Donald Brown is a lightning rod for criticism. His status as a first round selection and as a runner who brings a “home run” threat has placed heavy expectations on his shoulders. Though he showed plenty of flashes of brilliance during his rookie year, Brown has never had a breakout game or showed consistency of production.

There are two reasons for this. The first are the injuries that have plagued Brown his first two seasons and the second is the play of the offensive line. On almost every carry this season, Brown gets smothered at the line of scrimmage.

Critics believe that his negative and short runs are a result of him not running hard and a lack of lateral agility. Some believe Brown is so bad that Mike Hart has supplanted him on the depth chart and should be featured more. However, a closer look at the tape shows that although the players blocking for Brown and Hart may be the same, the blocks they receive are not.
A perfect display of this is during the week 8 game against the Texans. Look at the comparison between the lanes Brown had as opposed to the ones Hart ran though.

On Hart’s first run, you see a massive lane open up for him which ends up being a thirty yard gain.

By contrast, Browns first run has Saturday (circled in yellow) whiffing on his block, cutting off Brown’s cut back lane, and Diem (circled in yellow) getting turned around as the linebacker gets free to seal off the inside lane.

Once again, Hart has a lot of room to run with a two-way go. This time, the result is ten yards.

Brown, on the other hand, has all lanes blocked by the defenders circled in red. The outside and middle lanes are all contained and sealed.

It is also believed that Brown can’t gain decent yardage when provided a small crease, as seen in this picture.

Brown gets through the small crease, picks up the first down, and churns his legs to gain an extra 4 yards on the play.

Though the two backs run behind the same line, they do not receive the same type of blocking up front. People are too quick to point the finger at Brown for ineffective runs the way they were quick to blame Addai back in 2008 for the same issues.  All running backs need some kind of crease to get started. Hart and Addai get theirs, now it’s up to the line to give Brown his.