With little exception, defensive line play is a continuum. What Rocky Bernard does affects Patrick Kerney. What Kerney and Bernard do affects Darryl Tapp. The Hawks don't need Tapp to be able to record a sack against Joe Thomas, or even wholly win the matchup. They need only that Tapp holds his own. Provide pressure at times, and not be destroyed in the run game. Essentially, to turn Tapp versus Thomas into a stalemate, allowing Seattle to exploit its more advantageous matchups on the right side: Bernard/Craig Terrill versus Seth McKinnie and Patrick Kerney versus Kevin Shaffer.
A sack is a testament to total line domination. When Tapp recorded 4 against the Rams in week 7, it was because the Hawks' defensive right side dominated the Rams' offensive left. With Brandon Mebane dominating Andy McCollum and forcing center help on many plays, Tapp was able to work almost exclusively one on one against Alex Barron. The results were thorough and conclusive enough to be published in JAMA.
This week the Browns expect the glove to be on the other hand. Thomas has immediately established himself as one of the best left tackles in football. He's a dominant run blocker and a bonus in pass coverage. The Browns would like to match Thomas against Tapp and forget about them, seeing Tapp only in passing whilst driving a rush down Kelly Jennings' throat. One need only to look at the two teams inverted adjusted line yards rankings on runs around left end to know the potential enormity of such a scenario, Cleveland first on offense, Seattle 29th on defense. Thomas is a technically sound and mean run blocker and his prowess against the edge rush is well documented.
Tapp has been known to get underneath taller tackles like Thomas.
The split back blows his assignment, yes--is, essentially, a spectator. That's as much D'Brickashaw Ferguson getting dominated as a gaffe by him. Tapp slips so quickly from Brick's block that the split back has little chance to participate. Ferguson is lankier and more athletic than Thomas. Thomas is stouter, less likely to be bullied. Other than that, you have two prototypical left tackles. Both are best at shielding the outside rush and both occasionally bend at the hip, allowing ends to get leverage against them. At the snap Brick slides out laterally, perhaps expecting an edge rush. Tapp, instead, shoots right for him, puts an inside move on Brick's right shoulder and then explodes towards the quarterback. Two things allow Tapp to so brutally dominate this matchup, first, Brick stays high, only minimally bending his knees. That means when Tapp engages he's underneath Ferguson. Ferguson is therefore only blocking with his upper body, while Tapp is able to explode through his legs. Second, Ferguson shields out. Tapp, perhaps because of his own size limitations, is most adept at moving in. After a powerful bull rush move, Tapp doesn't strand himself against the much longer Ferguson's outer edge, but instead rips inside and explodes towards the quarterback. It's a near perfect pass rush against an elite left tackle prospect.
Both Tapp and Thomas are whistle to whistle players. Tapp will get no cheap sacks against Thomas. In fact, he won't likely get a sack at all. At the end of the day, I will guarantee that Tapp will be beat up and exhausted. Still, he can provide pressure, disrupt rush lanes and degrade the pocket allowing others to convert the sack. That all starts off the snap. If Tapp can fire out of the blocks, get his hands under Thomas' shoulder pads, he can stay in on run plays, narrowing the hole off tackle and lengthening the distance for rushers to reach the edge. On pass plays, it will allow him to shoot off inside towards the quarterback, forcing Derek Anderson out of his preferred chuck and duck deep passing attack. Stifling the run and disrupting the pass will force the Browns into disadvantageous down and distance, allowing Bernard and Kerney to pin their ears back and sprint towards the quarterback. However, if Thomas is consistently steering Tapp out and away from the play on rushes and neutralizing the inside rush on pass downs, the Browns will be able to set up favorable second and short and send Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards downfield again and again until someone breaks free. If that happens, Seattle will be forced into a shootout, a scenario in which they could but should not be expected to win. On the flip side, if Tapp can man up against Thomas, shut down rushes off tackle and break free enough to keep Anderson uncomfortable, the Hawks can mix enough pass rush and secondary play enough to force turnovers and shut down Anderson' primary weapon, the deep ball.