Every week in the NFL brings something to look forward to, but not every week brings as much hype as the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 1 matchup against the Cleveland Browns.
This Week 1 bout brings with it a rematch from last year’s playoffs. Cleveland, a team on the rise over the past few seasons, looks to avenge a playoff game in which they lost despite Patrick Mahomes leaving early and being replaced by Chad Henne.
Much of the noise surrounding this game comes from the improvements each team made in the trenches this offseason. Kansas City added Joe Thuney, Orlando Brown Jr., and Kyle Long to help bolster an offensive line that left Mahomes vulnerable in the Super Bowl.
Conversely, Cleveland has made an effort to strengthen their defensive line following their playoff loss, putting Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson, and Takkarist McKinley alongside Myles Garrett to enhance their pass rush.
This matchup has turned into a battle of heavyweights along the front lines and will be a great early test for Kansas City’s improved offensive line. This matchup is especially important for the new members joining the Chiefs’ O-line, Thuney and Brown Jr., who will look to prove they were worth the investment K.C. made in them.
Thuney was the New England Patriots’ third-round pick in 2016, never missed a start with the Pats, and has only given up three sacks in the last three seasons. He also brings with him a level of versatility with his ability to slide over and play center and both guard positions.
But the most important addition this offseason, at least in Sunday’s matchup, is offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
A two-time Pro Bowler with the Baltimore Ravens and one of the best young players at the tackle position, Brown will be tasked with protecting Mahomes’ blindside. Brown brings some much-needed consistency to the O-line, having only given up six sacks over the last three seasons. His matchup against Myles Garrett will be a great early test of his individual performance and how the entire line picks up blocks and makes adjustments.
However, this matchup isn’t only important to the Super Bowl-winning guard and Pro Bowl tackle who have joined the Chiefs. This is also an important matchup for the remainder of the O-line, who join them in providing holes in the run game and keeping Mahomes upright.
The other three starters along the offensive line have yet to take a snap in the NFL: Creed Humphrey at center, Trey Smith at right guard, and Lucas Niang at right tackle. Humphrey and Smith were additions from this year’s draft while Niang opted out last year over COVID concerns.
Due to this lack of playing time, there isn’t a lot of statistical data to draw conclusions from for how they will perform this season, but we can expect these three to play well given what has been said about them in camp by Chiefs GM Brett Veach: “These guys are coming out here on day one of training camp and starting,” Veach said. “They’re not just given a job just because coach wants to change things up. I mean, he’s been doing this a long time.”
This offensive line will have their work cut out for them given the front four they will face against Cleveland on Sunday. Myles Garrett and Jadaveon Clowney will undoubtedly do everything they can to get to Mahomes and make life tough on the new offensive tackles.
Garrett, a first-team All-Pro selection last year with 12 sacks, is looking to add another productive year on a team many feel is on the rise in the AFC. With the addition of Clowney, Garrett can go to work knowing the offensive line cannot always afford multiple blockers for him. A matchup nightmare in his own right, Clowney will be looking to have a bounceback season after a dismal campaign with the Tennessee Titans a season ago.
Obviously, the season is long, and there is no way to know how well this offensive line will perform from week to week or throughout the year. But, this early test against one of the league’s better defensive lines will provide a lot for this offensive line in regards to experience and tape to better understand assignments and schemes moving forward.