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In The Trenches: Matchups for Week 1

Co-written by Matt Bitonti and Justis Mosqueda. Comparing offensive and defensive lines to find the best matchups for the week.

Welcome to the first official regular season attempt at "In The Trenches." 

Every week we will take Bitonti's offensive line rankings and compare them to Mosqueda's defensive front rankings, and combine the two with the goal of isolating and discussing the choicest matchups.  All of the matchups are listed at the bottom of the article. 

Let's get after it! 

MATCHUPS OF THE WEEK

TRUST

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns 

PIT 4th offensive line @ CLE 32nd defensive front (PIT +28)

JM: Myles Garrett may be out of the game for a month after a high ankle injury puts his Week 1 in serious doubt. The first overall pick had a great preseason, but there's a reason why he was drafted first overall. Cleveland was 29th in sack percentage, 29th in yards per carry and 30th in tackle for loss percentage last season. That was one loss that they couldn't afford.

BIT: The Steelers' offensive line has built trust between the players by keeping the lineup stable for multiple seasons.  We call that variable "cohesion" in the model, and it is a key to the success of any line. The Steelers have elite talent in center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David Decastro. The tackles and Ramon Foster are not amazing but they have built something special together, greater than the sum of the parts. This summer offensive line coach Mike Munchak (a Hall-of-Famer in his own right) asked the question where this unit ranks among the best Steelers' offensive lines in franchise history. It should be a juicy matchup against a Browns' defensive front missing their first overall pick. 

 

New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys

NYG 9th offensive line @ DAL 30th defensive front (NYG +21)

JM: If you're looking for hope on Dallas' defensive line this year, it has to come from first-round pick Taco Charlton. Charlton recorded two sacks this preseason, but both came on some fairly low-difficulty sacks, with bookends quickly picking up on Charlton's inside swim counter. If his game can get figured out that quickly in a quarter or so, what will four quarters look like against starting tackles? Demarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford and Stephen Paea are all players whose names don't match their talent at the moment. They're going to have to show something against a quick-strike Giants team that finished third in sack percentage last season.

BIT: Our model is higher on the Giants' offensive line than most. Ereck Flowers gets a ton of flack from the New York media for not being perfect. But he's 24 and linemen at that age learn tough lessons. He flashes and then misses a block, it is going to be up and down process for a player of that age. But overall Flowers has shown more than enough to be their starter for many years. On the other side, right tackle Bobby Hart is even younger, and he also will have his moments for good and ill. Still, left guard Justin Pugh is a glue guy and center Weston Richburg is quietly one of the best centers in the game. Right guard John Jerry is a concern, and Brett Jones would have stolen the starting spot from Jerry, had Jones not gotten hurt. In the near term they are a talented group that has played together a bunch and have a better matchup against the Cowboys' defensive front than the vaunted Cowboys' offensive line has against the Giants' defensive front (see below for full matchup listings).  

FADE

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans

JAX 27th offensive line @ HOU 9th defensive front (HOU +18)

JM: If you want to count Jadeveon Clowney, J.J. Watt or Whitney Mercilus as individual edge defenders, you'll hear no argument from me. The truth of the matter is that Clowney and Watt flex inside and outside of offensive tackles, while Mercilus can be found anywhere from standing over the center to winning one-on-one matchups on the blind side. Houston's talent allows them to line up wherever they want, which then forces offensive coordinators into a game of whack a mole regarding where they want to help their pass protection on a given down, distance and situation. If we're expecting Houston's crowd to get into the game as a collective city coming together, assume that Jacksonville's snap count will go silent quickly. If that happens, the advantage goes to Clowney, Watt and/or Mercilus coming off the edge.

BIT: It's week one and the Jaguars' offensive line still doesn't super know who will start at left guard. It most likely will be Patrick Omameh, but it could also be Earl Watford or Tyler Shatley. Shatley is the dark horse in the race, but the coaches have given him opportunities in the past. Rookie Cam Robinson has been surprisingly decent this preseason but he and the rest of the line will be put into an extremely emotional situation in Houston, still digging out from under Hurricane Harvey.  

New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills

NYJ 30th offensive line @ BUF 2nd defensive front (BUF +28)

JM: No one expected the Buffalo Bills to compete with the New England Patriots, but there was a decent chance that the Bills would have earned a wild card spot in the AFC before their “tank” effort. Last year, only the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Patriots won more multi-score games and lost fewer multi-score games than the Bills. The major factor Buffalo's success on the defensive side of the ball was their line of scrimmage defenders, which earned them the fifth-ranked sack percentage last season. Transitioning to a 4-3, we'll quickly find out exactly how soon this line will click.

BIT: The Jets' offensive line are starting different players at three positions (LT, C, RT) compared to last season. LT Kelvin Beachum has not fully recovered from last year's ACL reconstruction, but he has been adequate in the preseason, at least compared to the mess at right tackle. Coach Todd Bowles has not named a starter in the battle between Brandon Shell and Brent Qvale. The coaches could also go with "None of the above" and vote to start Ben Ijalana week one. Ijalana did not get much work at right tackle in the preseason but was resigned for decent money in the offseason. Center Wesley Johnson has been mostly decent, but he's certainly a downgrade from Nick Mangold. This 31st ranked line faces a stern test on the road against the Bills' 2nd rated defensive front. 

BALTIMORE RAVENS @ CINCINNATI BENGALS 

BAL 8th defensive front @ CIN 31st offensive line (BAL +23)

JM: The Baltimore Ravens have players on the third line of their depth chart which may have competed for a starting role on other rosters had they played for another team this preseason. Baltimore's defensive allowed zero points in Week 1 against the Washington Redskins, seven points in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins, seven points in Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills and seven points in Week 4 against the New Orleans Saints. If this preseason has proven anything, it's that if you run or play vanilla football, this Ravens defense will swallow you whole. Enter Cincinnati.

BIT: The Bengals' offensive line might be better than the model is giving them credit. We don't know for certain how right guard Trey Hopkins will do in his first career start ever, but if Hopkins' play in preseason is any indication, he could be fine. We don't know how Cedric Ogbuehi will hold up at left tackle in his first career start at that position. If Ogbuehi's play in preseason is any indication, Andy Dalton will be accepting blind side hits all game. We don't know what's going to happen, that's why they play the games. They are a young line with talent, and at least it's at home. But I have to go with the model here and predict it will be a trial by fire for the new look Bengals' offensive line against a nasty Ravens' defensive front.  

FULL MATCHUps for week 1

Other notable matchups (but not discussed) in Italics

Thursday

KC 18th offensive line @ NE 16th defensive front (NE +2)
KC 23rd defensive front @ NE 13th offensive line (NE +10)

Sunday

NYJ 30th offensive line @ BUF 2nd defensive front (BUF +28)
NYJ 28th defensive front @ BUF 7th offensive line (BUF +21)

ATL 6th offensive line @ CHI 7th defensive front (ATL +1)
ATL 13th defensive front @ CHI 22nd offensive line (ATL +9) (Assuming LG Kyle Long doesn't play)

JAX 27th offensive line @ HOU 9th defensive front (HOU +18)
JAX 26th defensive front @ HOU 28th offensive line (JAC +2)

PHI 10th offensive line @ WAS 27th defensive front (PHI +17)
PHI 6th defensive front @ WAS 5th offensive line (PHI +1)

ARZ 11th offensive line @ DET 31st defensive front (ARZ +20)
ARZ 21st defensive front @ DET 17th offensive line (DET +4)

OAK 3rd offensive line @ TEN 22nd defensive front (OAK +19)
OAK 29th defensive front @ TEN 8th offensive line (TEN +21)

BAL 23rd offensive line @ CIN 12th defensive front (CIN +11)
BAL 8th defensive front @ CIN 31st offensive line (BAL +23)

PIT 4th offensive line @ CLE 32nd defensive front (PIT +28)
PIT 4th defensive front @ CLE 2nd offensive line (CLE +2)

IND 25th offensive line @ LAR 25th defensive front (EVEN)
IND 20th defensive front @ LAR 26th offensive line (IND +6)

SEA 29th offensive line @ GB 10th defensive front (GB +19)
SEA 1st defensive front @ GB 15th offensive line (SEA +14)

CAR 14th offensive line @ SF 15th defensive front (CAR +1)
CAR 14th defensive front @ SF 16th offensive line (CAR +2)

NYG 9th offensive line @ DAL 30th defensive front (NYG +21)
NYG 11th defensive front @ DAL 1st offensive line (DAL +10)

Monday

NO 12th offensive line @ MIN 5th defensive front (MIN +7)
NO 24th defensive front @ MIN 32nd offensive line (NO +8)

LAC 19th offensive line @ DEN 17th defensive front (LAC +2)
LAC 3rd defensive front @ DEN 20th offensive line (LAC +17)


MOVED TO WEEK 11 DUE TO HURRICANE IRMA

TB 24th offensive line @ MIA 19th defensive front (MIA +5)
TB 18th defensive front @ MIA 21st offensive line (TB +3)

Full Defensive Front Rankings

by Justis Mosqueda

RANK TEAM                     Pts NOTES                   
1 Seattle 18  
2 Buffalo 16  
3 Los Angeles (A)  16  
4 Pittsburgh 16  
5 Minnesota 15 Robison injury. 
6 Philadelphia 15  
7 Chicago 15  
8 Baltimore 15  
9 Houston 14  
10 Green Bay 14  
11 New York (N) 13  
12 Cincinnati 13  
13 Atlanta 12  
14 Carolina 12  
15 San Francisco 12  
16 New England 11  
17 Denver 11  
18 Tampa Bay 11  
19 Miami 11  
20 Indianapolis 10  
21 Arizona 10  
22 Tennessee 10  
23 Kansas City 10  
24 New Orleans 10  
25 Los Angeles (N)  10 Donald hold out. 
26 Jacksonville 9  
27 Washington 9  
28 New York (A) 9  
29 Oakland 8  
30 Dallas 6  
31 Detroit 6  
32 Cleveland 6 Garrett injury. 

Looking for the Offensive Lines? Click Here: Week 1 Offensive Line news and full rankings

As usual, if you have a question about a team not specifically talked about in this article, please feel free to contact us via Twitter.