NFL Offensive Line Overview: TNF Preview Edition

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 Thursday Night Football about to kick off Week 2, this edition of our weekly O-line analysis piece takes a look at how the Bengals and Ravens will match up. Without further ado, let’s check in on who’s trending up or down with a week of NFL football under our belt:

Risers:

Baltimore Ravens

 Despite not playing together as a full unit a single time during the preseason, Baltimore’s offensive line offered quarterback Joe Flacco astounding protection in their season-opening 47-3 victory over the Bills. The unit allowed only one sack on the day. Flacco made the most of his line’s performance, posting 236 yards and three touchdowns while completing an impressive 73.5 percent of his passes – better numbers than the quarterback put up in the entire 2017 season. Right guard Marshal Yanda took the field for the first time in nearly a year, having been sidelined with a surgically-repaired right shoulder and left ankle, and played well throughout the entire game. Center Matt Skura showed poise in his starting debut at the position, as did left guard Alex Lewis – despite allowing the team’s only sack. The Ravens’ O-line will turn their focus to a more intimidating Bengals pass rushing group, who registered nine quarterback hits against the Colts in Week 1. Still, there’s reason for Ravens fans (and fantasy owners of Ravens players) to feel optimistic heading into Thursday night: the O-line allowed Flacco to extend plays, and the team’s bolstered WR core gave the 33-year-old quarterback the support he needed to make a handful of big conversions. The Ravens offense looked better in Week 1 than it has in over a year, and looks posed for another solid night if the line can contain Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins.

What to watch: Running back Alex Collins, now without Kenneth Dixon (IR) eating into his carries, will have every opportunity to solidify his position as the team’s lead back behind what should prove to be a reliable run blocking group.

 

Denver Broncos

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 To say that Denver’s offensive line has improved since the 2017 season – in which they allowed 52 sacks – wouldn’t encapsulate exactly how much better the revamped group looked in the season opener. Rookie running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay accounted for 142 yards behind the stout run blocking group, and offseason acquisition Case Keenum passed for 329 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions and benefited from ample protection. The Bronco’s 470 total yards of offense are the highest the team has posted since their 2015 season, when Peyton Manning was under center. LT Garret Bolles, LG Ron Leary, center Matt Paradis, RG Connor McGovern and RT Jared Veldheer played all 74 of the team’s offensive snaps together without drawing a single penalty flag. Credit Denver’s new O-line coaches Chris Strausser and Sean Kugler for coaching the unit to mesh so well together – if all five linemen can stay healthy for the majority of the season, the Broncos’ passing and rushing attacks should have little difficulty producing fantasy points week in and week out. Last Sunday’s 27-24 victory over Seattle is a baseline to build upon, and Denver has the pieces to do just that.

What to watch: Rookie running back Royce Freeman (15 attempts for 71 yards) and wide receiver Courtland Sutton (two catches for 45 yards) will use their Week 1 performances as a foundation and continue to grow/electrify, as long as the offensive line continues to facilitate a smooth offense.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 Tampa Bay’s surprise 48-40 shootout victory over New Orleans was defined by outstanding performances by Ryan Fitzpatrick, DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and Peyton Barner – all of whom benefited from a perfect zero-sack game by the team’s offensive line. LT Donovan Smith, LG Ali Marpet, center Ryan Jensen, RG Caleb Benenoch and RT Demar Dotson shut out a Saints pass rush that pushed teams around in 2017.  New Orleans recorded at least one sack in every game of last year’s regular season, while Tampa did not log a single game without their quarterback taking at least one sack over that same period. The line’s fantastic protection led to Fitzpatrick playing a lights-out game, posting 417 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. We’ll see if Tampa can show the same strong protective front this Sunday against the Eagles, who once again look like one of the top defensive fronts in the league.

What to watch: Third-year running back Peyton Barber looks primed to keep second-round rookie Ronald Jones II solidly at bay, with every opportunity to build upon his solid Week 1 performance of 19 rushes for 69 yards as the season continues.

 

               Fallers:

Cincinnati Bengals

Bobby Hart’s debut as a Bengal did not go as anticipated. The right tackle allowed two sacks, two tackles for a loss and three quarterback hits against the Colts in Week 1, all to Margus Hunt. Entering a Thursday Night Football matchup against Baltimore, the Bengal’s O-line will be put through much more rigorous testing. In four of the last five seasons, the Ravens have ranked as a top-12 pass rush unit – and last week, Baltimore logged a game-breaking six sacks against Bills quarterbacks. Joe Mixon managed an impressive 5.6 YPC behind the O-line in Week 1, and looked much improved compared to his largely-unimpressive rookie season – but quarterback Andy Dalton looked as befuddled as ever when put under pressure – but remarkably accurate when the right side of the line did hold up. Cincinnati’s passing attack looks to rely more than ever on stout offensive line play, an area of weakness which Baltimore has the playmakers to target… and target hard.

What to watch: When not under pressure last week, Dalton looked tremendously accurate in the short passing game and solid on deep throws – including a 38-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green. The game may very well come down to whether or not Dalton is able to perform similarly under increased pressure.

 

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta allowed four sacks and 13 hits to quarterback Matt Ryan, while their thunder/lightning running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were held to 3.6 yards per carry (though Freeman did leave the game early with a knee injury). Of course, the Eagles boast one of the league’s best defensive fronts – the best pass rushing d-line in the NFL last year – but the Falcons’ O-line struggles capped the fantasy production of every offensive weapons save Julio Jones, who posted a monster 10 receptions for 169 yards. Nearly all of the Eagles’ pass rushing success came due to the right side of Atlanta’s offensive line, with right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Ryan Schraeder simply having been overpowered. Fusco was clearly mismatched against Fletcher Cox in his Falcons’ debut, and Schraeder struggled mightily in pass protection – allowing nine QB pressures, despite having never before allowed more than five in his NFL career. The good news is that newly-extended left tackle Jake Matthews had an impressive night, allowing only two pressures out of 52 pass-blocking snaps, and center Alex Mack looked every bit of his 5x Pro Bowl self. It remains to be seen whether the Falcons’ offensive line struggles only occurred due to facing a dominant Eagles defense, or if the right side of the unit will continue to flounder as the season continues. How the O-line fares against Carolina’s potent defensive front, led by Julius Peppers and Kawann short, might answer that question.

What to watch: Matt Ryan logged a dismal Week 1 fantasy performance, in which he completed only 48.% percent of his passes and didn’t throw a touchdown. There may be cause for concern if Ryan puts up a dud two weeks in a row, especially for fantasy teams relying on him as a weekly option.

 

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona allowed 17 pressures in Week 1, the fourth-most in the NFL’s season-opening weekend. The O-line struggled consistently in pass protection, so Sam Bradford’s abysmal performance of 153 yard, zero touchdowns and one interception came as no surprise. The 30-year-old quarterback played scared in his Cardinals’ debut, often overthrowing his receivers and completing only 20 of 34 passes on the day. The good news is that the O-line looked effective as a run blocking unit, but Week 1’s game against Washington put the Cardinals in a deficit so quickly that gamescript disallowed the ability to lean on running back David Johnson, who finished the day with only 9 carries. Johnson averaged over four YPC and scored a touchdown, but Arizona’s shoddy defense may force the team to rely on Bradford’s passing attack week after week – creating a lopsided offense which would limit the team’s strengths and pressure their weakness at pass protection. Unless a solution to the offensive line’s poor quarterback protection can be found, expect the Cardinals offense to struggle mightily against the Ram’s top-tier defensive line this Sunday – and for the foreseeable future.

What to watch: Arizona’s coaching staff may elect to postpone rookie quarterback Josh Rosen’s NFL debut for quite some time, rather than expose him to this sorry pass-protection.