NFL Offensive Line Overview: Thanksgiving Preview

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, we look at which of the league’s 32 offensive lines are trending up and down.

Last week’s article pegged this point of the NFL season as the crucible — the period where contenders would fully distinguish themselves from pretenders — and Week 11 didn’t disappoint. Multiple Super Bowl-bound teams took the opportunity to show what they’re made of (see: Monday Night’s madness). Other groups have hit bumps in the road, and face new obstacles to overcome on the journey to the playoffs. Without further ado, let’s check in on the state of the NFL’s trenches heading into Thanksgiving Day’s matchups.

Risers:

New Orleans Saints

Following Sunday’s convincing win over the Eagles, there’s an argument to be made that the 39-year-old Drew Brees is playing the best football of his career. The veteran’s on-field experience and decisiveness back up this narrative, as do his numbers: Brees currently leads the league with a passer rating of 126.9, the highest mark of his career. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Brees benefits from multiple elite pass-catchers and coach Sean Payton’s sharp-witted offensive scheme, but much of the credit also belongs to New Orleans’ offensive line. Brees has benefited from a remarkably clean pocket, even when facing high-end pass rushes. The O-line has only allowed nine sacks in 10 games, and emerged as one of the strongest protection units in the league. The Saints will face off against the Falcons on Thanksgiving Night, in what amounts to a must-win game for Atlanta — and all signs point to New Orleans’ offensive line handling the Falcons’ middling pass-rush without much difficulty.

What to Watch: The Saints are a definitive “start-all-studs” offense for fantasy purposes, having put up at least 45 points in three consecutive games. Drew Brees doesn’t appear to be slowing down, and will have ample motivation to turn Thursday’s primetime affair into yet another piece of evidence in favor of his MVP campaign.

 

Chicago Bears

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The Bears stand atop the NFC North, and look every bit deserving of the part. Chicago’s O-line controlled the battle up front during Sunday’s win over the Vikings dominant pass rush, which had recorded 10 sacks during their previous contest. Second-round rookie guard James Daniels played his best game of the season, looking indistinguishable from a veteran to the naked eye. Daniels didn’t allow a sack or pressure during the entire contest, and the offensive line as a whole allowed only five pressures and one sack. Even in a matchup where Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen combined for less than 4.0 YPC, stallwart offensive protection paved the way for the Bears to survive a late-game comeback attempt by Minnesota.

What to Watch: Mitchell Trubisky recorded 43 yards in Week 11, and now leads all quarterbacks in the league with 363 yards on the ground. The second-year passer’s ability to rush for significant yardage, both in planned and improvised situations, provides him with a reliable floor as the fantasy playoffs approach.

 

New York Giants

The Giants’ offense has looked revitalized as of late, coming off a 38-35 win over the Buccaneers in which the G-Men put up their highest point total of the season. Substantially improved pass protection and run blocking led the way for the offense to total 359 total yards and log their first home victory of the 2018 season. Veteran quarterback Eli Manning completed all but one of his 18 pass attempts for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and looked to have found the fountain of youth while basking in the cleanest pockets he’d seen all season. Granted, Manning’s solid performance came against a league-worst Buccaneers defense — but he’ll face off against an injury-riddled Eagles secondary Sunday, which should struggle mightily to cover all of Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram.

What to Watch: Barkley rushed for a career-high 142 rushing yards and three total touchdowns during last week’s win over the Buccaneers, during which he received 27 carries. The Giants appear wholly committed to basing their offense around the ground game, and Barkley is a surefire bet to turn his increased touches into fantasy points.

 

Fallers:

Houston Texans

Houston’s seven-game win streak has (not so coincidentally) come in conjunction with steadily improving offensive line play. Guards Zach Fulton and Senio Kelemete have both stepped up after struggling mightily in the beginning of the season — and both sustained injuries during the first quarter of last week’s win over the Redskins. Fulton landed on his shoulder wrong while Kelemete suffered an ankle injury, and both missed the majority of the Week 10 game. Lacking both starting guards, Houston’s offense struggled to put together any sort of momentum in the second half and was only able to put up points due to Kaimi Fairbairn’s leg. Quarterback DeShaun Watson was sacked five times on the day, and the offense was shockingly ineffective in the redzone. Kelemete and Fulton have both played through injuries in the past, but if either misses any time or is significantly limited we’ve seen that the Houston’s offense is capable of quickly falling apart.

What to Watch: Demaryius Thomas was held catchless Week 10, and has not brought in a target with his new team since the first quarter of Week 9. With rookie Keke Coutee having drawn nine targets and DeAndre Hopkins receiving five targets, it appears that Thomas will be difficult to trust for fantasy purposes going forward unless this offense transitions to a pass-first unit.