From pass protection to run blocking, every aspect of the modern NFL offence runs through the O-line. Aside from skill position players themselves, nothing has a larger impact on the outcome of a play call than the battle up front. In the Offensive Line Overview series, the ebb and flow of all 32 offensive line groups around the NFL is analyzed and relevant fantasy implications are uncovered.
With a fourth of the regular season under our belt, let’s take a look at which offensive lines trending upwards or falling heading into Week 5:
Starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo has yet to suit up this season, but managed to participate in five straight practices and could make his 2018 debut against the Patriots on Thursday. Castonzo’s presence would be a huge boon for a Colts’ squad which will be without Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton. Le’Raven Clark has filled in for Castonzo thus far and looked the part of a starter against the Texans last week, allowing only two hurries and two pressures while being matched up against Jadeveon Clowney. Clark’s strong performance went a long way in facilitating quarterback Andrew Luck’s overtime comeback against the Texans, in which the 29-year-old passed for 464 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, and looked to have recovered his pre-injury form. It’s likely that Clark will continue to play a key role in Indianapolis’ O-line even when Castonzo returns to the lineup, given how strongly the third-year player has exceeded expectations. Right tackle Denzelle Good will miss Thursday Night Football due to personal reasons, but stands to return to the team in the near future. While the situation may cause Indianapolis issues against the Patriots this week, it stands to reason that when Good does reenter the lineup, the team’s offensive front could become one of the better groups in the league.
What to watch: The Colts’ offense runs through Andrew Luck, the same as it ever has. Without a running game to speak much of, Luck will likely be responsible for whatever points this team puts on the board for the foreseeable future — even if T.Y. Hilton misses some time.
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Dallas’ O-line performed like it was 2016 in Week 4, paving the way for Ezekiel Elliot’s 183 yards (6.1 YPC) on the ground. Zeke now leads the league in rushing with 426 yards, a substantial portion of which came during last week’s dominant showing: the offensive line was ranked second in run-blocking and third in pass-blocking for the week by Pro Football Focus. What’s more, the front five did not commit a single penalty during the team’s 26-24 win over Detroit. Quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked three times during the victory, but each occasion was largely due to a mistake on Prescott’s part. Considering this, it should be of no surprise that left tackle Tyron Smith logged his best performance of the season during Week 4 — the 5x Pro Bowler did not allow a single pressure against the Lions, facilitating Prescott to play his most complete game of the season. If the O-line can continue to perform at this level, the Cowboys offense could relegate it’s dismal early-season performances as a distant memory.
What to watch: As mentioned, Ezekiel Elliott currently leads the league in rushing yards — and that may not change any time soon. The Cowboys remain 18-5 in games when Zeke gets at least 20 touches, and with the O-line seeming to have improved Dallas is likely to return to their preferred Zeke-centric gamescript.
Despite prioritizing the continuity of their offensive line, the Dolphins have lost left guard Josh Sitton (a four-time Pro Bowler) and center Daniel Kilgore, who suffered a season-ending triceps injury during last week’s loss to the Patriots. As made evident by Miami’s 38-7 blowout loss to New England last Week — in which QB Ryan Tannehill logged 100 passing yards, zero touchdowns, an interception and a fumble — the O-line is not meshing well in the absence of two important starters. Travis Swanson struggled in place of Kilgore from the second quarter onward, but seems a likely candidate to serve as the Dolphins’ starting center once more during Sunday’s game against Cincinnati. The team’s other positional option is Wesley Johnson, who only joined the team on October 2nd — so Miami’s center position is likely to remain a weakness for the foreseeable future. It’s also worth considering that Kilgore was appointed as a team captain, despite 2018 being his first year in Miami. With a newfound lack of clear leadership, one of Miami’s linemen will need to step up in the locker room if the unit hopes to remain a strong whole. After only managing 56 yards on the ground and 100 yards through the air against New England, Miami’s O-line faces a tough defensive front in Cincinnati.
What to watch: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill had surpassed expectations when the line played well, serving as an adequate fantasy (and NFL) quarterback to begin the season — but if the line can’t substantially improve its protection, Tannehill may be better suited to the waiver wire than a roster spot.
It’s no secret that the Vikings entered the 2018 season with sky-high expectations: coming off a loss in the NFC Championship, the team added a franchise quarterback and saw the return of Dalvin Cook — so what’s brought the team to a middling 1-2-1 start? The answer is, in no small part, the offensive line. Minnesota’s O-line is averaging an astonishing 20 quarterback pressures per game thus far, more than double than the league-standard. Tom Compton was forced into the team’s starting lineup after an offseason injury to Nick Easton, and has unsurprisingly struggled as a full-time starter. Tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers are each significantly underperforming compared to their 2017 seasons — especially Reiff, who alone gave up 12 pressures during the Vikings’ surprising loss to the Bills. 2017 third-rounder Pat Elflein, who returned to the field last week, still looks to be a reliable center but seems entirely unable to make up for the deficiencies surrounding him on either side of the line. The worst of the matter is there seems to be no clear fix in sight: the Vikings don’t have a starter returning from injury soon, or a depth lineman who seems ready to step up and shore up one of the tackle positions — barring a left-field trade, Minnesota’s coaching staff appears stuck with the roster they entered the 2018 season with. Unless one or more of the aforementioned linemen is able to vastly improve their game, the Vikings could struggle to overcome deficiencies up front for the remainder of the season.
What to watch: Despite the line’s struggles, the Vikings’ passing game — and Adam Theilen especially — remain one of the top fantasy options in the league. It’s possible that Theilen could log his fifth 100-yard game in a row against the Eagles this week, especially considering that strong defensive pressure could lead to Cousins continually dumping passes to his favorite target.
New York Jets
Following a disappointing loss to Cleveland, the Jets’ O-line largely regressed against a top-end Jacksonville defensive front. Right tackle Brandon Shell can be pinpointed as a cause of many of the line’s woes: after three solid showings to begin the season, Shell played arguably the worst game by any Jets’ lineman this season. The 26-year-old allowed one sack, one hit and six pressures to quarterback Sam Darnold, and was clearly outclassed by Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler throughout the game. In total the line allowed 21 total pressures on Darnold, and poor run-blocking held the team’s running backs to a measly 2.4 YPC. Facing off against an outstanding Broncos’ defensive front this Sunday, the Jets’ O-line seems likely to once again expose Gang Green’s weaknesses rather than cover for them — and after the Colts in Week 6, the Jets will face off against the Vikings, Bears and Dolphins for a D-line gridiron. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which this team’s offensive line bounces back in the early portion of the season, which will continue to cause chaos for the development of the franchises’ rookie QB.
What to watch: Isaiah Crowell’s poor showing in pass-protection this season hasn’t matters, as the running back allowed a sack and multiple pressures during the team’s loss to Jacksonville. Unless Crowell can improve in his protection of Darnold, he could see his offensive snaps reduced.