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Trenches May Give Pittsburgh Edge Over Cleveland In AFC North Race

Everyone is jumping on the Cleveland Browns bandwagon. And hey, for good reason. I’m not here to crack jokes about how bad they’ve been, their lovable loser attitude and the Factory of Sadness they built for so long. They’re one of the league’s most improved teams with more reason for optimism since…I can’t even remember when. Maybe the prime Derek Anderson days but even then, it felt like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, success that couldn’t – and didn’t – last.

But it’s not a perfect roster. Hard to blame John Dorsey for that. He had to come in and build from the ground up. Find a QB. Trade for receivers. Revamp the secondary, collect running backs by the dozen. The one area of the team still lacking is a biggie. The Browns’ offensive line is arguably the weakest position group they have. And most teams are successful building inside out.

Here’s how their offensive line is likely to look:

LT – Greg Robinson
LG – Joel Bitonio
C – JC Tretter
RG – Austin Corbett
RT – Chris Hubbard

Don’t get me wrong. That’s not terrible. Cleveland has surely fielded worse. Robinson was a pleasant surprise as he attempts to revitalize his career, Bitonio is good without the need to grade on a curve, and Steelers’ fans know the value Hubbard brought to the black and gold.

But at best, it’s an average group with serious concerns. Is Robinson the real deal? Tretter has always looked overmatched at center and Corbett has had trouble cracking the starting lineup, playing 14 snaps as a rookie and spending part of OTAs running with the 2’s. Hubbard is very much at his ceiling, too.

If there’s a downfall of this Browns’ team, it’s the North. Now compare that to Pittsburgh.

The line is their strength. At least four of the five starters return from last year and should Matt Feiler win the RT job, it’ll effectively be all five. There’s excellent depth, something Cleveland arguably doesn’t have, thanks to a constant reinvestment in the offensive line, even when it wasn’t a dire need. If any of the Steelers’ starting five goes down, it won’t be met with jubilation, but you feel the team can survive. Same happens to the Browns? Might want to buckle up.

Look what happened to Cincinnati. How did they tumble from North champs to chilling in the basement? Partly because Andy Dalton has convinced Mike Brown he’s still the answer, sure, but it correlated with their offensive line woes. They whiffed on draft picks (hello Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi) then foolishly let Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth leave in free agency. Whitworth went on to sign with the Rams and go to his first Super Bowl.

Cleveland and Pittsburgh are going to be able to move the ball. Both teams are going to get after the quarterback. And I can’t wait to watch these two teams go out, a real rivalry for the first time in a long time. But good teams have to protect their quarterback. For Cleveland, that’s a concern. And it might cost them the division.

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