The Cleveland Browns lost yet another game in Pittsburgh, falling to the Steelers, 33-18. With the loss came the change in the coaching staff with the firings of Head Coach Hue Jackson and Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley. The Browns needed to make a change and to shake up the team. On the field, the Browns could use a shake-up on the offensive, in particular, left tackle Desmond Harrison.
Harrison has struggled in every aspect of the blocking game. As a pass protector, he has allowed 32 quarterback pressures, which is the second most amongst all NFL tackles who have played at least 80% of the snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Harrison has declined in performance over the first eight games of the season. And against the Steelers on Sunday, he struggled mightily. So, what is going wrong?
In this week’s Browns film room1, I will examine the areas of weakness in Harrison’s game right now. So, let’s roll the tape of the Steelers game to see what is failing in Harrison’s overall game.
Desmond Harrison struggled with diagnosing what was coming at him from the Steelers defense. He at times was too late to react to the oncoming rushers. Also, he occasionally would take the wrong assignment, causing a breakdown somewhere else. This included an occasional slow reaction to the snap, leaving him late out of his stance. Here are some examples of these problems.
This was an example of Harrison’s lack of awareness of where he needs to block. The Browns pull the left guard to lead the runner to the right side of the line. The rest of the line flowed to the left in the blocking scheme, except for Harrison. Center J.C. Tretter went to the left and took on the defensive lineman in the left B gap. Harrison also went after the same defensive lineman, leaving the left edge rusher unblocked. Harrison was too late to recover and get to the unblocked defender. The defender was able to blow up the play, causing the runner to have to cut another direction. Luckily, running back Nick Chubb was talented enough to make a good run out his blocking breakdown.
This play is an example of Harrison’s sporadic late reaction to the snap. The ball is snapped and Harrison is still in his stance for just a moment longer. This slight delay may not look like a lot, but it gave the edge rusher a quick advantage versus Harrison. The rusher was able to quickly get around Harrison. Once again, Harrison was helped, this time by the play call. Cleveland called a quick receiver screen, allowing quarterback Baker Mayfield to get the ball out fast. But, Harrison’s snap reaction is something he needs to improve.
Harrison is struggling with his hand placement on blocks. He is allowing blockers into his body because of this poor hand placement. He can place hands too high or too wide. He also does not use good arm extension on his blocks. He could also improve on his ability to fight more with defenders to gain the proper hand placement. With his lack of strength, bad hand placement is a bad combination. Here are some examples of his poor hand usage.
Harrison is in run blocking situation. Harrison fires off the ball and goes into the defender he is assigned to block. But, Harrison does not throw his hands at the defender’s chest, but rather he almost hugs him with his awkward hand placement. He puts his hands on the defender’s shoulder, allowing the defender to control Harrison. The defender is able to push Harrison down the line where the defender is able to help make the tackle at the line of scrimmage. The left tackle allowed himself to get controlled because of this poor hand technique.
Harrison once again allows the defender to get into his body. The ball is snapped and the defensive lineman easily gets his hands in the chest of Harrison. Harrison puts his hands on the defensive lineman’s shoulders, but he does not try to get the defender off his chest. The defensive lineman is able to just plow Harrison into the pocket and to the lap of Mayfield. Mayfield saves the play from being a sack with a nice elusive move out of the way of the pressure.
Pass Protection Set
Harrison is struggling in his pass protection set. His depth on the pass protection sets can be too shallow, allowing the rusher to get around the edge. He also can struggle with his angles on the pass set. He can open up too much, giving the rusher an open alleyway to the backfield. And, he is also waist bending too often. He is reaching more than moving his feet to get to the rusher. This can cause balance issues. Here are some examples of his pass protection set issues.
This pass protection set failed because of his angles and depth on his set. Harrison meets the rusher on the arc, but he almost immediately opens up his hip to the backfield. He didn’t stay square enough, which made him vulnerable to getting beat around the edge. This gives the rusher a clear lane to the quarterback. Harrison was not deep enough on his set yet, which hurt Harrison even more because when he opened up his hips, the rusher had a direct path to the quarterback. Harrison tries to save the play from being a sack, but he grabs the rusher, which causes the safety because of the holding penalty occurred in the endzone.
For this set, Harrison comes off the line and only makes two backpedals before the opens up to the defender. And he once again opens too much, which gives the defender a crease to get the edge. Harrison tries to save it by reaching for the defender rather than moving his feet. But, the rusher is able to get to Mayfield. Luckily, Mayfield got the ball out quick before he was hit. But, Harrison is so raw at pass protection and needs so much more refining to be a quality tackle in the NFL.
Harrison is a lighter tackle with strength and power issues. Bigger defensive linemen can overpower him. This lack of strength can cause him issues both as a pass and run blocker. Here are some examples of his strength problems.
Harrison starts this play off with no one to block. But, then the defensive lineman decides to swoop out to the outside after lining up in the inside. When the rusher attacks Harrison, Harrison is almost immediately driven back into the backfield. The straight bull rush by the rusher overpowers Harrison. It took a matter of seconds for Harrison to get driven into the quarterback. Luckily, Mayfield got rid of the ball before the defender could reach him.
Harrison is called to run block in this play. When the ball is snapped, Harrison helps over on the defender to his outside shoulder. He is doubling the defender with the help of the tight end next to him. But, once the tight end leaves to go block another defender, Harrison gets in trouble. The defender is able to easily penetrate into the backfield with Harrison giving little resistance. Harrison could not hold up and disallow the defender from getting into the backfield. The penetration ends up derailing the run play. Harrison just does not have the strength needed to be a good run blocker and to be able to withstand the power of bigger NFL defensive linemen.
What is he doing?
This final area is the group of plays where I have no idea what he is doing or thinking. I had the same thoughts when I watched Cam Erving. Here are just a couple plays that instilled this thought in my mind.
The Browns call a wide receiver screen to the left side of the field. Harrison is supposed to run out to the outside to help block for the screen. But, Harrison runs wildly to the outside and simply just tackles the cornerback. He seems to be in the midst of missing the block, so he just decides to grab and take the corner down with him as he falls to the ground. It was the easiest holding call ever.
This is another play where Harrison simply tackles a defender. Harrison is called to pull to the right side to help lead block for the run play. But, the timing gets messed up and Harrison runs behind the running back. When he gets to the right, the edge defender is already in the backfield and close to reaching the running back, so Harrison decides to grab and tackle the defender down to free up the runner. It is yet another clear holding penalty.
Highlight of the Game
The highlight of the game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers was the fact that it was the final game for Hue Jackson as head coach. The game was finally the tipping point for Jackson, ending the long overdue failure of Jackson as coach. The performance on the field had little highlights, but at least it helped cement the firing of Jackson, which will help this team going forward.
Lowlight of the Game
The lowlight of the game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers was the blocking by the Browns offensive line, especially the tackles. As I have illustrated in today’s film room, left tackle Desmond Harrison is struggling mightily and that continued on Sunday. But, his counterpart on the right side, right tackle Chris Hubbard, is also playing poorly, including versus the Steelers on Sunday. Throughout the game, Mayfield had no time to throw the ball. It was another rough day for the blocking of the Browns.
- Sorry about the videos this week. NFL Game Pass’s All 22 film of the game was scrambled and dysfunctional, so I was unable to use much of it for this week’s film room [↩]