The Cleveland Browns offensive line struggled to find its footing in the first half of the season.
But as the season progressed and a few changes were made - replacing Desmond Harrison with Greg Robinson and left tackle, replacing running back Carlos Hyde with Nick Chubb, and turning the play calling over to offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens - the unit started to shine.
Things were so good, especially along the interior of the line, that the Browns ended the season with the second-best offensive line in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus:
“If you build it they will come” is a saying that doesn’t only apply to baseball fields and baseball-playing ghosts. In the case of the Browns, it also applies to offensive lines and franchise quarterbacks. With high priced free agents at center, right guard, and right tackle, the Browns gelled into one of the league’s top units over the second half of the year. Their interior offensive linemen – left guard Joel Bitonio, center J.C. Tretter, and right guard Kevin Zeitler – combined to give up only 39 total pressures on the season.
The bedrock of the line came on the inside, as guards Kevin Zeitler and Joel Bitonio were the top two pass-blocking guards in the league and center J.C. Tretter was third among centers in pass blocking, as the Browns gave up just five sacks over the final eight games of the season:
The two best pass-blocking guards in the NFL call #Browns FirstEnergy Stadium home. @kzeit70 and @JoelBitonio finished #1 and #2 in the NFL respectively in both pass-blocking grade and pass blocking efficiency.— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) January 1, 2019
1. Zeitler (91.7) & 98.9 PBE
2. Bitonio (88.1) & 98.8 PBE
Bitonio’s work did not go unnoticed elsewhere, as he was named to the Associated Press’ All-Pro second team on Friday.
The honor is a credit to not only Bitonio’s play on Sundays, but his work during the week, head coach Gregg Williams told clevelandbrowns.com:
“He sets an example every day even behind the scenes outside of his play – somewhat of a calming effect on people being able to talk to somebody that has as much experience as we have. We don’t have a ton of experience in the room in there so he has been a good voice, but the voice is only listened to when the example is set. He is a captain so that must have been something for people to vote that much for him and then he sets an example every day on how he prepares, how he practices and how he plays. That is good.”
All in all, not a bad season from a unit that former head coach Hue Jackson claimed the Browns did not invest in during his time with the franchise.