Offensive Lines Update - Week 12
By Matt Bitonti
November 21st, 2012

The NFL season is three quarters of the way through, and injuries are really hitting hard. Here are the upgrades and downgrades for the leagues' offensive lines.

Upgrades

Houston Texans: Rookie tough guy Ben Jones out of Georgia has been elevated to starting right guard, over the struggling Antoine Caldwell. While Jones may have been drafted to be the center of the future, he's extremely capable at guard, getting good push in the running game. Overall the more talented player is getting reps and this is a slight upgrade for a very good offensive line.

Detroit Lions: A long time left tackle gets injured and we upgrade the unit? Yes. Reilly Reiff is a more talented player than Jeff Backus and he is playing the position he was drafted to play. This is one of those moves that the coaching staff were reluctant to make but injuries took the choice out of their hands. Backus is known as a gritty veteran and a quick return to the lineup wouldn't be surprising. In the meantime, Reiff is an upgrade in pass protection and overall a slight upgrade to a unit that has been playing above average football all season.

Atlanta Falcons: Another addition by subtraction upgrade, as rookie second round pick Peter Konz steps in for the injured Garrett Reynolds at right guard. It was surprising that Reynolds held on to the job for as long as he did, but his back gave out and has placed him on the IR list. Konz takes his rightful place on the Falcons' first team, and his performance against the Eagles was noteworthy. With this upgrade, the Falcons' line crosses over from below average to slightly above average.

Oakland Raiders: Right tackle Khalif Barnes rejoined the lineup last week for the first time since week 2. Even though Willie Smith was decent in his absence, this unit is better with the veteran Barnes starting. Cooper Carlyle and Stefan Wisniewski have been extremely solid and left tackle Jared Veldheer is shaky but improving as he gets reps. Overall this unit has been effective opening holes in the run game and is scratching its way out of the basement of the rankings.

Arizona Cardinals: Nate Potter, a seventh round rookie out of Boise State, actually played well last week as the coaching staff has benched D'Anthony Batiste. With Potter at left tackle and fourth round rookie Bobbie Massie on the right side, all this youth would seemingly be cause for concern. But they looked ok, and are getting better. As such, we are upgrading this unit to "don't buy!" (Jim Kramer on Arrested Development reference).

St. Louis Rams: Left tackle Rodger Saffold and center Scott Wells are finally healthy, and having both of these players back is a huge boost to this struggling unit. Shelley Smith is still an adventure at left guard, and could be benched in favor of Chris Williams any day. In general, the line gets good push in the running game and could be a rising line as we approach the fantasy playoffs.

Downgrades

New Orleans Saints: Stalwart right tackle Zach Strief is battling a left groin injury and his replacement Charles Brown was knocked out of the game with an apparent right knee injury. Bryce Harris (poached from the Falcons practice squad) stepped in and did well against Oakland. Harris is a former basketball player who went undrafted out of Fresno State. Eric Olsen is also in the mix as a backup.But the uncertainty at this position is a cause for concern, and teams will likely target this weak spot going forward. This represents a very slight downgrade to a line that is playing at a high overall level right now.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Since the last update, monster left guard Carl Nicks has been placed on injured reserve. With Davin Joseph already on IR, that is two of the best guards in the game on the shelf. The Bucs' line has been reshuffled, with former center Jeremy Zuttah playing left guard and Ted Larsen playing center. Jamon Meredith goes from swing tackle to starting right guard. This line is hanging on to play good football but they are losing talent and are dangerously thin. Another injury could have this unit in real trouble.

Denver Broncos: Right guard Chris Kuper suffered a "severely" sprained ankle and could not play last two weeks. Kuper is rumored to be on track to play this week. Hopefully that happens as backup Manny Ramirez can be exploited in pass protection. The Broncos' line has been excellent in total sack numbers but how much of that is Peyton Manning's quick release? With Ramirez subbing for Kuper, the Broncos' line takes a slight downgrade, especially against the pass.

New England Patriots: The uncertainty along the interior of the line continues for the Patriots. All-world guard Logan Mankins was recently joined by starter Dan Connolly in the training room. Currently the Patriots are starting Donald Thomas at left guard, Ryan Wendell at center and Nick McDonald at right guard. I've heard Pats beat writers say the subs have been doing surprising well, but make no mistake about it, these players aren't very good. What's good is Tom Brady's ability to make quick reads and get rid of the ball. But this is a continued area of concern until key players get healthy.

Green Bay Packers: Right tackle Bryan Bulaga has been put on the injured reserve list, and considering his poor level of play lately, this might not have been a bad loss. However due to a lack of depth (Derek Sherrod would have been the next tackle in, had he been healthy), several positions on the line were shuffled to deal with the loss. Left guard T.J. Lang will slide over to right tackle and utility man Evan Dietrich-Smith takes his place at left guard. Overall, these are two tough players but this is a troublesome shuffle, especially with the Giants on tap for this week.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs are dealing with minor injuries to several players and the reshuffle that occurred in their absence was epic. With Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Ryan Lilja dinged up, the following madness occurred: Chiefs started Donald Stephenson at right tackle (but finished the game at left tackle), Eric Winston started the game at right guard and finished at right tackle. Russ Hochstein started at center and Bryan Mattison started at guard. Whew! With the three injured players likely to return (Asamoah in a cast for his broken thumb), hopefully things can get back to normal. But the clown car act drops them down in these rankings.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The good news is that both guards, Ramon Foster and Willie Colon have been playing at a high level. But still this unit needs to be downgraded. This line just can't keep defenders off their quarterback. They have lingering issues at both tackle spots (Marcus Gilbert has had a nagging ankle injury). Overall, they are down to their third quarterback and it's because of the lack of pass protection.

Dallas Cowboys: Left tackle Tyron Smith has an ankle sprain and is questionable for the game on Thanksgiving. Trainers are optimistic that Smith can make a quick recovery but that's not the only issue with the Cowboys' line. Centers Phil Costa and Erik Cook are both injured, forcing Mackenzy Bernadeau to slide over from left guard (and Derrick Dockery to replace Bernadeau). As with most shuffles, this causes a loss of cohesion, and the Browns took full advantage last weekend, to the tune of seven quarterback sacks.

Chicago Bears: Usually these downgrades are based upon some sort of specific coaching decision or injury. In the Bears' case, they just can't keep defenders off their quarterback. Aldon Smith racked up five and a half sacks on Monday night football, and it's not like this is an outlier. All year the Bears' quarterbacks have been getting crushed and the lack of development from Gabe Carimi at right tackle is especially troubling.

San Diego Chargers: The left side of the Chargers' line was decimated last week, as both Jared Gaither and Tyronne Green were forced from the contest. This unit had very little depth behind these players, and it will be bad news for Phillip Rivers if Michael Harris and Rex Hadnot have to see extended playing time.

Philadelphia Eagles: Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the worst offensive line in the league, the Philadelphia Eagles. With right tackle Todd Herremans out for the year, Dennis Kelly slides over from right guard. Newly signed Jake Scott apparently has passed former first round pick Danny Watkins on the depth chart and had a terrible game against the Redskins. The Eagles quarterbacks have suffered an obscene eighty-seven hits year to date (most of these were on Michael Vick). Demetress Bell and King Dunlap continue to hold a contest of who is the least bad left tackle (Bell is "winning" right now). As a side note, luring Howard Mudd out of retirement and paying him a ransom salary was clearly a miscalculation. Mudd has been a great coach over the years, but when guys are retired, there's usually a reason.

Current Rankings

Rank
Last
Team
Grade
Last
Run
Pass
Comments
1
1
San Francisco
A+
A+
A+
A-
2
2
NY Jets
A
A
A+
B+
3
3
Baltimore
A
A
A+
B+
4
4
NY Giants
A
A
B
A-
5
7
Houston
A
A-
A+
B+
Upgrade: RG Jones in for Caldwell.  
6
5
Tennessee
A-
A-
B+
A-
7
6
Miami
A-
A-
A
B+
8
8
New Orleans
B+
A-
B+
A-
Downgrade: RT Strief out, Brown to replace. 
9
10
Cleveland
B+
B+
B+
B
10
9
Tampa Bay
B+
A-
B+
B
Downgrade: LG Nicks out for year, line shuffled. 
11
11
Carolina
B
B
B
C+
12
13
Minnesota
B
B
B
C+
13
19
Detroit
B
B-
C+
A-
Upgrade: LT Reiff in for Backus (hamstring).  
14
18
Atlanta
B
B-
C-
B
Upgrade: RG Konz in for Reynolds. 
15
12
Denver
B-
B
B-
B-
Downgrade: RG Kuper severely sprained ankle. 
16
14
New England
B-
B
B
C+
Downgrade: LG Mankins and RG Connolly missing time. 
17
17
Seattle
B-
B-
A-
C
18
21
Oakland
B-
C+
C+
B
Upgrade: RT Barnes finally healthy. 
19
15
Green Bay
C+
B-
C-
C+
Downgrade: RT Bulaga out for year, line shuffled. 
20
16
Kansas City
C+
B-
B+
C
Downgrade: RG Asamoah, C Lilja, and LT Albert dinged up. 
21
22
Buffalo
C
C
B
C+
22
23
Cincinnati
C
C
C
B
23
25
Jacksonville
C
C
B+
C-
24
29
Arizona
C
C-
B
C-
Upgrade: LT Potter in for Batiste.
25
24
Pittsburgh
C-
C
C+
B-
Downgrade: Injuries continue to be a problem. 
26
28
Washington
C-
C-
C-
C-
27
26
Dallas
C-
C
C-
B
Downgrade: LT Smith out. Shuffle: C Bernadeau, LG Dockery .
28
32
St. Louis
C-
D-
C+
D-
Upgrade: LT Saffold and C Wells finally healthy.
29
27
Chicago
C-
C-
C+
D+
Downgrade: Can't protect the QB. 
30
31
Indianapolis
D
D
D-
D
31
30
San Diego
D
D+
D+
D
Downgrade: LT Gaither groin, LG Green hamstring: both out.
32
20
Philadelphia
D-
C+
D
D-
Downgrade: RT Herremans out for the year, line shuffled. 

As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to bitonti@footballguys.com, on twitter @draftdaddy and in the Shark Pool.

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