Sometimes he keeps his shoulders square but turns his feet; many other times he just turns toward the rusher and "opens the door" for an inside counter move.
The following play shows Bell at his best in pass protection. He wins with his feet, keeping them out in front of the rusher. He makes first contact and it's well-placed into the defensive end's chest. The only negative here, is that he turned his shoulders toward the defender earlier than he needed to, giving the rusher a good opportunity to beat him with an inside counter move (open the door like that this Sunday and you'll let the Dawgs in).
Let's look at a still frame of the moment of contact. As you can see, his hands are into the defender's chest rather than out on his shoulders. He's reasonably balance (though he could stand to bend his knees more to get lower and get better leverage, but he's still lower than the rusher). Notable on this play is that his heels are firmly planted on the ground. This is how he should be at the moment of contact, because it gives him a strong anchor. He's going to be very difficult to move in this position. Unfortunately for him, this is a highlight. He usually makes contact while on the balls of his feet and is much easier to push back.
When your first contact on a play looks like the image below...you're gonna have a bad time.
He is caught angled away from the line of scrimmage and on only one foot, which allows the rusher to blow by him on an inside move:
Again, Bell has only one foot on the ground upon making first contact:
The rusher gets under his pads and drives him deep into the backfield:
Here he's getting caught making initial contact when his feet aren't set (this time he at least has both on the ground):
The previous three plays show what happens when you don't match your footwork with your punch...and when you let the defender dictate when contact is made.
This time, Byron Bell stopped his feet too soon rather than working to get them out in front of the rusher:
Here Bell stops his feet again and instead just tries to lean to make the block:
Byron Bell gets aggressive on this play, seeking to initiate contact himself...but he does so way too early, before he can even reach the defender's body and has his hands swatted away:
LT Byron Bell
The Panthers left tackle is a much better run blocker than pass protector. He has decent speed to get out into the second level. On the other hand though, he lacks the agility to adjust on the move and doesn't have good quickness off the snap, which hurts him mightily when it comes to making reach blocks.
He has adequate functional strength and can control and move defenders if able to to lock on but isn't anywhere near a true road grader. He's also a smart run blocker who exploits his man's lack of discipline when it's to his advantage.
He's best-suited to walling off defenders on the front side of inside zone and zone read plays as his disciplined approach keeps him in optimal position and his quickness limitations are less of an issue on the playside where he's not asked to get out and block a linebacker on the second level as often.
Most importantly, Byron Bell doesn't get run over, driven back, or tossed aside when run blocking. He doesn't have the highlight reel, tone-setting, pancake block type of plays in him, but he also doesn't embarrass himself whiffing or falling off blocks.
Here on the playside of an inside zone run, the defender is overaggressive and pursues too far upfield. Rather than getting overly aggressive himself by trying to deliver the knockout punch, Bell holds his proper positioning and just gives him a little shove as the defender takes himself out of the play:
On this zone read play, he walls off the defensive end on the playside. The end is a little more disciplined this time, but still gets too far upfield.
This time Bell is blocking on the backside of the play. He lets the defensive end get upfield as he did on the playside. That's not the best play here. He really needs to either stop the end in his tracks or push him further upfield. It's not too bad -- and it had no impact on this particular play -- but if the back has trouble finding an open running lane the end could potentially get back in the play.
On this zone read play, Cam Newton keeps and rushes in Bell's direction. Bell makes and holds a good shield block on the outside linebacker, keeping him out of the play and allowing the quarterback rush right in behind him. It could have gone for a big gain if center Ryan Kalil made his block.
On another play, the defensive end wins. The end gets the ideal 45 degree angle to the line of scrimmage that you want when setting the edge, as it gives you the ability to affect both the inside and outside running lanes:
Due to a linebacker getting playside B-gap penetration, the back is forced to bounce the run outside. With the end getting a good angle on the tackle, he can rip inside or outside to attack the ballcarrier. In this case, he powers past Bell and tackles the back for a loss. This happened because Bell failed to get his hands on the defensive end.
When the Panthers run Power to Bell's direction, he does a good job blocking down on the defensive tackle, driving him off the ball and giving the pulling guard and fullback the one-on-one matchups necessary to make this play effective.
Running Power again, Bell makes the blocks down on the 3-4 defensive end in a combo block with the left guard. He then leaks up to the second level and attempts a block on a linebacker but is unable to get playside of him and therefore can't hold it.
Bell struggles on the backside of outside zone runs. Here, he's unable to catch up to -- let alone overtake -- the backside 3-4 defensive end due to his poor quickness out of his stance.
LT Byron Bell
All told, Byron Bell was a passable right tackle when they had Jordan Gross on the other end of the line, mostly due to being a competent run blocker. But as the anchor of an offense, he's one of the league's worst left tackles. He simply makes too many technical mistakes in pass protection and doesn't have elite athleticism to fall back on to cover them up.
RT Mike Remmers
On the majority of their passing plays, the Carolina Panthers protect right tackle Mike Remmers with either a tight end, an H-back, or a fullback as an extra edge blocker on his side. Quite often, they also send the running back to that side.
These backs and tight ends aren't just lined up on his side or chipping an end or linebacker and then releasing into routes, they're assigned strictly to pass blocking duties. That's a clear sign of how much confidence they have in him on the end of the line (as well as a sign that they have a lot more confidence in Byron Bell on the other side, who rarely receives help as a result).
Versus a 3-4 defense, Remmers typically gets assigned to block the strongside defensive end in pass protection and is only occasionally asked to block the outside linebacker.
Mike Remmers doesn't move his feet enough to stay out in front of an outside rush. His foot movement stalls upon contact. He doesn't stay square to the line of scrimmage and "opens the door" early.
Worst of all, he frequently lets defenders get their hands into his chest. Once they gain this advantage, they can control him and shove him around.
As a result, he has a tendency to lean forward and make lunging attempts to make the first contact, as he struggles to defend himself once they get within reach.
Below is an example of one of his typical assignments, he blocks the 3-4 defensive end while the fullback chips on his way into a route and the running back picks up a linebacker on Remmers' side. He gets walked back a few yards by the defensive end but maintains his block.
Here the Panthers have an H-back and the running back pass block on the strong side. Remmers assists the right guard on a double team on the under tackle.
This time a tight end and running back block on the strong side. Remmers blocks the under tackle and immediately receives a hand square in the chest. The defensive tackle uses this advantage to bull him four yards backwards:
Here Remmers gets an edge assignment. He faces a 4-3 end and gets a hand to the chest upon first contact. The end drives him back but breaks off the rush as he's assigned containment duty vs. Cam Newton
When Remmers gets edge pass protection duty again, it's against another dummy rush. The end fights off the offensive tackle's hands and beats him around the edge...and then puts on the breaks to hold his contain.
Remmers is on the edge and gets caught lunging to deliver a knockout punch. The outside linebacker gets up in his chest and gets the corner but pulls up in contain duty. Another pressure (or more) left on the field due to the game plan.
This play is very similar to the previous one. The edge rusher catches Remmers lunging, gets his hands on the offensive lineman, and shoves by him. This time he doesn't pull up to contain.
This time Remmers is covered up by a tight end but the tight end blocks down and the tackle picks up the outside rusher. Remmers and the outside linebacker both get their hands on each other, but the defender breaks the contact and gets around the corner.
RT Mike Remmers
Despite being a liability in pass protection, Mike Remmers is a good run blocker in the Panthers inside zone and zone read scheme. He has good quickness off the snap for making combo blocks and then leaking up to the second level to seek out linebackers.
His quickness also means he has no trouble overtaking defensive tackles or 3-4 defensive ends on the backside of outside zone runs. These plays actually work best for the Panthers offense when run away from him, as he has much better ability to reach his backside blocks than Byron Bell does.
Remmers often faces 3-4 defensive ends or 4-3 defensive tackles. The offense frequently lines up tight ends next to him of flanking him to deal with edge defenders and allow Remmers to work inside almost like a guard.
Remmers struggles to catch and wall off edge defenders on backside of inside zone and zone read plays. He also has trouble catching run blitzing linebackers after coming off a combo block on a defensive lineman.
Essentially, Mike Remmers excels at run blocking against anyone he can chase down and attack. Where he struggles is when he has to wait for a defender and win the battle after they attack him. This is for the same reasons that he struggles in pass protection: he lacks the quick hands and has a poor reaction time. He's much better at pouncing on a strong defensive tackle than fighting off a quick outside linebacker.
On the play below, Remmers blocks down on the defensive tackle as the backside guard pulls across the formation to lay the lead playside block on the playside end. The play looks like an inside zone run off the snap, but it's actually Power.
Remmers blocks down on a defensive tackle again. This time it's a read option play off of a Power look. The play doesn't go for much, but his block frees up the right guard to seek another target.
Now it's another read option play, this time it's an outside zone play. Remmers engages and controls the 3-4 defensive end lined head-up on him. The back makes a backside cut in behind him and takes off for a 69-yard touchdown.
The Panthers run Power and Remmers controls the 3-4 defensive end on the backside of the play:
Remmers whiffs on his block on the backside of this play. He has the same struggles catching and walling off defenders with a free run at him regardless of whether it's a passing play or a run.
The backside inside linebacker throttles down to respect the potential quarterback run. This gives Remmers the time to adjust to him and attack. Remmers lays his block on the ILB and springs the running back for a big gain.
On the backside of this play, Remmers looks to help out the right guard on a defensive tackle. He recognizes a run blitzer late, turns to try to at least slow him down, and misses completely.
Remmers blocks down on the playside defensive tackle on this Pin and Pull play, sealing him off to the backside.
Remmers easily catches up to the backside 3-4 defensive end and maintains contact with him across the field, keeping him out of the play.
RT Mike Remmers
For all intents and purposes, Mike Remmers has the skill set of a zone scheme guard and the Panthers use of him at right tackle is tailored to that skill set as much as possible by giving him tight end or back help on the edge. He's a huge liability in pass protection on the outside and still a minor concern when given help. He makes up for it to an extent by being a versatile, athletic run blocker good at taking on defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends. He is, however, just as vulnerable run blocking on the edge as pass blocking and needs to be covered up by a tight end as much as possible.
Browns Keys vs. Panthers OTs
Learn from the Saints' mistakes. They focused on trying to contain the Panthers offense, especially Cam Newton's scrambling opportunities. They had their ends and outside linebackers pull up on their rushes to prevent Newton from getting out of the pocket. Instead, they gave him plenty of time to tear apart their secondary.
The Browns have a much more dangerous group of defensive backs than the Saints do, but they've thrived more on jumping routes and contesting catches than on pure lockdown coverage. Instead of laying back and daring the Panthers offense to come alive, attack them.
Left tackle Byron Bell is susceptible to power when pass blocking and run blocking, as he fails to initiate contact and is often caught making his punch when not properly anchored. Challenge him early and repeatedly. Paul Kruger should be able to impose his will on him, at least in obvious passing situations.
On the right side, Barkevious Mingo will often get matchups with tight ends or a fullback. He's performed well setting the edge against them so far this year, as has Jabaal Sheard.
Mike Remmers will spend some time out on the edge, but a lot more will be spent facing off with Desmond Bryant. Bryant has been on a tear since he's hit his first long stretch of healthy games as a Brown. With his agility and power he can pose a threat to Remmers as a pass rusher, but the right tackle should have the upper hand in the running game.