Injuries can derail a team’s season like nothing else. Aside from losing a starting quarterback (the early favorite for “Narrative of the 2019 season”) injuries to the offensive line can be particularly tricky to overcome. That’s namely because of the general gap in quality between starters and backups, but also because the ol’ swap-guys-around trick rarely works out.
Without further ado, let’s check in at which O-lines around the league are looking up and which are holding their team back.
Green Bay Packers: Bryan Bulaga has officially reminded the NFL of what he’s capable of when healthy. In two back-to-back performances the 10-year veteran hasn’t allowed a sack, and that was against a combination of Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd and Danielle Hunter. As the Packers prioritize two things on offense – keeping Aaron Rodgers upright and establishing a dominant run game – a stalwart offensive line will be more key to the team’s success than ever. The O-line will face another difficult test Week 3 versus the Broncos, and another successful effort would solidify the unit among the NFL’s top groups.
What to Watch: Aaron Jones exploded for 150 scrimmage yards and a TD versus the Vikings in Week 2, but that came on a career-high 23 carries and four catches. It’s possible, if not probable, that Jones won’t see such large usage Week 3 versus Denver, as Green Bay works to control his usage and keep him healthy for the entire season. The third-year runner has nonetheless earned himself the benefit of the doubt as an every-week fantasy starter.
New England Patriots: The cracks haven’t yet begun to show – and likely won’t Week 3 due to a matchup against an injured Jets’ defense – but placing LT Isaiah Wynn (toe) looks a significant step back for a Pats’ offensive line already missing C David Andrews (illness) for the year. Wynn could return as early as Week 11 against the Eagles, but in the meantime New England seems to be counting on one of Caleb Benenoch (who’s managing a calf injury) or Yodny Cajuste (who’s on the NFI list with a quad issue) to step up behind interim starter Korey Cunningham. Cunningham, by the by, looked the part of a legitimate liability Week 2 versus Miami when he entered the game.
What to Watch: Sony Michel is averaging just 2.7 YPC through two games. It’s a small sample size, granted, but if the offensive line has contributed to Michel’s struggles he won’t find any reprieve soon. It’s also cause for concern that Tom Brady’s blindside protection has taken such a big hit, given that he (like all NFL quarterbacks) is prone to being thrown on tilt while facing consistent pressure.
Kansas City Chiefs: LT Eric Fisher is primed for core muscle surgery and expected to miss four to six weeks. His absence will be a huge loss for a Chiefs’ offensive line that struggled Week 2 against the Raiders, especially with run blocking. Kansas City’s offense is built on explosive passing plays courtesy of Patrick Mahomes, but averaging just 3.0 yards per carry across two games could be a sign of trouble to come.
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What to Watch: Both Damien Williams (knee) and LeSean McCoy (ankle) suffered injuries Week 2 versus the Raiders. If either (or both) running backs are forced to miss time, rookie Darwin Thompson – whose explosiveness caught the eye of many a fantasy manager during the preseason – could be on track for a significant role on offense. If Thompson were to see notable carries and impress with his opportunity, it’s conceivable that he could carve out a weekly role even with Williams and McCoy healthy. Savvy fantasy enthusiasts could elect to bid for him on waivers before such an occurrence, while his price remains low.
Cincinnati Bengals: Bengals fans have a comfortable list of things to be excited about: Tyler Boyd and John Ross have been surprisingly effective despite A.J. Green’s absence, new coach Zach Taylor appears to have given the offense a spark, and Tyler Eifert is even healthy and catching touchdowns! On the unfortunate other hand, an offensive line that lost Jonah Williams before the season even began is now dealing with injuries to starters Michael Jordan (knee) and Cordy Glenn (concussion). Cincinnati’s protective front can’t afford to lose any more pieces for the offense to function competitively.
What to Watch: To say that apparent rising star Joe Mixon hasn’t lived up to expectations would be a drastic understatement. The 23-year-old is averaging just 1.6 yards per carry, has yet to score a touchdown, and has compiled just 27 rushing yards thus far. There’s little chance of the O-line turning things around this season and providing better room between the tackles, so expectations for Mixon should likely be tampered going forward.