The Cleveland Browns Offensive Line Is Set After Trade Deadline: Will It Pay Off?

Cleveland Browns Offensive Line

After months of speculation, the Cleveland Browns did not end up trading for an offensive lineman before the 4:00 PM deadline on Tuesday. But even though Trent Williams is not on the team, Cleveland did make some changes for last week’s game against the New England Patriots. For better or for worse, the Browns are stuck with their offensive line group for the rest of the season. Are the changes for the best, or was it a mistake to swap out starters at this point?

Assessing the Status of the Cleveland Browns Offensive Line

For the first six games of the season, the starters on the Cleveland Browns offensive line consisted of:

Left tackle – Greg Robinson

Left guard – Joel Bitonio

Center – J.C. Tretter

Right guard – Eric Kush

Right tackle – Chris Hubbard

But even in those six games, only Bitonio and Tretter played every snap at their positions. Robinson was ejected early in the team’s Week 1 loss to Tennesee, which forced backup Kendall Lamm into action. Three plays later, Lamm was hurt, so Hubbard moved from right tackle to the left side, and Justin McCray replaced him at right tackle. Neither player performed well at all. Kush spent the vast majority of time at right guard, but Wyatt Teller did spell him a few times.

Then, coming off their bye, the Browns decided to shuffle things up ahead of their matchup against the most dominant defense in recent history. Robinson was replaced by McCray, and although Kush started, he rotated in and out with Teller.

The end result was not good. Overall, Cleveland finished with its worst pass block grade of the season, according to Pro Football Focus. The line also put together its second-worst run-blocking performance. Baker Mayfield was sacked five times and hurried on 13/13 other dropbacks. Tretter was the only starting lineman with a pass block grade above 62. Bitonio had his worst game of the season.

Teller played nine total snaps and finished with a pass block grade of 79.1, quite good. Kush ended up at 39.4, not good at all. Rotating lineman in and out is not a good idea; it doesn’t allow the five players to develop chemistry, even though they’ve been working with each other for months at this point. Each game and play is different, and if the guy next to you is constantly changing, you’re not going to feel as confident or comfortable.

The decision to replace Robinson with McCray did not pay off in the slightest. He finished with a horrible 32.3 overall grade and was atrocious in pass protection at 22.8. Robinson wasn’t playing particularly well, but he was significantly better than McCray. However, Robinson is unlikely to regain his starting spot, so the Browns will have to deal with McCray protecting Mayfield’s blindside for the remainder of the season.

Things could get ugly this week as Cleveland goes on the road to take on Von Miller and the Denver Broncos. Miller will get to tee off against McCray and Hubbard, which is bad news for Mayfield.

One positive is that Teller could be taking over for Kush full-time. Teller’s 2018 rookie season was solid, and he’s now had nine weeks to practice at right guard. The sooner he is inserted into the starting lineup for good, the better.

Reinforcements could also be coming at the tackle spots. Lamm is still recovering from his knee injury, but once that happens, he could end up starting at left tackle. He was the best member of the 2018 Houston Texans line, and although it was only preseason and three regular-season snaps, he has played well at left tackle for the Browns. He struggles in the run game but is a solid and consistent pass protector, which is what Cleveland is looking for.

Rookie Drew Forbes is also close to returning. He was placed on injured reserve in the preseason and is eligible to return November 10th against the Buffalo Bills. Forbes played left tackle in college at a small school, so the learning curve for him has been high. But he showed significant improvement in the preseason playing right guard and has practiced at right tackle. With how Hubbard has performed, there’s really no reason not to take the risk and insert Forbes at right tackle.

Prior to the season, many dismissed concerns over the Browns offensive line, citing the nine quarterback hits allowed over the team’s final eight games in 2018. They claimed the scheme and quarterback play would mask the weakness. That certainly has not been the case, and while the offensive line as a whole has been decidedly average when compared to the rest of the league, it has to be better if this team hopes to make a playoff push. Changes must be made, just different ones than have already taken place.

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