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Four Downs: End of Nate Orchard's sack drought an encouraging sign


1. End of Nate Orchard's sack drought an encouraging sign

The question wasn't even halfway finished by the time Paul Kruger gladly answered it.

Kruger has been attached to rookie Nate Orchard since the day Cleveland drafted him in the second round. Both pass rushers thrived at the University of Utah and their connection was established long before May 2015.

Orchard has shown steady progress throughout his rookie season, earning more and more playing time with each passing game. At the midpoint of the season, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said Orchard was his best outside linebacker against the run.

Until Sunday, though, Orchard had yet to pick up his first NFL sack. When he finally did and wound up with a team-high two by the end of Cleveland's 24-10 win, he wasn't the only one thrilled to get off the schnide.

"Nate has been a guy that has come in, worked hard and just done his job," Kruger said. "He's a good player, and to see him have success, I was excited for him."

Comments like that were common around the Browns locker room in the immediate wake of Sunday's win. Veteran defensive lineman Desmond Bryant called it "awesome" because of the work he's seen Orchard put in every day.

One day later, Browns coach Mike Pettine echoed exactly what those teammates have been saying about Orchard for months.

"Nate is a guy that just does everything that we ask, works hard, practices hard. It carries over to the game," Pettine said. "Early on, he was kind of thinking his way … just a little bit too mechanical. Get lined up, get your aiming point and go cut it loose. I thought that was an example yesterday. He did a good job of trusting his technique and rolling off. We are all thrilled for the kid that he finally got some sack production."

Orchard, who set a Utah record with 18.5 sacks during his senior season, said his two sacks Sunday -- which occurred on the first play of the second and fourth quarter, respectively -- came about because of mismatches.

On his first, he essentially wasn't guarded by anyone as he ran past San Francisco tight end Blake Bell -- a former college quarterback -- seemingly untouched to bring down Blaine Gabbert on fourth-and-1. On the second, he simply ran around a different tight end, Brian Leonhardt, to sack Gabbert for a 6-yard loss.

"I just had to take advantage of that," Orchard said. "I was in a drought for a long time, but to get my first sack in the NFL, nothing better."

2. Browns run game 'evolving'

The Browns passing game has clicked at as high of a level as the team has seen in years, but the running game failed to recapture all that went right early last season. Entering Sunday's game against the 49ers, Cleveland ranked near the bottom in the NFL in rushing offense and hadn't cleared 100 yards since Week 6 against the Broncos.

Sunday, of course, was a completely different story. Cleveland had just one rush go for negative yards and finished with the most yards (230) it's had in years. Both Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. set career highs and the Browns doubled their rushing touchdowns on the season from two to four.

So what changed? Pettine indicated Monday that the Browns' running scheme has evolved as the year has progressed. The outside zone runs that were a staple of Kyle Shanahan's offense last season have faded a bit, and the Browns have adjusted.

"We ran some downhill runs where we got double-teams at the point of attack. We had some pull plays where were blocking down and kicking out. We ran a good amount of inside zone where I thought the backs had real good vision. I thought everybody involved in the run game stepped up yesterday and, it was our best effort," Pettine said. "The results certainly bear that out. I think to be successful running the football in the NFL, you have to have a blend of things schematically. I think outside of your fastball, you need to have some complements.

"I think we realized our fastball anymore is not the outside zone, and I think it has transitioned to more of a downhill-zone with some complementary gap-scheme runs."

3. Snap counts of note

Some interesting nuggets from Sunday's snap count totals…

  • For the second straight game, rookie cornerback Charles Gaines was among the defense's leaders in total snaps. He played 55 of 56 while Karlos Dansby, Tramon Williams and Tashaun Gipson played all 56.
  • One week after playing just 18 snaps, K'Waun Williams was in the slot for 68 percent of the snaps (38).
  • Safety Donte Whitner was credited with two offensive snaps. A review of the film reveals he was on the field for the final two kneel-downs.
  • One week after Brian Hartline was forced to play all but two offensive snaps, the most snaps played by any receiver was 52 (67 percent) by Travis Benjamin.
  • In his Browns debut, Terrelle Pryor was on the field for 16 snaps.

4. Stat to know

The Browns have rushed for 200 or more yards 102 times since 1950. They've lost just seven times when it happens, the most recent being a 1979 loss to the Seahawks.

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