Jordan Kunaszyk gets his first true NFL shot at linebacker for the Browns against Baltimore on Saturday.
Cleveland Browns linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk (that’s pronounced Kuh-NAH-shik) is the next man up now that Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s season has ended prematurely due to a foot injury. Kunaszyk, who is already a valuable special teams player, will probably start for the Browns against the arch-rival Baltimore Ravens and is expected to get extensive playing time at linebacker.
If so, he will have Myles Garrett acting as his lead blocker helping him to make plays. He can count on Garrett being double-teamed on every play, acting like a bulldozer to clear a path to the ball carrier on running plays or to the quarterback on passing plays.
The stage is set for Kunaszyk to make plays. All his life he has waited for the opportunity to get extensive playing time at linebacker in an NFL game. This Saturday, in front of the hometown fans, he will get his opportunity.
If he plays on the right side, he will be going up against Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Ben Powers. Stanley, who has worked hard to rehab back from ankle surgery two years ago, has continued to have trouble making it all the way back to his previous All-Pro form, playing all snaps in only two games this season, but he played the entire game versus Pittsburgh last week and thus is presumably ready to go.
However, the Ravens’ injury report shows that he has been limited in practice this week, so perhaps he’s following the example of former Browns center J.C. Tretter, who used to take it easy in practice and save it up for Sunday.
Their injury report also shows that right guard (and former Brown) Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Morgan Moses have been limited in practice this week due to knee injuries. They are just really banged up right now on the offensive line. This recalls a conversation between ESPN’s Mike Greenberg and former player Mark Schlereth. “Gee, Mark, didn’t it make you feel bad about having an unfair advantage over your opponent?”
“Nah, I felt GREAT about having an unfair advantage over my opponent!”
If someone cannot go, swing tackle Patrick Mekari will fill in. Mekari is good enough to be a starting NFL tackle and has previously started for the Ravens at center. He grades out as a guard, however, at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, he really can play all five offensive line positions, but only one at a time, and the Ravens are struggling with multiple injuries, it seems.
That’s their problem. The Browns are also playing backups, but the Browns feel rather good about their guys on defense as long as Garrett is leading the charge.
The net observation is that the Browns’ front seven may have the opportunity to have a good game for a change, and there is no reason why Kunaszyk cannot perform at a high level.
He’s probably going to have to cover the likes of tight ends Mark Andrews, and rookie Isaiah Likely. The Ravens have a host of running threats including quarterback Tyler Huntley, former Ohio State running back J. K. Dobbins, and a trio of veterans in Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, and recycled antique Kenyan Drake. They can all still run and catch the ball out of the backfield.
Baltimore is expected to feature a run-first offense under second-year quarterback Tyler Huntley, starting in place of banged-up Lamar Jackson, another factor that will motivate Joe Woods to use a third linebacker rather than a fifth defensive back in this game. The net result is likely to be a lot of playing time for the trio of Kunaszyk, Deion Jones, and Tony Fields II, none of whom were starters at the beginning of the season. Jones was an Atlanta Falcon.
For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus shows Kunaszyk as the first string when the Browns play a nickel formation, with Tony Fields II sitting out rather than Kunaszyk. Fields has played well at linebacker, his spectacular running into the kicker play on special teams notwithstanding. Truthfully both kids have played better overall than overrated veteran Deion Jones. Hello coaching staff, does the veteran have to play, and if so, why?
The Ravens are infamous for not using the deep ball to their wide receivers as much as other teams, so much so that they have trouble persuading free-agent wide receivers to sign with their team. With a backup quarterback, there are going to be even more running plays and short passes to running backs and tight ends. The bottom line, this is a great opportunity for an enterprising young linebacker to have a good game.
There couldn’t be a better place than Cleveland, Ohio, where there is an extensive central European community who would, first of all, love anyone who is a team player, but it would be especially awesome to see a Polish kid do well for the home team.
Kunaszyk, though not a household name, is not a rookie. He has been in the league since 2019, making coach Ron Riviera’s Carolina Panthers as an undrafted rookie out of the University of California at Berkeley. He mostly played special teams at Carolina despite being named to Pro Football Focus All-Rookie Preseason Team at linebacker.
He followed Riviera to Washington and played there the next two seasons before being cut loose, and wound up with the Cleveland Browns this season.
He has played well in relief appearances this season, with 14 tackles in 52 defensive snaps for the season. A few of those tackles may have come on special teams, though his name does not appear on the leaderboards. Still, that is a very high number of tackles. If that is a harbinger of what is to come, it could be an exciting game versus Baltimore.