Here we are deep in the fantasy playoffs and the temperatures outside are dropping. In bad weather, down the stretch, it a team's #offensiveline becomes more important to the offense than at any other point that season.
There's plenty of news this week for the big men, and it's not all disrespectful.
Let's get after it!
Right tackle Jermey Parnell returned on Sunday and played all offensive snaps during Jacksonville's home win over Indianapolis. Parnell had missed the three prior games with a knee injury and his return is good news. Parnell is one of the better overall right tackles in the league. Parnell's return sent swing tackle Josh Wells to the bench as the game began. Wells did eventually play during the contest as starting left tackle Cam Robinson was briefly forced from the game with an ankle injury. Robinson was able to return during the game and he is not listed on this week's injury report. Left guard Chris Reed continues to do a solid job in place of injured Patrick Omameh, who is fighting an upper leg injury. Overall, this Jaguars' line is a run-first power unit, and the return of their starting right tackle (coupled with the mounting injuries around the league) have elevated them to top-tier status.
This upgrade is based on the improved play of the makeshift right side of the offensive line. The starters when the season opened were Jermon Bushrod and Ju'Wuan James. Currently, the starters are Jesse Davis and Sam Young. With left guard also a substitute situation (Ted Larsen starting for Anthony Steen), the Dolphins' latest offensive line graded out as a mostly make-shift group on paper. But as we all know, they don't play the games on paper and Davis and Young are actually playing well, particularly in run blocking. The recent success of Kenyan Drake is partly due to the improved blocking he's receiving up front. Davis is a young converted defensive tackle and the coaches have been excited about this player for a while. Davis's good form is not as surprising as Sam Young's. Young has been a journeyman backup for many seasons and many teams. Over the years he has filled out his enormous frame and has turned himself into a competent player. He can still be out-leveraged in pass protection but he did a mostly solid job on Von Miller last week. The Dolphins' line has played well in recent games and has a favorable matchup this Monday at home against the New England Patriots defensive front. Check the Trench Matchup article I write with Justis Mosqueda for more on that angle.
It might seem puzzling to upgrade this Indianapolis Colts' offensive line after last week's loss at Jacksonville, a game where quarterback Jacoby Brissett was sacked four times and hit eight times total. But the pass protection has improved since the earlier loss at home against the Jaguars in October, where Brissett was sacked ten times and hit twenty times total (the highest numbers for any NFL quarterback since 2006). Right tackle Denzelle Good recovery and activation from the injured reserve list has allowed Joe Haeg to play a more natural right guard position. The line still misses center Ryan Kelly (Mike Person has been rough in relief), but overall this Colts' offensive line is getting better. They are still a low-tier line but are trending in the right direction.
Right tackle Chad Wheeler left the game against Oakland and was replaced by Bobby Hart. Hart has been benched multiple times and his best quality this season has been his durability. So why the upgrade? Because right tackle Justin Pugh appears ready to return to action this weekend against Dallas. Pugh might be shut down in other situations but he's playing for a contract and needs every snap possible to improve his value before the season ends. Pugh is more of a natural guard but if he can convince another team he's a tackle, that only helps his financial future. Assuming Pugh returns, this New York Giants' line is still low-tier, but their grade is slightly better in this week's model.
Atlanta's starting left guard Andy Levitre has been ruled out of the Thursday Night Football game against New Orleans with what coaches call "a partially torn tricep." Levitre has been a steady performer over the years and despite the use of the word "slightly" this appears to be a multi-week injury. Ben Garland is a good player, a four-year veteran who played about 80% of the offensive snaps last week after Levitre left the contest. This is going to be a prime opportunity for Garland to prove himself on national television. That is one out, another is that the young man will get his brains blitzed out by an aggressive Saints' defensive front. At least this week's game is at home, so crowd noise should not be a factor. The Falcons' offensive line remains a top-tier option, just not as elite without their usual starter.
Every week, Washington offensive line's injury status gets worse. Both starting tackles Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are playing hurt, and neither are playing effective football at the moment. The big question among beat writers is should these players be shut down for the season? It's an interesting debate but the fact that it's being held is not a good sign for the current status of the Washington offensive line. It has been a dice roll to predict who the starters will be from week to week. Even if the starting names on the jerseys say, "Williams" and "Moses," when the game starts, it's not clear that these players are healthy enough to make it through the contest, and it's also not clear that these players can perform to their All-Pro and borderline Pro-Bowl forms, respectively. This line has been downgraded to the mid-tier until the tackles get healthy (and realistically, that might not be until next season).
Left guard Josh Sitton did make it out of the league's concussion protocol in time to start but right guard Kyle Long left last week's loss at home to San Francisco in the third quarter and was replaced by Tom Compton. Long injured his shoulder severely enough for the team to place Long on the injured reserve list for the rest of the year. This interior of Sitton, Cody Whitehair and Kyle Long can be fearsome when they are on the field together. Unfortunately, that lineup has not been healthy for most of the season. The Bears' offensive line are still about an average unit in the rankings without Long, but that might say more about the general health of the rest of the league's lines than anything positive about this line's recent play.
The Lions' offensive line was hit hard by injuries against Baltimore last week. It's easier to point out who didn't leave the game: center Graham Glascow. Besides the pivot (who actually played great), the line was in upheaval, Right tackle Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang both missed time during the contest. Corey Robinson, Brian Mihalik and Don Barklay manned several positions as the injured players received treatment. Wagner's injury sounds worse than Lang's. The rankings assume that the right tackle sits but the guard toughs it out. This is speculation but it feels safe to assume the Lions' offensive line will be down at least two starters this weekend at Tampa Bay, and possibly down three starters if Lang can't go. The Lions' line drops from mid-tier to low-tier.
Center Mitch Morse was carted to the locker room during last week's game against the New York Jets. Morse appeared to have reinjured the same left foot that had been giving him trouble all season. Considering the chronic nature of the injury, the scenario where Morse gets healthy enough to play this week against Oakland seems unlikely. Zach Fulton slid from left guard to center and Bryan Witzmann returned to the lineup at left guard. Some lines can lose their center and replace him without a problem but the Chiefs have not been one of those teams this season. This unit is not the same without Morse, and they currently grade out as a low-tier option.
TB - 4
After the Buccaneers placed two starters (Ali Marpet and Demar Dotson) on injured reserve last week, the line got more bad news as veteran backup center Joe Hawley was a late scratch just before the game due to illness. The team was going to shuffle Kevin Pamphile to right tackle but with Hawley out, Evan Smith had to play center and Caleb Benenoch played right tackle. As one might expect with so many changes the protection was shaky during the loss at Green Bay. This Buccaneers' offensive line is another that has been beleaguered by injury this season and they are playing at a low-tier level as we enter the last four weeks of the season.
The Broncos' offensive line had a new look right side last week as right guard Connor McGovern recorded his first career start in the loss at Miami in place of the injured Ronald Leary, while Donald Stephenson replaced Allen Barbre "for performance reasons." Neither player looked solid and in fact the entire offense has been out of sync this year. Some of that is likely due to quarterback uncertainty. This is a real chicken vs. egg situation. Is the Denver offensive line bad because the quarterback is bad or is the quarterback bad because the offensive line is bad? Scholars will no doubt debate that question for years. But in the meantime, avoid the Denver offense, as their line grades out as the worst in the league.
|4||PIT||6||2||30.03||A-||A||B+||RT Gilbert suspended (Hubbard).|
|6||MIN||8||2||29.58||B+||A-||B||RT Remmers (Hill).|
|7||ATL||2||-5||29.55||B+||B+||B+||LG Levitre (Garland).|
|11||JAX||19||8||29.28||B||B+||B-||RT Parnell returned. LG Omameh (Reed).|
|13||WAS||4||-9||29.18||B||B+||B-||LT Williams & RT Moses playing hurt.|
|14||NO||15||1||29.03||B||B||B||LT Armstead likely to return. LG Peat (Kelemete).|
|17||CHI||13||-4||28.9||B-||B||C+||RG Long to IR (Compton).|
|20||NE||21||1||28.65||B-||B-||B-||RT Cannon/Waddle (Fleming). C Andrews returned.|
|LOW TIER||22||DET||14||-8||28.23||C||C||C||RT Wagner (Mihalik).|
|23||IND||29||6||28.2||C||C+||C-||C Kelly (Person) .|
|24||MIA||30||6||28.18||C||C+||C-||RG Bushrod (Davis).|
|26||NYG||32||6||28.1||C||C+||C-||RT Pugh likely to return.|
|27||KC||22||-5||27.9||C-||C||D+||C Morse (Fulton).|
|32||DEN||25||-7||27.55||D+||D+||D+||Right side shuffle (McGovern & Stephenson)|
If there are any questions about a team or lineman not specifically talked about in this article, please feel free to contact me via Twitter.