At long last, Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season is in the books and we're in the thick of things. The league didn't disappoint, offering up the usual breakouts and throwing managers whose players didn't perform on tilt. Of course, the offensive line landscape wasn't spared of the maelstrom. Without further ado, let's check in on which O-lines around the league are looking up and which are holding their offense back.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints were projected as a top-five group entering the regular season, but if they continue playing to the level of Monday's win over the Texans they could rival Dallas for the league's top spot. That's unlikely, of course, but it can't be overstated that New Orleans' offensive front (specifically RT Ryan Ramczyk) held J.J. Watt without a single tackle or sack for the first time in his 105-game NFL career. If the Saints' O-line is able to repeat a similar performance against Aaron Donald in Week 2, expect next week's article to begin with a list of accolades to be heaped on the unit.
What to Watch: Drew Brees was sacked just once during Monday's win, and hit only three times. Keeping the 40-year-old signal-caller upright and protected is a recipe for victory that the Saints are keenly aware of, and prioritizing, but one that will be difficult to keep up against the Rams, Seahawks and Cowboys.
Many were worried about Baltimore's offensive line heading into the season, and for good reason. Aside from drafting guard Ben Powers in the fourth round the team neglected to address any holes up front – they didn't add any significant free agents – instead counting on young, already-rostered talent to rise to the next level. That strategy appeared to pay off against the Dolphins in Week 1, when the Ravens' offense gave Lamar Jackson plentiful time to throw the ball and allowed just one sack en route to a 59-10 blowout. Left guard Bradley Bozeman particularly impressed. The Dolphins don't appear to be among the league's competitive teams, granted, but putting up 643 net yards and 59 points is a convincing showing nonetheless. They'll work to keep up the momentum versus the Cardinals on Sunday.
What to Watch: Baltimore blocked for the run exceedingly well to begin the season, leading to Mark Ingram's outstanding performance of 14 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns. However, owners should be wary of chasing his workload for a full season. Gus Edwards also logged 17 carries, and rookie Justice Hill ran seven times. The key for the Ravens' running back corps receiving such hefty workloads is this: Lamar Jackson rushed just three times. That's likely to change if the O-line stops protecting the second-year QB this well at any point, in which case he could return to 2018 form and make scrambling a habit.
- The Cowboys look exactly as untouchable up front as expected.
- New England overcame surprise news that their starting center will miss the season, and still look locked in as a top-five unit.
- The Eagles' offensive line struggled against Washington more than expected, but appeared to put things together in the second half.
- Kansas City's protection won the battle against Jacksonville, despite Patrick Mahomes injuring his ankle on a hit.
The Falcons don't fall under this category for lack of trying. The team went out and spent their top two draft picks on linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary –they must've noticed how well that worked out for the Colts last year – only for Lindstrom to suffer a foot injury Week 1 and hit IR. That move paves the way for uninspiring veteran Jamon Brown to slot in as the starting right guard. Atlanta's O-line was devastated by Minnesota in the season opener and led to a putrid offensive performance as a whole, and unfortunately the front trenches aren't likely to turn it around any time soon.
What to Watch: Devonta Freeman put up a dud Week 1 – eight carries for 19 yards and a fumble, plus three catches for 12 yards – disappointing many offseason believers, myself included. His longest run of the day accounted for only five yards. He still appears locked in as a workhorse running back, but it'll be worth monitoring whether he's able to make anything happen versus Philadelphia's defense.
To say that Cleveland following up on an offseason of hype by getting dominated by the Titans is, to say the least, deflating. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, just because the list of errors is so long: penalties, secondary issues, missed kicks and interceptions all spring to mind – but the most egregiously lacking aspect of the Browns' offense came in the form of the offensive line. Second-year QB Baker Mayfield suffered a wrist injury during the contest after being sacked five times, and eluding other tentative hits. Titans' offseason acquisition Cameron Wake dominated RT Chris Hubbard all game en route to a disruptive performance, while LT Greg Robinson – after being consistently beaten by Harold Landry for a few quarters – got ejected from the game for kicking a player. Backup Kendall Lamm stepped in for Robinson and quickly suffered an injury, leaving the Browns absolutely depleted of depth at the LT position. Hubbard, who'd already been struggling mightily, was forced to move over to LT while Justin McCray (a career guard) had to slot in at RT. However you want to paint it, Week 1 was disastrous for Cleveland.
What to Watch: Nick Chubb 16 times for 74 yards and caught three of four targets for 10 yards Week 1 – modest production. Despite trailing most of the game his receiving workload wasn't outstanding, so it's possible that he be facing the same scenario he did as a rookie: a between-the-tackles runner with significant touchdown upside. On weeks where he doesn't score, which could come more often than in 2018 if the O-line isn't able to get it together, Chubb could struggle to perform up to his fantasy draft capital.
- Miami's front looks worse than expected, and a lock to end up the 32nd ranked unit in the league. It's unlikely that either of Kalen Ballage or Kenyan Drake will be able to reliably produce between the tackles.
- Houston didn't get what they expected out of left tackle Laremy Tunsil in Week 1, but he should return to form after having time to acclimate to the new scheme.
- The Buccaneers' middling O-line didn't do any favors for an already mistake-prone Jameis Winston, but did succeed in opening up holes for the running game in a favorable matchup.