From pass protection to run blocking, every aspect of the modern NFL offense 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.
As Thursday's contest between the Vikings and Redskins kicks off, let's check in at which O-lines around the league are looking up and which are holding their team back.
New Orleans Saints: Since Drew Brees went down, Teddy Bridgewater has stepped up and led the Saints on a five-game winning streak against some tough matchups. It's no coincidence that during that stretch, New Orleans' offensive line has performed like the best pass-blocking unit in the league. Led by tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, the unit has kept Bridgewater consistently upright and protected at all costs. Sean Payton (an early leader for Coach of the Year) has regularly implemented Will Clapp as a sixth man along the offensive front, sacrificing the eligibility of a receiver. It's a strategy that works for a team with Michael Thomas, who can be deployed as a mismatch against both zone and man coverage, and at all depths of the field.
What to Watch: Facing a prime matchup against the Cardinals' defense, New Orleans' skill-position players ought to feast. If Alvin Kamara (ankle) is sidelined Sunday – which could make sense with a bye week coming up – Latavius Murray will be a must-start fantasy option.
Los Angeles Chargers: The placement of Forrest Lamp on season-ending IR is another devastating blow for an O-line that lost four-time Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey just weeks ago. With upcoming matches against the stellar pass rushes of the Bears, Saints and Packers on the docket, it'll be all the Chargers' offensive front can do to keep Philip Rivers upright. That Russell Okung is nearing a return is certainly positive news, but it may be a case of too little, too late for the suffocating Chargers' offense.
What to Watch: Melvin Gordon hasn't only struggled since returning from his holdout, he's been a liability. During last week's loss to the Titans, Gordon wasn't just unable to gain a yard on the goal-line – he wasn't able to stop from ending the game with a fumble. In three appearances this season, the 27-year-old is averaging 2.3 YPC and struggling to produce. In the meantime, Austin Ekeler has looked as electric as ever, and is building a strong case to eat into Gordon's workload as the season continues.
Denver Broncos: Inconsistency up front has derailed whatever chances this Broncos squad have of making their 2019 season memorable. Kansas City's defense – which had looked uninspiring at best before Week 7 – provided reliable pressure all night last Thursday. Having Joe Flacco, a QB of the "turn pressure into sacks" mold, under center serves to exacerbate the problem. Ja'Wuan James (knee) appears on track to return to the lineup Sunday versus Indianapolis, but being that he isn't back to 100 percent capacity yet, the 27-year-old left tackle likely won't be able to stem the bleeding in Denver.
What to Watch: Rookie QB Drew Lock (thumb) is eligible to be activated from IR as early as Week 9, though he hasn't yet resumed participating in practice. The Broncos appear to be exercising caution with the second-round pick but will have little reason to keep him out of the lineup when healthy. This far removed from playoff contention, expect Lock to start at some point this season – barring health setbacks – so that Denver can decide what they have in the signal-caller.
Chicago Bears: Mitch Trubisky has, not undeserving, shouldered much of the blame for Chicago's recent failures on offense. Some important context to consider alongside Trubisky's woes, of course, comes in the form of an offensive line that's not nearly living up to its potential. Kyle Long struggled through the first weeks of the season, but his placement on IR leaves relatively unknown factors like Rashaad Coward and Ted Larsen carrying the load. Cody Whitehair and James Daniels have struggled to adapt to new positions this year. Charles Leno is playing like one of the worst left tackles in the league, allowing pressure and penalties at an alarming rate. While many of the O-line's problems are tentatively fixable, it's not a sure thing that Chicago's coaching staff will manage to do so.
What to Watch: David Montgomery has not gotten off to the start that his fantasy owners hoped. The rookie third-round pick hasn't surpassed 40 scrimmage yards in either of his last two contests, and he's only accumulated two touchdowns on the season. Montgomery's total rushing attempts have only exceeded the 15-mark in two contests, and he's averaging a paltry 3.3 YPC. It's a brutal reality considering his draft capital in startups, but Montgomery can't be considered an every-week starter until Chicago's offense shows that it's rebounded in some form.