By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
Doubting Thomas: For a five-time Pro Bowler, the comments about the play of Browns left tackle Joe Thomas have been … well, rather damning.
“Joe’s playing OK,” offensive coordinator Brad Childress said last week.
“Joe’s battling, just like everyone else,” coach Pat Shurmur said on Wednesday.
Thomas’ own assessment: “I think it’s going fine … going fine.”
The standard to which Thomas has been held was set the day he was drafted third overall in 2007. He said on that day – after returning from his fishing trip on Lake Michigan with family and friends -- that he wanted to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Four games into his sixth NFL season, Thomas still has never missed a snap in a game. But this year there have been more holding penalties, more false starts, more pressure coming from the left side of the Browns’ line.
Thomas has played recently with a brace on his left knee and a wrap on his right one.
Shurmur said, “I don’t think his knee’s bothering him.”
Get ready: The offensive line as a whole, not just Thomas, has been a source of concern ever since it crumbled in the third preseason game against Philadelphia. Brandon Weeden has been sacked nine times, which isn’t a large number considering he has dropped back to throw 176 times. In fact, the Browns rank a respectable 11th in the NFL this week in sack percentage.
How ironic it is, given the scrutiny Thomas and Co. have received locally, that the unit catching more heat in this week’s matchup against New York is the Giants’ much-heralded defensive line.
Right end Jason Pierre-Paul, who will line up mostly head on against Thomas – but not always – has 1.5 sacks in four games after nabbing 16.5 last year en route to a first-team All Pro berth.
Teammates Osi Umenyiora (two sacks) and Justin Tuck (none) are languishing, too. The Giants’ eight overall sacks are 50 percent down from their pace of 48 last year.
When I asked Giants coach Tom Coughlin on a conference call about Pierre-Paul’s sack total, I fully expected the “Sacks aren’t everything” pat answer. Not so.
“We haven’t really … and we’ve created it ourselves … we have an outstanding group of defensive ends and we haven’t accumulated the kind of numbers we had in the last year, and Jason certainly hasn’t as well,” Coughlin said. “There are some reasons for that. The first couple of weeks, people were pretty much in the three-step mode and got the ball out of their hands very well and didn’t give themselves many opportunities to be beset by the rush.
“That hasn’t been necessarily the case going forward. We feel for our team to get in the direction we need to be moving, we have to take this outstanding group of young players and they have to step to the front and lead us as we’ve designed our defensive team to be led.”
Positive Joe: For his part and to his credit, Thomas remains gung-ho and positive about the way things are going. It’s part of the job description of being offensive team captain, but it is also Thomas’ nature.
“I think we’re getting better,” he said. “You can’t focus on what’s happened in the past, you’ve got to look positive about the future. I definitely think we’re making progress, so it’s easy for me to come to work and focus because I feel we’re getting better every week.”
It’s a long haul, 16 games, especially for a team still looking for its first win a month into the season. For Thomas, every week is a date with the opponent’s best pass rusher.
“We really got shafted this year with our schedule,” he said. “It seems every week we have a couple of Pro Bowl defensive ends to prepare for.
“No rest for the weary, that’s for sure.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
Return to: Grossi Stories Blog