From pass protection to run blocking, every aspect of the modern NFL offence 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.
Without further ado, let's check in on the state of the NFL's trenches heading into Thursday Night Football.
Pittsburgh's offense put up 481 total yards during last week's road win over the Bengals, and the O-line's stellar performance was no small part of the victory. The offensive line kept veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger well protected and did not allow a single sack or quarterback hit, and excelled in run blocking to pave the way for James Conner's 19-111-2 rushing statline. Pittsburgh's tackles played to a particularly impressive level, as neither Alejandro Villenueva or Marcus Gilbert allowed so much as a QB pressure all night long. All things considered, it's no surprise that Big Ben is the league's passing yards leader through the first six weeks of the season.
What to watch: Pittsburgh takes their bye in Week 7, so the entire offense has a chance to get healthy and prepare for a division matchup against Cleveland. There's also the chance that Le'Veon Bell reports to the team during that time.
Dallas' 40-7 win over the Jaguars may have been the biggest upset of Week 6, and the team's 206 total rushing yards were no small part of the team's engine for success – Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 106 yards, and Dak Prescott managed 82. A gamescript in which Zeke is allowed to create momentum and eat up the clock is exactly what the Cowboys need to manage victories, and exactly what the team's skill positions need to put up fantasy points. The line kept Prescott clean all game (none of Jacksonville's three sacks were attributed to the offensive line), with Tyron Smith and Zack Martin living up to their reputations against one of the league's most fearsome defensive fronts. Dallas' perfect storm of offensive gamescript included Prescott's best game of the season by far, in which the quarterback logged 183 yards and two touchdowns in addition to his aforementioned 82 rushing yards. Zeke and the rushing attack stand to remain the forefront of this offense, but Prescott could return to weekly fantasy relevance if the O-line can keep performing to this standard.
What to watch: Dallas led the Jaguars in time of possession by over 17 minutes – more than a full quarter. It's unlikely that the Cowboys will manage as favorable a situation again in Week 7, but a matchup against the Redskins should allow both teams to lean heavily on their respective rushing attacks.
San Francisco 49ers
Despite having lost Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon for the season, the 49ers have managed to stay in most games this season. The O-line is no small part of the reason this offense has remained afloat. Despite having lost McKinnon to begin the season and Matt Breida's nagging injuries, San Francisco's run blocking has allowed the team to average 5.1 YPC, the second highest average in the league. Such a successful run game has set up C.J. Beathard's recent performances under center, along with strong pass blocking allowing the frequent use of play-action. Beathard has taken seven sacks in three games under center, but it's worth noting that a number of those weren't attributed to the offensive line.
What to watch: The 49ers currently rank third in rushing yards per game with 142.5, and face another top-three rushing team this week in the Rams. Despite this, it's easy to picture Los Angeles' high octane offense forcing San Francisco into a pass-heavy gamescript early on – so Marquise Goodwin and George Kittle could be made into the centerpieces of the offense in lieu of the run game.
It's impossible to point to a singular source of Tennessee's offensive woes – Marcus Mariota is unable to stretch the field and the no running back is averaging more than 3.3 YPC – but the O-line's weekly struggles have assisted tremendously in bringing the team down. The team's 21-0 loss to Baltimore last week exemplified every one of the offense's pitfalls, and was the first shutout at Nissan Stadium in team history. The Titans never found an answer to the Ravens' blitz, which came early and often, allowing Mariota to be sacked an incredible 11 times. That's more than the number of sacks allowed during the team's previous five games, and more than the number of passes Mariota allowed. Pass protection was consistently poor enough that Mariota couldn't take advantage of Baltimore's repeated deployment of Cover 0 defense, and neither Dion Lewis or Derrick Henry had a chance of breaking free against stuffed boxes all game long.
What to watch: Mariota has completed only 24 of 41 passes an no TDs in the last two weeks, and faces a fairly sturdy Chargers' defense this week. A bottom-10 fantasy option, Mariota is worth sitting until this offense manages to right the ship.
Already one of the worst units in the league, Arizona's offensive line is now asked to deal with a multitude of injuries over the course of a short week. Following Sunday's loss to Minnesota, RG Justin Pugh suffered a hand injury, LG Mike Iupati suffered a back injury and was replaced by Jeremy Vujnovich, and Vujnovich then exited due to a hamstring issue. The bottom lineman on the depth chart, John Wetzel, concluded the game for Arizona and has a reasonable chance of seeing the field again this week with Pugh and Iupati both day-to-day. Rookie center Mason Cole is the only fully healthy lineman entering Thursday, but he's played like one of the worst centers in the league with 13 pressures allowed. Uninspiring offensive playcalling won't serve to cover up any of the offense's weaknesses either: Arizona is ranked 28th in total rush attempts, but somehow also ranked first in runs straight up the middle.
What to watch: The Cardinals' TNF matchup this week is against the Broncos, whose defense became the first since 1978 to give up at least 270 rushing yards in consecutive games. It makes all too much sense for David Johnson to serve as the centerpiece of Arizona's offense this week, but don't count on much success in that realm either: the Cardinals had just one run play that gained double-digit yards last week, a 10-yard rush by David Johnson. Otherwise, the team averaged 3.1 YPC.