Week 5 O-Line Spotlight
In this space over the remaining months of the NFL season, I will pluck two offensive lines from the previous week’s action and look at how they have affected their teams’ fantasy outputs. Finding patterns in data as it relates to offensive line play will help us determine which groups will hold sway over the floors and ceilings of the quarterbacks, rushers, and receivers they play with. We will not only look backwards for information, we will also attempt to forecast each teams’ upcoming games and find spots where we can exploit particularly strong matchups. Kicking off the Week 5 O-Line Spotlight, here is the team that lost most frequently in the trenches of last Sunday:
New York Giants
This week, we had two teams on the wrong side of incredibly close games. We’re going to kick things off with a Giants O-Line that was leakier than those tiny water balloons that supposedly can stretch wide enough to fill with a kitchen sink. Despite getting to the quarterback for only one sack, the Carolina Panthers were in the backfield all game long. Logging two pressure-forced interceptions and a litany of scrambling from Eli, much of the Carolina heat came off the right side of the line, where New York just dumped former No. 9 overall pick Ereck Flowers.
Since Week 3, Flowers has been replaced by Chad Wheeler, a sophomore tackle who hasn’t fared much better than his free agent counterpart. As it stands after Week 5, Wheeler ranks as the 66th-best tackle overall out of 73 qualifiers and 69th of 73 in run-blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus.
According to Directional Rushing Production from SharpFootballStats.com, Saquon Barkley is harshly affected when running behind his right tackle and is faring similarly with the left guard/center gap. Though he averages 4.1 yards per carry since Week 3, Barkley averages only 3.0 over the right tackle and 2.3 behind the center over the same span. This all seems to correlate precisely with the weakest PFF grades for New York’s offensive line:
#Giants offensive line overall grades through week 5:
LT Solder- 66.6
LG Hernandez- 76.1
C Greco- 52.7
RG Omameh- 54.5
RT Wheeler- 51.9#BigBlue
— PFF NY Giants (@PFF_Giants) October 10, 2018
Barkley has been fantastic, and even though he sits as fantasy’s overall RB5, he could be doing even better. Digging into Adjusted Line Yards from FootballOutsiders.com (which takes rushing attempts and assigns responsibility to the offensive line), we see the Giants rank way down the list at 31st, meaning the line is allowing a plethora of negative plays. New York’s percentage of “Stuffed” runs, in which a running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage, is 24% which ranks 26th. Finally, FO has a statistic of “Open Field” yards, for plays earning more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, which really helps spotlight the talent and elusiveness of a runner. The Giants rank fourth-best in the league and are surrounded by the Chargers, Cowboys and Panthers, who each have great running backs of their own.
This is all to say that Barkley will continue to be matchup-proof for the remainder of the season, with the likelihood that he will win you some weeks when garnering 20-plus touches.
On the other side of the talent coin, you’ve likely been pleasantly surprised by the performance of Eli Manning as your QB2 in two-quarterback and Superflex leagues. Two-interception games like the one we saw in Week 5 will sprinkle throughout the season, but as long as he doesn’t lose more offensive pieces, Manning should be regrettably just good enough to start in most weeks. This week is likely a spot where you’d like to stream against him, though. The Philadelphia Eagles’ front-seven should be licking their chops to face off against New York’s line on Thursday Night Football. Eli has already taken 16 sacks this season, and Philadelphia has been in the opposing backfield as much as anyone else in the NFL.
Just because they ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard doesn’t mean Seattle shouldn’t take a consolation win after their Week 5 performance. The Seahawks’ offensive line has long been the bugaboo of their roster, as I’m sure anyone reading this can picture Russell Wilson running for his life while choreographing his receivers into on-the-fly routes. Regardless of whether or not the line’s positive play continues, we need to give credit where credit is due.
The Rams’ defensive front have been living in their opponents’ backfields in the 2018 season. In Week 4 alone, Minnesota’s Kirk “don’t call me Kurt” Cousins took four sacks while the combined effort of Dalvin Cook, Roc Thomas, and Latavius Murray only managed 26 yards on 13 carries.
Whether by scheme or by talent, this was in no way the case for Seattle on Sunday. Though Wilson did absorb two sacks (which—no joke—is tied for his least in a game thus far), he was generally free to do as he pleased in the pocket after an ugly opening drive. The Seahawks may be gelling up front as recent addition D.J. Fluker was healthy for his third game with the team, and right tackle Germain Ifedi hasn’t been getting crushed around the edge as often as he had to begin the season. That all remains to be seen and is just speculation at this point. What can be definitively pointed to is an overall change in approach during Week 5.
Though the Skybirds are still running the rock enough to make Jon Gruden’s pants tight (Seattle’s pass-to-run ratio of 43% leads the NFL over the last three weeks), they finally added a very important wrinkle to the offense against Los Angeles: play-action. After using play-action on less than 25% of their passing plays before Week 5, Seattle ran it on over 50% of their passes against the Rams (per @LockedSeahawks). This opened up the passing game and could be argued that it helped the rushing attack this coaching staff is bent on using more than anyone in the league.
Things went according to plan against L.A., as Seattle logged a 60% success rate and 6.5 yards per carry (via SharpFootballStats.com). Chris Carson specifically shined and is a big reason why first round pick Rashaad Penny is spending his Sundays as an onlooker. When the O-Line looks good, Carson looks fantastic. And when the O-Line looks bad? Well, he still looks pretty good. Carson is among the league’s best in creating yards for himself.
Most Yards After Contact Per Rush
Isiah Crowell 4.1
Chris Carson 3.3
Melvin Gordon 3.1
Marshawn Lynch 3.1
Todd Gurley 3.0
Kareem Hunt 3.0
— Sports Info Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) October 10, 2018
The Seahawks now look ahead to the Khalil Mack-led Oakland Rai….oh. Wait. They traded Mack away and are currently tied with the Giants for fewest sacks in the league (6). Oakland’s run stuffing prospects aren’t looking too much brighter either, as the Raiders have allowed the fifth-most rushing yards, sixth most yards per carry, and they rank 24th in DVOA against the run. The game is in London and anything can happen in these across-the-pond matchups, but you should not be nonplussed by another efficient Seahawks outing in Week 6. And after their bye, they face another struggling defense in Detroit. If you’re looking to buy a player before an explosion spot, in an offense with an upward trajectory, it may be time to poke the Doug Baldwin owner.