BEREA: The Browns’ starting offensive linemen are holding in a good way — they’re holding themselves accountable and vowing to correct their mistakes.
“Whoever you’re playing against,” rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said, “you should be able to block them.”
The starters played for nearly the entire first half Friday in a 27-10 preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and the No. 1 line allowed three sacks of rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, including two forced fumbles. It was also called for two holding and two false-start penalties.
Redemption is vital because the Browns have only one exhibition game remaining — at home Thursday night against the Chicago Bears — before they face the Eagles again in the regular-season opener Sept. 9.
“As a group, we didn’t do our best,” left guard Jason Pinkston said Monday after practice. “But some of the outside[rs], they don’t really know what’s going on on the offense. They don’t know what plays are called or what protection’s supposed to happen or what goes on in a certain play. Some guys don’t know. We know what’s going on in the building, so we don’t worry about what they say on the outside. The [mistakes] that were out there was more our fault than some of the things [the Eagles] did to us.”
Browns coach Pat Shurmur is relying on his top O-linemen — Schwartz, Pinkston, center Alex Mack, right guard Shawn Lauvao and Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas — to step up and meet his expectations. They ran sprints after practice Monday, perhaps a sign they’re putting in extra effort to bounce back.
“I’m very confident our offensive line will be one of the strengths of our team,” Shurmur said. “… If we can keep that group together, the longer we do that, then they’ll play better as a unit. I think that synergy there is so important.”
The Eagles, though, used their speed and depth to expose the Browns’ weaknesses in the trenches. Coach Andy Reid’s men tied for first in the NFL last season with 50 sacks, and the Eagles supplemented their defensive line in April by drafting tackle Fletcher Cox in the first round and end Vinny Curry in the second.
“Whoever you face, they’ve got quality players,” Schwartz said. “It doesn’t matter the opponent, you should be on top of your game.
“They’re good players, but I think a lot of breakdown stuff was on our side of the ball, not using the right footwork, not taking the right set, not doing the right thing. But it’s all stuff that’s correctable for us.”
The Browns won’t subscribe to theories that they’re simply being overmatched.
“It wasn’t their D-end being strictly better than us,” Schwartz said. “It was something that we should be better at ourselves and that gives us a better chance against it. It’s mixing things up against them. Obviously, they play wide. They rush upfield. If you do the same thing every time, the guys are going to be able to key in on that. So there’s different things you can do as a tackle, even as a guard and center to mix things up against them, and that goes for whoever you’re facing.”
In their 4-3 defense, the Eagles employ the wide-nine technique, meaning their ends sometimes line up on the far outside of the offensive tackles. The positioning allows the ends to capitalize on their speed by rushing off the edge. The Detroit Lions use the same technique, and they also gave the Browns problems a few weeks ago during the preseason opener.
“On defense, anytime you gain an advantage, you’re going to give up something,” Thomas said. “With the wide-nine, sometimes it’s tough to defend the run or do some other things, but it really gives them a big advantage in the pass game because of how wide they get and how much space they can work in. Anytime you get an athlete, you give him more space, it’s going to be more to his advantage.”
Avoiding ideal pass-rushing situations and consistently running the ball with success are the keys to combating the wide-nine technique.
“When we play them again in a couple weeks, we’re going to have the benefit of game-planning and custom-tailoring our offense to how we want to attack their defense,” Thomas said. “I expect a much better performance.”
The line is also adjusting to the differences between Weeden, the new starting quarterback, and Colt McCoy, who started last season. Weeden is a more traditional pocket passer, and McCoy is a scrambler.
However, excuses won’t be tolerated.
“You’ve still got to block your guy no matter what happens,” Pinkston said. “If he scrambles or not, you’re still out there trying to block your guy.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.