It’s safe to say that over the last couple of years, Lloyd Cushenberry III has been under heavy scrutiny from Broncos Country. Serving as the center of the award-winning offensive line of the 2019 college national champions, a team many see as the greatest college team of all time, Cushenberry has high expectations after he was drafted in the 3rd round. He has yet to live up to those expectations.
But, over the preseason and the first three games of this year, Cushenberry has quietly been one of the most consistent players on the offensive line. He seemingly has taken the next step in his career and is starting to look like a competent starter.
Today we’ll be taking a look at Chusenberry in pass protection against the Miami Dolphins.
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The big picture
The Denver Broncos had a total of roughly 40 passing plays against the Dolphins (including plays that were called back due to penalties). The offense had successes in the passing game and the offensive line as a whole would only give up one sack, but they also gave up 13 quarterback hits. It wasn’t their worst game up front, but it wasn’t the prettiest. And the front five can also blame a few of these hits on the tight ends.
When grading Lloyd Cushenberry, like I did last week with Quinn Meinerz, I used what I deem the “Ross Grading System” (RGS for short). This system has gone through a little refinement recently, but still uses the same four categories for grades: great block, good block, meh block, and bad block. A great block earns you 1.15 points, a good block gets you 1 point, a meh block gets you .5 points, and a bad block gets you 0 points.
Cushenberry earned zero great blocks, 24 good blocks, 13 meh blocks, and three bad blocks, for a total of 30.5 points. Dividing this by the total of 40 plays, you get a percentage grade of 76%.
Now let’s take a look at a few specific plays and analyze his performance further.
First, we’re going to talk about a couple of the plays that I deemed a ‘bad block’.
This is a big case of “I don’t know who to block”. Confusion is an easy thing to encounter when the defense blitzes. In fact, the reason why a blitz is successful, usually is because the offense gets confused about who to block, rather than the defense just bringing more people than the offense can handle.
In this case, you can make the argument that Meinerz picked up the wrong guy and should have actually blocked the blitzing linebacker. I would rather he have done that and left the defensive tackle for Cushenberry to block.
But even with that, a couple of seconds after the play, you kind of just have to commit to your block as a lineman. It would have been better if Cushenberry just stayed in the A gap, putting himself in a good position to take over the DT that Meinerz eventually tries to pass off to Cushenberry.
Not a horrible play by Cushenberry, but it was far from his best.
Here’s the other play, and yes, I am blaming the offensive line for Russell Wilson’s interception.
Keep an eye on the line of scrimmage and where Cushenberry ends up. He gets driven back five yards on this play. He is going up against a defensive tackle that is lined up in a 1⁄2 technique (lining up on the outside shoulder of the center), a fairly simple block to make. In this case, you would take a ‘pop step’, or just immediately snap into your pass protection stance as there is no need to kick step out to the defender (Cushenberry already has inside leverage on the defensive tackle).
And as you’ll see through most of the game, interior defensive linemen really like to utilize a simple bull rush rather than a speed rush (a speed rush move would typically be some sort of club-and-rip or a swim move). To counter this as an offensive lineman, you should take your step, strike your hands take the chest, and sink down into your stance, putting your weight on the insteps of your feet, and then extending at the hips (something he does perfectly later in this review). You need to lean a little bit with your face and arms in tight on the defender, but you also can’t lean too much as that would open you up to a bull-pull pass rush.
And if you feel yourself starting to get driven back, I teach turning the block into a run block and start to try and drive the defender back.
If Cushenberry, and the other two interior offensive linemen, don’t get pushed back as far, Russell Wilson has more of a pocket to step up into and his pass doesn’t get tipped.
This wasn’t the most difficult of blocks, but I really like how well Cushenberry took the block over from Meinerz, and also the hand replacement at the end.
Cush gets hip-to-hip with Meinerz, making the handoff easy. Also, you see the defensive tackle, after the handoff, back up, and rather than chase him with your hands still on him (like what happens a lot of the time), Cushenberry retracts his hands and then resets them when the defensive tackle is back in range. This practice prevents leaning and holding penalties. A good detail that Cush gets right.
This is the other play that I want to shout out. This is what I mentioned back in the ‘bad block’ where he got driven back. This is how you stop the bull rush.
To be fair, I did grade this play as a ‘meh block’ due to how far back Cushenberry got driven. It was a harder play because he did have to take over a block, but the grade is fair in my opinion.
But he stops this play from being deemed ‘bad’ due to how masterfully he stops the bull rush.
You can see him get driven back at a slower rate as the play goes on, and eventually Cush is able to plant his feet and drive his hips into the defender, lifting the defender, removing him from his base, and taking away almost all of his power. This is an awesome block that is hard to do.
Llyod Cushenberry still has work to do and still needs improvement and refining to be the starter that Denver requires. But with that being said, I have so much more optimism about his potential than I have had over the last couple of seasons.
Cushenberry is on the right track to becoming a solid center.
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