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With Every Reason to Add Help in Pass Protection, Browns Often Roll the Dice

The Cleveland Browns being down their top three tackles is challenging enough for a quarterback dealing with a shoulder injury, but the coaching staff is exposing Baker Mayfield to further physical punishment.

The remarkable fortitude Baker Mayfield has displayed in games, dislocating his shoulder twice only to pop it back in and continue playing through an incredible amount of pain is both remarkable to onlookers and inspiring to teammates, but the Cleveland Browns coaching staff seems to content to expose their quarterback to further abuse.

The Browns, down their top three offensive tackles, relied on rookie James Hudson III, a player who has never shown a hint of being capable of playing in the NFL, to operate at right tackle with little to no help.

It's difficult to blame the Browns for putting him out there since he is their fifth tackle on the roster any more than it is to blame the player for being completely lost out there because he was drafted with the goal of not playing him at all this season. The problem is when the Browns are letting an incapable right tackle try to block players like J.J. Watt one on one while running deep drop backs.

On three-step drops or other calls designed to make quick throws, if Mayfield is getting hit, it's often his own fault and something he needs to stop doing. There are times when he's clearly holding onto the ball too long and creating his own problems. That led to one of his two fumbles against the Arizona Cardinals. 

Likewise, there are clearly some longer developing pass plays that are doomed to fail at least some of the time because Hudson is struggling on the right side. Assuming he gets hands on at all, he struggles to maintain the block. So either the Browns have ridiculous expectations of someone who has yet to prove capable or they are negligent.

This is particularly galling as the Browns showed they knew better last week when they had Jack Conklin in at right tackle and still provided help to contain Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa. In 2020, for over half the season, the Browns often kept in extra help as a base practice, so it's not something they aren't accustomed.

When the Browns have their starting offensive line in there, blocking with five is a huge advantage. They have invested significantly in that group to enable them to use less personnel to block in pass protection and provide more options for the opponent to account with their coverage.

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Down to their fourth and fifth offensive tackle, the Browns are attempting to defy the odds. And while there are offenses that do that as a standard function of their offense, the Browns quarterback is already dealing with a partially torn labrum and now had his shoulder pop out a second time in five games.

Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin aren't dealing with serious injuries in terms of time required to recover, but the Browns need them to be healthy. Wills was playing for weeks at a compromised level that only extended the period of purgatory the Browns were playing through, because they didn't really have a good option.

Hance, having gotten a significant uptick in reps at left tackle, has proven he can at least be functional. He may not excel, but he operates as a stop gap, which is all a team can really ask from someone who's more suited to play inside.

That has enabled Wills to miss the past two games in hopes of healing his ankle. He may need to miss the Denver Broncos game for the same reason with the hope that the extra week and a half, a month in all, will allow him to get back truly healthy to be the player he can be.

Conklin's knee has been bothering him since the start of the season, but he went down against the Los Angeles Chargers to the point where he couldn't play this week. The extent of the injury is unknown, but it may not need as much time as Wills, so maybe he could be back for the Broncos. If not, then he'll have had three weeks to recover.

There are undoubtedly times where Mayfield can be reckless with his own health, which is its own problem, but the coaching staff is too often exacerbating the issue. If they want too run longer developing pass plays to attack down the field, they need to provide extra help for a player like Hudson. Otherwise, if they want to spread teams out, they need to get the ball out quickly.

It's a real possibility that the Browns will need to roll out Hance and Hudson one more game. Maybe they opt to go with the recently signed Alex Taylor, someone the team had through the offseason and preseason. They could potentially put him in at right tackle once he gets some reps under his belt. Regardless of who is out there, they need to provide help against Von Miller this week.

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