I would take the Browns offensive line over the Steelers offensive line 10 times out of 10. Joe Thomas is the best of the bunch on both teams. He and fellow first round pick Alex Mack have lived up to their potential from when they were drafted and then some. Rookie Joel Bitonio will make some mistakes, but sandwiched between two pro bowlers will help cover up some of those mistakes. John Greco is average at right guard, but again playing next to Mack will help him. The weak spot on the Browns is right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, but Kyle Shanahan should be able to help him out thanks to the fact they kept a true fullback in Ray Agnew.
Cleveland’s O-Line should be solid in the new zone blocking scheme and allow Ben Tate to run the ball at a four yards per carry average or better. The Steelers have shown in the preseason to be very vulnerable against the run up the middle. Also expect a short, quick passing game in which Bryan Hoyer gets the ball out of his hands quickly to allow the receivers and backs to gain yards after the catch. This should help keep the sack numbers down against Dick Lebeau’s zone blitzing scheme Hoyer and maybe Johnny Manziel will see on Sunday. The Browns depth isn’t great, in fact it’s average at best, but the starters should be solid. If those starters can help create holes for Tate to run through and keep Hoyer from getting hit and sacked, the Browns offense will be effective against a Steelers defense that is both inexperienced and old at the same time. Plus if the Steelers can’t generate a pass rush, it makes their secondary very beatable, even with the horrible wide receivers the Browns have.
The Steelers offensive line has been one of their biggest weaknesses the last two seasons and a huge reason why they’ve been (8-8) over that span and failed to make the playoffs. They’ve used four first or second round picks on the O-Line over the last five years and so far only one has proved to be worth it, Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. He’s their best lineman, but he has had trouble staying healthy, missing 19 games in his first four years in the NFL. Pouncey is healthy to start this season, and he will need to stay healthy to anchor an average at best line, that is expected to keep the Steelers most valuable player Ben Roethlisberger upright and healthy. If “Big Ben’s” time on the field is cut short due to injury, the entire Steelers offense will fall apart.
So if I’m Mike Pettine and Jim O’Neil on Sunday in Pittsburgh I’d be dialing up blitzes and sending as much pressure as you can at the likes of tackles Kelvin Beachum (LT) and Marcus Gilbert (RT) and inside against guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster. Pressure on Roethlisberger is the one way for the Browns to have a chance to win this game in week one. Ben is known to try and make something out of nothing, or to hold on to the ball to long, so that’s where Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger and Donte Whitner have to create turnovers and make impactful, game changing plays and there’s a good chance against this line in week one that it could happen.
OFFENSIVE LINE ADVANTAGE – BROWNS