NFL Wild Card weekend saw some great football action this past Saturday and Sunday. The Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Minnesota Vikings, and Seattle Seahawks moved on with their wins in the Wild Card games. But, the games not only meant things to teams that were playing the games, but also the ones who were watching, including the Cleveland Browns. These games showcased blueprints of a successful team. There were many observations to take from the set of games this past weekend. But, the biggest observation that the Browns should take away from the NFL Wildcard weekend games is this: Prioritize the trenches.
If you watched all four games this weekend, you would have seen the offensive and defensive lines playing big parts in the success or downfalls of the teams. Take the Seattle/Philadelphia game. The Eagles lost quarterback Carson Wentz early on in the game. So, the Eagles needed their offensive line to pick up their backup quarterback Josh McCown, so McCown would not get overwhelmed getting thrown into the action. The line did the exact opposite. According to Pro Football Focus, they allowed seven sacks and 20 pressures. McCown could never settle in and gain any sort of consistency throughout the gain, all but denying the Eagles a chance to have offensive success.
In the Minnesota/New Orleans game, the Vikings pass rush was simply amazing disrupting the high-powered offense of the Saints. A pass rush can kill an opposing team’s gameplan and the Vikings did just that to Drew Brees and the Saints. The Titans/Patriots game also showed how important the offensive line is to a team’s success. The Titans offensive line controlled the game through its run blocking for Derrick Henry. The Titans controlled the clock by dominating the Patriots with their run game. And, in the Texans/Bills game, there were huge plays made by the pass rush of the Texans that kept the Texans in the game and turned the whole prospects of the game around.
All four games were greatly affected by the battle of the trenches. And, the trenches greatly affected the Browns this season. The Browns offensive line was a mess this season, especially on its edges. The offense was greatly hurt by the failings of the offensive line. On defense, the Browns lack of depth on the defensive line propped up immensely as the season went on. Injuries and suspensions propelled underqualified players into big roles on the defensive line. The line play floundered, which in turn caused the rest of the defense to start to flounder.
The Browns offensive and defensive lines were not good enough. That is clearly seen when you base them off what we saw from the teams in this weekend’s games. One of the downfalls of former General Manager John Dorsey’s tenure was how he dealt with the offensive and defensive lines. The offensive line was greatly ignored by Dorsey. He left the tackle positions to sink to poor levels. He also traded a quality interior offensive lineman without a sure-fire replacement ready to go from the start of the season. Dorsey improved the starting lineup on the defensive line, but he never was able to implement depth on the line, which was their downfall. He actually hurt their depth with the trading of one of their young pass rushers.
So, this offseason, after the Browns find their head coach, priority No. 1 must be the trenches. The Browns must heavily invest in their offensive line, especially. The team should come out of the offseason with two new offensive tackles. The draft should be the prime way to invest in this need. On the defensive line, the Browns must get more situational pass rushers and more interior defensive linemen. Free agency and middle of the draft should be prime spots to invest in the depth of the defensive line.
The trenches cannot be ignored again. Wildcard weekend is a prime example of why you cannot forget these areas of the team.