Three ways to getting the offensive line back on track
Anyone who watched the Houston Texans play the New Orleans Saints got to see that despite the addition of Laremy Tunsil, the Texans offensive line problems were still alive and well. Tunsil gave up a sack himself, but their problems run deeper than adding one player and their line is a work in progress that they hope improves over the course of the season. This only supports the notion that the Cleveland Browns can't just add Trent Williams and everything will magically be fixed, especially when the season has already started.
The Browns have who they have and four of those offensive linemen are returning from last year. The same group that was able to keep Baker Mayfield protected down the stretch. Kevin Zeitler was the only one they didn't have and his replacement Eric Kush was solid in his debut.
In order to get back where offensive line is able to do enough to keep Mayfield upright, there are a few things that need to happen.
First, simply play better. Chris Hubbard was a disaster against the Tennessee Titans and Cameron Wake. He gets a small reprieve as the New York Jets next week don't have anyone like Wake or Harold Landry on their defense, but he also has to play better.
The second part is the offense needs to stay on schedule. Penalties played a monster role in this and not only does having 1st-and-20 or 2nd-and-17 mean the Browns have to gain more yardage, it makes them far easier to defend.
Offenses can run the ball in those situations but defenses aren't worried about stopping the run as much there. They can be more focused on the passing defense and slow down the run enough not to get killed, setting up obvious passing situations where they can pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.
That puts the offensive line at an immediate disadvantage no mater the talent level, but especially when a team is simply hoping for pretty average play at the tackle position like the Browns are. Giving players like Wake and Landry the ability to come off the snap going full bore after the quarterback first is never going to be a good situation for the offensive tackles.
2nd-and-6, 3rd-and-4, the entire playbook is open. The defense has to be honest to the run and is more susceptible to get beat through the air. With the playmakers the Browns have, it enables them to be aggressive, attack down the field and make a splash play. They can also just hand the ball off to Nick Chubb, which is usually a smart move.
Regardless of the choice, it forces the defense to play more honestly and account for more. That uncertainty gives the offensive linemen an advantage off the ball, so particularly when it comes to pass blocking, they get a slight headstart to their spot.
The last part of this is Baker Mayfield. He just cannot hold the ball as long as he did on any number of occasions in the Titans game and he knows it. Some of it was caused by the penalties. Some of it was probably fueled by pressure he puts on himself and trying to live up to the moment. Some of it was due to play calls.
Looking back at this game, that's probably going to be the thing that eats at Mayfield most; knowing better and not doing it. As the team prepares for the New York Jets, that might be one of the most obvious changes. There are some situations where Mayfield's ability to extend the play is great and can lead to some incredible moments, but as illustrated by quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson, it risks more body blows and the offensive line can only be asked to block for so long.
This is what enabled the Browns to be so successful on offense down the stretch last season and keep their quarterback protected, even with mediocre tackles. They need to get back to it to beat the Jets and restore the order of things in terms of what was expected out of this group but didn't get against the Titans.