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Browns offensive line issues come to light against Jacksonville


Brian Hoyer wasn't effective throwing the football at EverBank Stadium. For the first time, the Browns' rushing attack was completely muted – 69 total yards on 30 attempts (2.3 yards per carry).

The offense's lack of production was alarming, And a share of the blame will be lumped in with the offensive line.

This article isn't going to focus on the loss of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. Coach Mike Pettine and the entire unit said they weren't going to use his injury as an excuse all week. There is still enough talent on this offensive line to execute the game plan, even against a staunch Jacksonville front seven.

But the transition of John Greco to center and Paul McQuistan to right guard did not go nearly as smoothly as it did in the second half of the Pittsburgh game.

Jaguars defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks was paying rent in the backfield as was his counterpart Roy Miller. With those two hog mollies getting penetration up the middle gap, Jacksonville's star linebacker Paul Posluszny was left free to roam and clean up everything in the running game. He finished with 12 tackles. 

"They had a good scheme ready for us and we didn't execute," said Joel Bitonio in the locker room after the game. "I give all the credit to Jacksonville. They outplayed us."

"I said early in the week that this is the best defense we played, and everyone kind of snickered, like 'Oh yeah, he's just trying to pump them up,'" said Joe Thomas. "Seriously, this is the best defense that we have played so far."

Part of the Browns' zone blocking offensive scheme involves a large timing element.  First and foremost, each player has to know the player or players they are responsible for blocking. The lack of chemistry from some of the shuffling pieces on the Browns line was apparent.

There is no taking things away from Jacksonville's physical front, who for most of the game, dominated the line of scrimmage. But as an entire unit, the Browns were not able to match their athleticism. Cleveland has normally relied on their speed and strength to move the football on stretch run plays. Those holes weren't open for the running backs in Jacksonville.

"The run sets up a lot of our play-action passes. We want to run the ball and when we can't, obviously, it's not in our game plan not to be able to run the ball," said Bitonio.

"We knew it was going to be very hard to run the ball," Thomas said. "That really hurts our offense. But we knew we weren't going to have 200 yards rushing against these guys…because there run defense was just too good."

There is some good news moving forward. Nick McDonald (wrist) practiced some last week and is a natural center. McDonald brings more of an athletic frame and quickness, although not close to Mack's skill set, it's comparable. If he's able to go, Greco can shift back over to right guard.

And like other facets of football, practice makes perfect. Expect the offensive line to spend some extra time around the facility this week to ensure they return to the dominant form we've seen for nearly all of the 2014 season.

"We will learn from it," said John Greco. "Obviously there was a lot of mistakes, but I'm sure there is some good film, too. The good news is, we have another game in six days."

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