As teams enter the final few weeks of the schedule, the weather gets colder and the offensive line becomes more important than ever. There's significant offensive line news this week, let's get after it!
Indianapolis plus 12
The big news out of Indianapolis this week involves quarterback Andrew Luck and whether he will emerge from the league's concussion protocol in time for the Thursday night clash against Pittsburgh. If Luck misses the game, the Colts' offense will almost certainly be less productive. The news with the quarterback makes this offensive line upgrade a risky one in the short term. But the fact remains that the Indianapolis offensive line is finally healthy and they actually started their ideal lineup for only the third time this season in last week's win over Tennessee. Rookie Joe Haeg has developed nicely at right tackle and has relegated Joe Reitz to the swing tackle role. With their full complement of players the Colts' actually have a mostly young, good looking group that are just starting to play together well. If they can remain healthy, they can continue to be grouped in the top-tier of the rankings.
New York (N) plus 9
Starting left guard Justin Pugh has returned to practice this week and he is optimistic that he will make the start at Cleveland this weekend. Should this occur, it will be Pugh's his first start since injuring his MCL in Week 9. While the team could theoretically hold Pugh out of action, they are running out of alternatives. Last week's starter Marshall Newhouse went down with an injury during last week's contest against Chicago, while other fill-ins (Brett Jones, Adam Gettis) are also banged up with leg injuries. Will Beatty might be the next man up. All signs point to Pugh returning to the lineup and he's the "glue guy" for that unit. Left tackle Ereck Flowers' play has been mixed of late, and part of that could be due to the absence of the starter at left guard. Assuming Pugh returns, the Giants' line grades out at 15th overall, the middle of the mid-tier.
Philadelphia plus 5
Rookie right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai left last week's contest with a knee injury. After the game, it was announced that Vaitai has a grade-two MCL sprain and he will likely miss several weeks. The resulting shift moved left guard Allen Barbre to right tackle and Stefen Wisniewski to left guard. Why does this injury boost the rankings? Simply put, while others might have his grade higher, in our model Vaitai has performed below replacement level. Even though the lack of cohesion of moving Barbre around hurts, having two veteran starters boosts the grade overall. With the upgrade, the Philadelphia line grades out above average and sits at 14th overall.
New England plus 9
After a great deal of upheaval in the preseason and early in the year, the New England offensive line is finally finding its stride. While the passing production is usual for this offense, what is the difference recently is the rushing emphasis, as illustrated by the 171 yards gained on the ground versus San Francisco last week. Of special note is the improved play of right tackle Marcus Cannon. Cannon is reportedly showing his best play of his six-year career. Cannon is a load in the run game. In related news, Sebastian Vollmer will not be activated from the PUP list and will be moved to IR. The Patriots' line is ranked 21st in the latest update: barely in the low-tier but clearly moving in the right direction.
Seattle plus 8
After a great deal of upheaval, the Seahawks' offensive line has shuffled into place and found their form. Left tackle George Fant is a former basketball player whom the team signed as a long shot in May. Needless to say, Fant is a very interesting physical specimen. The team gave Fant first team reps at left tackle in August and he got his regular season start two weeks ago when Bradley Sowell got injured. Assistant Head Coach Tom Cable declared Fant the starter before last week's game and the team released J'Marcus Webb. Fant actually missed a few plays last week with a temporary injury and Rees Odhiambo got about ten plays at the position, comporting himself well before Fant returned. Cable and the scouting department have done an outstanding job building this unit through the draft. The Seahawks' line currently checks in at 24th. Their grade is climbing out of the cellar at a decent pace.
Green Bay minus 5
The issues continue at guard for the Green Bay Packers. Don Barklay started last week's contest against Washington but he didn't finish the game. Second-round rookie tackle Jason Spriggs replaced Barklay after the injury and Spriggs had a mixed contest. Barklay and Spriggs combined for 25 yards worth of penalties and it seemed like all of those yards were in the red zone and in crucial situations. T.J. Lang, Don Barklay and J.C. Tretter are all likely to miss this week's game on Monday night, which means the natural tackle in Spriggs will likely get the start again at guard. The Packers' line is usually deep but it has been beset with injuries. The Green Bay line has dropped further down the mid-tier than they were last week, to 19th overall.
Carolina minus 16
Center Ryan Kalil started the last game after missing the two previous games with a shoulder injury. Unfortunately, Kalil suffered a set back to the same shoulder and couldn't finish the game. Chris Scott replaced Kalil in the second half. The usual backup center, Gino Gradkowski, was inactive with a knee injury. Gradkowski has been practicing this week and appears to be on track to start over Kalil. The team is embarking on a ten day road trip to the West Coast and there's a decent chance Kalil will be left behind, along with Michael Oher, who is still suffering issues with his concussion recovery. Without their best lineman, the Panthers' line falls sixteen spots to the low-tier.
Chicago minus 11
After several upgrades and downgrades in recent weeks, it might be finally time to put a fork in the Chicago Bears' offensive line. They are done. Left guard Josh Sitton was carted off last week against New York and Eric Kush took his place. Ted Larsen was already starting for the injured Kyle Long and while these are actually quality veteran backups, the injuries are piling up all over the offense. Without their best players, the Bears' line drops to the bottom of the low tier.
Miami minus 10
This Miami grade was the biggest challenge of the week. The line was without left tackle Branden Albert and center Mike Pouncey before last week's win in Los Angeles, and they lost Laremy Tunsil during the game. In their place, Sam Young, Kraig Urbik and Anthony Steen managed to play well enough for the team to steal a last minute comeback win. The difficulty in this grade is predicting who will actually play this weekend at home against San Francisco. Should the lineup be the same as it was at the end of last week's game, the Dolphins would have the lowest grade in football. Should all three of the starters return to health, they would likely be in the top tier, and have a very favorable match-up against the Niners' defensive front seven. That outcome seems unlikely. This week beat writers are predicting that these injuries will take some time to recover and the line will be the same as it was at the end of the Rams' contest. That line, while gritty, is clearly a low-tier unit. Albert's dislocated wrist injury sounded horrific and he seems like a safe bet to miss the game. Tunsil and Pouncey are harder to predict. This downgrade could be undervaluing this Dolphins' line, if even one of those two can return to health they would be more of a mid-tier unit. The grade currently assumes all three will miss the contest. Those with particular interest should follow game-day inactive lists for the latest news on what is a murky situation.
TEN - LG Taylor Lewan playing with a sprained knee.
The team is calling his condition day-to-day and it would be surprising if Lewan missed time. Still, this is a possible red flag for his effectiveness going forward with the injury.
TB - C Evan Smith is out 2-4 weeks with MCL.
Smith is a backup who had been starting recently but Joe Hawley should start this weekend. Ben Gottschalk got a start in place of Evan Smith, and now he is on the injured reserve. Nominal left guard starter Kevin Pamphile participated fully at Wednesday's practice, but he did so last week before missing the contest. The current grade assumes Pamphile will emerge from the concussion protocol before this weekend
NO - LT Andrus Peat is settling into the job.
Due to Peat's draft status as a former first rounder, his grade was previously on the generous side so while this news is welcome it doesn't change the rankings. The Saints still miss Terron Armstead but not as much as they did when Peat was playing poorly.
BAL - RG Marshal Yanda moved to LG.
Reportedly, Yanda himself suggested the move to coaches as he believes Alex Lewis' left guard spot would be better to protect his injured shoulder. While the team didn't win, the move paid dividends last weekend when the Ravens' rushing attack found room against Dallas. Vlad Ducasse continues to start at right guard. The Ravens are one of only six teams currently with A- grades or higher in the rankings.
DEN - RT Donald Stephenson to split time with Ty Sambrailo.
While Stephenson's play has been concerning of late, it's questionable to assume Sambrailo is a better option. The coaches might just be trying to motivate the starter.
Week 12 Matchups of Note
- 1st DAL offensive line vs. 29th WAS defensive front seven (+28)
- 5th PIT offensive line @ 30th IND defensive front seven (+25)
- 2nd ATL offensive line vs. 23rd AZ defensive front seven (+21)
- 15th NYG offensive line @ 32nd CLE defensive front seven (+17)
- 31st CHI offensive line vs. 11th TEN defensive front seven (-20)
- 29th MIN offensive line @ 12th DET defensive front seven (-17)
- 18th TB offensive line vs. 3rd SEA defensive front seven (-15)
- 19th GB offensive line @ 5th PHI defensive front seven (-14)
Week 12 Offensive Line Rankings
|9||IND||21||12||29.58||B+||B||B+||All starters healthy.|
|14||PHI||19||5||29.23||B||B+||B-||Barbre to RT.|
|15||NYG||24||9||29.1||B||B||B||Pugh likely to return.|
|19||GB||14||-5||28.73||B-||B-||B-||Barklay out, Spriggs in.|
|21||NE||30||9||28.6||C+||C+||C||Cannon playing well.|
|24||SEA||32||8||28.13||C+||B-||C||Fant, Odhiambo playing well.|
|28||CAR||12||-16||27.73||C-||C||D+||Kalil likely out.|
|31||CHI||20||-11||26.9||D+||D+||D+||Sitton carted off.|
|32||MIA||22||-10||25.68||D||D+||D-||Albert , Pouncey likely out.|
Week 12 Defensive Front Seven Rankings
|15||New York (A)|
|16||New York (N)|
As usual, if you have a question about a team not specifically talked about in this article, please feel free to contact me via twitter or in the Shark Pool.