From pass protection to run blocking, every aspect of the modern NFL offense 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.
As the Cardinals prepare to face off against San Francisco's swarming defense, we'll evaluate which O-line across the league are helping hold down the fort, and which are impeding their team.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers' offense hasn't been pretty this season, but consistent O-line play has been one of the team's bright spots. While Monday's win against the Dolphins did come against a winless team, it afforded Pittsburgh a prime-time opportunity to show off their No. 1 strength on offense: run blocking. James Conner dashed for a season-high 145 yards on 23 carries (he'd only surpassed 50 rushing yards once before that point), providing a foundation for the Steelers to crawl out of a 14-0 first-half deficit.
What to Watch: The other half of Monday's story for Conner was, of course, his departure from the game due to an AC joint injury in his right shoulder. If Conner misses time, and with Benny Snell (knee) set to miss 2-to-3 weeks, Jaylen Samuels looks primed to carry the load of Pittsburgh's rushing attack. He'll be an intriguing streaming option, with bye weeks a-plenty.
Buffalo Bills: While Buffalo's offensive line isn't an awe-inspiring unit, or even within the top-third of the league, it's certainly an upgrade from what the team is used to dealing with. Cody Ford, a rookie out of Oklahoma who's most suited to playing guard, has struggled while starting at right tackle. That's led to Ford and Ty Nsekhe (a veteran swing tackle) playing rotational roles. RG Jon Feliciano has struggled as well, but the left side of the line has proven relatively reliable. The team has some tough opponents down the stretch of the season, especially in terms of defensive line play, but there's real reason for optimism to be found.
What to Watch: This may be the window to buy rookie running back Devin Singletary. While the Florida Atlantic product is still splitting time with Frank Gore, he thoroughly outplayed the ageless veteran during Week 8's win over the Eagles while playing 68 percent of snaps on offense – a sharp uptick compared to Week 7's 39 percent. It's easy to paint a picture wherein Singletary carves out a larger share of the workload as the season continues.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns appeared to be a strong candidate to go after O-line help prior to the NFL's trade deadline, but weeks of speculation proved to be for naught. Still, the team is attempting to make changes. Justin McCray has replaced Greg Robinson, and Eric Kush has begun splitting snaps with Wyatt Teller. Those shifts didn't prove much help Week 8 against the Patriots, as McCray in particular was taken advantage of in pass protection by New England's overwhelming defensive presence. Heading into a matchup against the Broncos' pass rush, led by veteran Von Miller, the same issues are likely to pop up Week 9.
What to Watch: Sophomore QB Baker Mayfield was sacked five times during last week's loss to New England, to go with 13 hurries. That accounts for tangible pressure on every single dropback. With McCray set to continue guarding his blindside, Mayfield stands to continue taking hits going forward. A small piece of hope comes in the form of rookie Drew Forbes, who appears close to return from IR and should bolster the team's tackle corps.
Cincinnati Bengals: The benching of Andy Dalton won't solve Cincinnati's problems on offense, which go far too deep to address during the latter half of a single season. An injury-riddled, top-talent lacking offensive line stands out as the largest of issues facing this team. Rookie signal-caller Ryan Finley, set to take over under center, will inherit the same plethora of problems. Dalton has been sacked an astounding 29 times through eight games – an average of 3.7 times per game – making it difficult to imagine a scenario wherein Finley ignites the offense down the stretch.
What to Watch: Behind the current offensive front, Joe Mixon – who led the AFC in rushing last season – is averaging a paltry 3.2 yards per carry and 5.8 yards per touch. He's been held without a rushing TD this season, but has managed to score three through the air, one of which came Week 8 versus the Rams. Normally there's reason for optimism that a team will figure things out during their bye week, but with a matchup against Baltimore coming up Week 11, Mixon isn't looking like an appetizing option to close out 2019.