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Fantasy production starts up front, in the trenches, with the unheralded behemoths who pave the way for rumbling rushers and prolific passers. Knowing which offensive lines have the best matchups week-to-week, and which ones look poised to struggle based on opponent, can actually give you an edge when it comes to making some tough starting lineup decisions.
If you want a general overview of which lines should block well and which ones should get steamrolled this season, check out our preseason rankings here. However, sometimes even a porous line’s weekly prospects can improve when matched up with a middling defensive line, so this column won’t just focus on the obvious, top flight and elite lines which should block well each and every week provided good health, but also which ones could thrive on a given week due to an advantageous matchup, thus opening the door for positive fantasy production for all skill players involved.
So what’s the formula? Well, all the same caveats that went into ranking the lines during the preseason still apply -PFF overall line grades, offseason changes in scheme and personnel, the strength of schedule, and so on – but all of that gets measured against the success each opposing defense continues to demonstrate based on total passing and rushing yards allowed, yards-per-game allowed, home and road splits, red zone defensive efficiency and overall points allowed using Pro Football Reference’s Team Defense statistics.
Generally speaking, a good offensive line is going to hold up regardless of opponent, so fantasy owners with skill position players playing behind great lines will rarely consider O-line matchups, while owners with skill position players playing behind sieves on the line will perpetually be concerned or, more likely, block out (pun intended) the dismal state of a line and just hope their players will succeed in spite of all the backfield penetration and pass rush. Just like you don’t need a rankings column to tell you whether to play someone like Todd Gurley (you’re starting studs aggressively, regardless of opponent, and expecting fantasy production), you also don’t need to know who the best lines in football are playing unless the advantage is so great or the competition so noteworthy that it’s worth consideration. Thus, you’ll almost never see the top lines appear in this column unless the talent gap between them and their opponent is so vast (or close) that it warrants extra exploitation or notice. The goal here is to let the matchups dictate advantages and disadvantages and unearth a few notable contests.
Let’s take a look at some mouthwatering and concerning matchups for Week 9.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Washington (at home vs Atlanta Falcons)
Washington draws a struggling Atlanta run defense in Week 9. Injuries continue to plague the Falcons, and their 3.6 yards allowed after contact is the worst in the NFL. Additionally, according to PFF, the Falcons run defense has the fewest amount of tackles for loss or no gain in the league. Expect Washingon to pound the rock early and often with RB Adrian Peterson. Peterson is running with far more purpose than we saw last year in his stints with New Orleans and Arizona, averaging 3.09 yards after contact, his best rate since 2012. With an improved defense that should be able to keep the Falcons from running away with the game early, Washington should continue to emphasize a run-first approach behind an O-line that features 3 linemen all grading out overall as above average or better in RT Morgan Moses, RG Brandon Scherff, and LT Ty Nsekhe. Per Warren Sharp, in the Falcons’ last six games on 1st down, the Atlanta defense has allowed a combined average line of 26/29 PA for 89.6% completion rate and a 68% success rate to opposing tailbacks. QB Alex Smith has only passed when necessary, and he should have no trouble converting on passing downs behind strong protection as the Falcons are allowing a conversion rate of 42.1% on 3rd downs. The matchup sets up nicely for Peterson and TE Jordan Reed, who was targetted 12 times and should remain a focal point of the passing game this week.
Miami Dolphins (at home vs New York Jets)
This game should be a relatively low scoring game with the over/under at 41.5 and less than stellar quarterback play, with rookie QB Sam Darnold likely the best signal caller on the field for this game. Miami’s O-line has been able to establish a strong running game with LT Laremy Tunsil, C Travis Swanson, and RT Ja’Waun James earning above average or high-quality overall grades according to PFF. RB Kenyan Drake has shown more elusiveness than backfield mate and ageless wonder RB Frank Gore, but Gore is also averaging a healthy 4.6 YPC. The Jets are allowing 4.4 YPC to opposing rushers and 114.9 Yds/G on the ground. They’ve also permitted a league-worst 12 carries that go for over 20+ yards. Expect the Dolphins O-line to create holes for both Drake and Gore, but don’t expect gaudy totals in the passing game with QB Brock Osweiler still under center considering Oz’s limitations and a Jets defense that top-5 in PFF’s Coverage Grade and Tackling Grades.
Green Bay Packers (@ New England Patriots)
The Packers just shipped RB Ty Montgomery to the Ravens, simplifying their backfield and ensuring dynamic RB Aaron Jones a larger piece of the pie as he continues to gradually assume control atop the depth chart. According to PFF, Jones is averaging 3.39 yards after contact per attempt (6th best in football) and has already forced 11 missed tackles in his limited playing time. New England is allowing 4.4 YPC on the ground but only five runs of 20+ yards and none over 40 as they continue their tradition of being a bend-but-not-break defense that keeps big plays in front of them. In contrast, the Packers O-line is pushing its way forward for 4.8 Yds/A. Expect QB Aaron Rodgers to target his young receiving core, led by WR Davante Adams and TE Jimmy Graham, underneath while Jones sets the tone on the ground, stringing together long scoring drives that double as a defensive way of keeping New England’s high-powered offense off the field.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Denver Broncos (at home vs Houston Texans)
The Broncos have fielded a strong running game to this point in the season, with RB Phillip Lindsay emerging as a ROY candidate. However, DE Jadeveon Clowney is having a monster season, grading out as PFF’s highest-graded run defender at the edge position. He has continually stopped rushers at the point of attack or blown up run plays in the backfield. Houston is allowing a paltry 3.6 Yds/A on the ground (7th lowest in the league), and their 21 sacks rank in the top half of the league. Denver’s O-line may struggle to establish the run in this game, making it harder for the passing game to find its rhythm.
Tennessee Titans (@ Dallas Cowboys)
The Titans have not been able to establish a consistent passing attack, making their offense too predictable; they’re running on 1st down on 65% of their plays, the highest rate in the league, and nearly 50% on all downs. Tennessee has only attempted 197 passes with, 2nd lowest in football, yet their O-line has allowed 22 sacks, which is tied for 8th most in football. Cowboys’ DE Demarcus Lawrence has 29 pressures from the left side, according to PFF, which ranks as the 3rd-most in the league. Lawrence should have no trouble manhandling the Titans’ overmatched O-line on his way to QB Marcus Mariota. Expect modest fantasy production for all Tennessee Titans players, and RB Dion Lewis may need to make his hay in the passing game.