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Reviewing the O-line: Blocking elevates run game despite tough injury luck

The Browns didn’t finish a game this season will all of their primary O-line starters intact, but the group still featured two Pro Bowl players and helped the run game thrive

The offseason has arrived, and it figures to be a busy one in Cleveland as the Browns evaluate the highs and lows of the 2021 season. We're doing some evaluations, too, by taking a thorough look at how each position fared throughout the year.

Next up: the offensive line

The Raw Numbers

Rushing yards per game - 145.4 (4th in NFL)

Sacks allowed: 49 (27th in NFL)

Sack yards allowed: 299 (22nd in NFL)

Analysis in 150 Words or Less

The offensive line couldn't uphold the same overall consistency that was such a huge part of the Browns' success from 2020, but that was largely because the group was rarely at full strength at both tackle positions. Both guards, Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio, were selected for the Pro Bowl, however, and were huge reasons why the Browns still found success in the run game. Both also received mid-season contract extensions that will put them in Cleveland through 2025. RT Jack Conklin and LT Jedrick Wills Jr. each battled injuries throughout the year, which led to frequent usage of rookie OT James Hudson, Blake Hance and Michael Dunn. Hudson, in particular, improved as the season progressed, but the Browns will certainly look forward to bringing back five healthy starters for the start of 2022.

Number of Significance

5.09 - The Browns didn't finish a single game this season with all of their primary starters intact, yet they still led the NFL with 5.09 yards per rush, the highest by the team since 1966. That speaks volumes as to how reliable the group is — especially in the interior with Bitonio and Teller — and suggests that the Browns still have room to be even better in the run department.

Check out photos of G Joel Bitonio, DE Myles Garrett, RB Nick Chubb, G Wyatt Teller and CB Denzel Ward at the 2022 NFL Pro Bowl in Las Vegas, Nevada

High Point

The Browns displayed a rushing clinic in Week 5 against the Chargers when they rushed for a season-high 230 yards, made possible by plenty of open holes created up front. Nick Chubb rushed for a season-high 161 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown run that was one of his longest sprints of the season. QB Baker Mayfield was also sacked just once as the group provided him with plenty of time and space to pass for 305 yards, his second-highest total of the year. Despite the ample production, the Browns fell 47-42 to the Chargers.

Low Point

The Browns had only three of their normal starters available in Week 15 against the Raiders due to injuries and several COVID-19 positive tests that took a deep hit to their depth. One of those starters, Bitonio, actually started at left tackle for the first time in his career, while Dunn started at left guard and Hance started at right tackle. With Nick Mullens at QB, the Browns battled for four full quarters and scored a go-ahead touchdown with 3:54 left, but the Raiders stole the game with a field goal as time expired to win 16-14 — a brutal way to end a brutal week for the entire roster.

What They Said

"That says a lot about our team and about our offensive line. Those guys work hard for us up front. They block a lot of big guys and have stacked boxes that they still plug their way through it, get to the second level and hit the linebackers and block defensive linemen very well." - Chubb, crediting the O-line for finishing second in the league in rushing yards

Who's Back for 2022?

All five of the Browns' O-line starters are under contract for 2022. Fourth-round rookie tackle James Hudson and 2020 fifth-rounder C Nick Harris are also both set to return.

Who's a Potential Free Agent

Chris Hubbard, an eight-year veteran who has spent four seasons in Cleveland and was a reliable swing tackle in 2020. He suffered a season-ending triceps injury in Week 1 in 2021.

2022 Outlook

The Browns could explore options this offseason to provide more depth, particularly at the tackle positions, but the group is still in great shape to possibly be one of the league's strongest offensive lines in 2022 and beyond. Wills, Bitonio and Teller are all set to be in Cleveland through at least 2023, and with Tretter and Conklin under contract through 2022, the Browns don't have to complete any major re-shuffling to the group. Health will be crucial for improvement next season, but the group proved this season that it can still be great when injuries arise.

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