The Cleveland Browns sit at 4-9 staring down the barrel of a Monday night beatdown at the hands of the resurgent Philadelphia Eagles. Last year’s season of dreams has turned into a season of nightmares for fans on the Erie Shore. Many things have contributed to the Browns crash and burn in 2008.
It starts at the top with owner Randy Lerner’s hands-off approach while failing to put together an organization hierarchy capable of sustaining a winning atmosphere. Hand in hand with that, General Manager Phil Savage’s failure to define a direction and identity for the football team is just as culpable.
I have already rambled ad nauseam about Romeo Crennel’s shortcoming as a head coach. Derek Anderson’s meteoric drop to earth is just as responsible as the balls that Braylon Edwards drops on a weekly basis.
The Donte Stallworth signing, a defense that can not generate pressure on the opposing quarterback and the lack of an impact linebacker are also huge factor into this miserable Cleveland Browns season.
One factor that has been overlooked is the performance of the Browns’ offensive line throughout the season. After third string quarterback Ken Dorsey got the crap beat out of him against the Tennessee Titans last week it because obvious that this has been a sub-par year for the guys on the front line.
Losing Ryan Tucker to hip surgery early in the off-season started the problems. While not the premier name on the offensive line, Tucker may just be the glue that holds the unit together. A tackle most of his career, Tucker played right guard last year during the Browns’ offensive resurgence.
Tucker missed all of camp, the first four games of the year before playing in game five against the New York Giants. Unfortunately, he was lost for the season after one game due to a knee injury.
This put free agent signee Rex Hadnot and The Human Parking Cone (HPC) Kevin Shaffer as the right side of the Browns line. Both are road grader type of players and both have struggled mightily against the athletic defenses the Browns have faced this season. Hadnot is serviceable but is a step below Tucker in terms of performance.
HPC played left tackle two years ago and almost single handedly killed Charlie Frye in 2006. He was moved to right tackle when Joe Thomas was drafted in 2007 and performed well on the right side of the line. However, in 2008 the Shaffer has devolved into the HPC once again creating another issue for a sputtering offense.
The road graders on the right side of the line are contrasted by the finesse of the left side of the line, Thomas and Eric Steinbach. While physical, Thomas and Steinbach are much more athletic and excel in pass blocking and running plays that put them on the edge or in the open field. This creates some play-calling conundrums, and trends, as the Browns are handcuffed on which plays they can run to each side of the line.
Tying the two sides together is center Hank Fraley who saved the Browns in 2006 when they lost four centers in pre-season and training camp in rapid succession. Fraley was a crafty veteran acquired from the Eagles who has played very well in his two years in Cleveland.
2008 has been a different story as opposing defense have routinely blitzed up the middle with success. Fraley seems to have lost a step or is just have a very poor season. In either case, this has caused Dorsey, and Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn before him, to spend a lot of time under duress this year.
While their problems run much, much deeper the Browns can not ignore the drop in performance of their offensive line in 2008. In may not be the sole, or large, part of their disappointing record but it should not be ignored.