It is no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the only team in the AFC North with a stable offensive line. Every other team in the division is going to have at least two different starters along their line from last season, either for better or for worse, but either way, they will lack consistency.
The Cincinnati Bengals fared the worst by far, losing their two best offensive linemen, and among the best at their position in the league, in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, and they did nothing remarkable to replace them.
The Baltimore Ravens lost their right tackle, Rick Wagner, in free agency, and then traded center Jeremy Zuttah, who they were going to release. They did not do anything remarkable to replace these linemen, either, and they already had two rookies starting in 2016.
The Cleveland Browns were in the most need of repairs, and they were the only team in the division to upgrade. Of course, they pilfered Zeitler from the Bengals, and they also added J.C. Tretter to upgrade the center position. The only real question mark now is right tackle, but they have options.
Meanwhile, the Steelers return all five of their starters from last year, who have been together for three years now, and starting together as a unit specifically for the majority of the past two. No other team in the division can obviously boast this sort of continuity, and that is a quality that should not be overlooked.
This is a statistic that Pro Football Focus noted in a graphic that they posted yesterday, displaying the AFC North pass-blocking ranks in comparison to the rest of the league. Honestly, some of the results were a bit surprising to me.
The Steelers bring back their entire starting five from one of the best offensive lines in the NFL a season ago pic.twitter.com/srSJHqfifd
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 7, 2017
The Steelers ranked as the second-best pass-blocking offensive line in the league, which is no great surprise. The Ravens actually placed fourth, but that will be a ranking that they will find hard to maintain. Pittsburgh was listed as ‘elite’, while Baltimore was listed as ‘very good’.
The third-ranked team in the division, and the ninth-ranked league-wide, was actually the Browns, who gave up by far the most sacks in the NFL last season. The graphic makes clear that this is about 2016 ranks, so it doesn’t seem to be a projection.
My hunch is that they determined that a large amount of Cleveland’s issues in protection came down to the quarterbacks themselves—all five of them—and I do think there is a fair case to be made. We saw three of their quarterbacks put themselves in poor positions last year over two games.
Still, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher on the surface (they were listed as ‘good’), especially in comparison to Cincinnati, ranked 15th in the league. They had two of the best offensive linemen in the league last year, so you would think that they would fare well. Still, the right tackle position was a turnstile, while their left guard played hurt. They were graded as ‘average’, and they will probably wish they can live up to that in 2017.