The Cleveland Browns offensive line has been a question mark to start, but they are going to need to step up against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Cleveland Browns offensive line has had a few positive surprises, but also some very negative ones. They need answers fast because they are about to go up against superstar Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams.
First the good news: The interior of the Browns line has actually been stronger than expected in the early going. All summer long, observers fretted about the ability of Eric Kush to replace Kevin Zeitler at right guard. Zeitler was a tough, steady player during his two years in Cleveland. Zeitler never missed a snap. In Cleveland that stat might not get as much attention as in other cities because Joe Thomas set the NFL consecutive snap streak here. But it is very impressive to absorb a beating from the toughest athletes in America. However, very few earthlings are able to play every snap of the season.
It is early, but so far Kush has been able to protect Baker Mayfield, for the most part. According to Pro Football Focus, Joel Bitonio is the highest ranked offensive guard in the NFL. Kush ranks 14th overall. At center, J.C. Tretter has been his usual steady self, clocking in with the fourth highest PFF grade among NFL centers. Based on PFF grades, as well as the eyeball test, you have to say the Browns interior line has been up to the task.
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Another interesting PFF stat is that Kush, in limited duty last year (only seven starts for da Bears), gave up a quarterback pressure on only 1.5 percent of his snaps, which was the lowest in the league. That is exactly what a team with a very valuable quarterback needs to have.
However, something is wrong. Despite that outstanding interior line, the Browns have allowed Mayfield to be sacked eight times, which is tied for the fourth worst in the NFL. The Browns only gave up five sacks the last eight games of the year. Four sacks per game is not survivable.
Greg Robinson, who played so well for the Browns the second half of the season, has not been up to the standard he set. In the opener, his decision to kick his opponent in the head led to an ejection, and coupled with an injury to Kendall Lamm, utterly demolished the offensive line. Robinson has also managed to yield a sack, get called for three penalties for 40 yards total, and allowed a sack which cost the team 10 yards. Another error in judgment occurred against the Jets, in which he tried to pick up a fumble and run with it rather than simply falling on it.
Offensive line play is notoriously difficult to judge because you never know how healthy each player is. Nevertheless the difference between this year and last year is very noticeable.
Similarly over on the right side, Chris Hubbard has been struggling. Like Robinson he has committed three penalties already, though he has not been charged with a sack.
In case you are wondering, PFF grades the tackles at below average, but still within the top 64; i.e., among those who deserve to start in the NFL.
This week, the Browns are hurting, coming up against Aaron Donald and the Rams. Donald is a sensational talent and with Bitonio limited in practice so far this week, things could become grim. Lamm is out and Hubbard has yet to practice. There really is no backup plan at right tackle, since newcomers Wyatt Teller and Justin McCray are both guards. Someone may have to play out of position against the Rams.
On the other hand, Donald has only been a limited participant in practice so far this week due to a back injury, but the Browns will have to assume he will be at full strength on Sunday. The Browns need to get their act together on the offensive line, and do it quickly.