Week 7 O-Line Spotlight
As I sit here and attempt to put a dent in the 190 episodes of Good Eats on my DVR (check that—186), I am reminded again and again how recipes for a dish and recipes for a good play are so alike. While many of the idioms of football talk are derived from warfare (trench, gunner, blitz, formation, yada yada yada), I would venture that our modern NFL is much more akin to a perfectly prepared meal.
Think of skill position players as the zest and spice; necessary to make the play enjoyable and full of life. The quarterback? He is the fat and protein, essential to balance the havoc and keep things in order.
But the men in the trenches… Those are what every play depends on: the rice or the noodle, the pulse of our metaphorical dish. Without our offensive lineman standing up to the opponent, the play simply burns up before we’re allowed to taste the fruits of the playbook’s labor.
We’ll begin with the Week 7 O-line Spotlight on Thursday Night Football, where the Denver pass rushers were feasting.
The first game of the week was also one of the poorest offensive line showings of the week. Things started hard and fast for Arizona, and unlike some final scores we see in the NFL, this contest’s 45-10 final in favor of the Broncos was a perfect representation of how the game went.
After the opening kickoff, Arizona managed 1) a David Johnson run for no gain, 2) a timeout before the second play of the game, and 3) a batted-pass pick-six to find themselves down by a touchdown before a minute of game time had passed.
The offense never really found itself in better positions. Josh Rosen lost more yards from his six sacks (40) than Johnson gained via the rush (39). The Cardinals now stand as the 31st offense in passing yards per game (156.1) and dead last in both rushing yards (64.6) and total offense (220.7). It should come as no surprise they now sit last in the NFC West at 1-6. What may come as a surprise is that Arizona’s offensive woes may not be the rookie quarterback’s fault, and they might not have been recently fired Mike McCoy’s cross to bear either.
According to PFF, Josh Rosen is getting rid of the football in 2.5 seconds or less 58% of the time, 4th quickest amongst starting QBs in the NFL.
Yet, he is STILL under more pressure on his dropbacks than any quarterback in the league other than Deshaun Watson. Truly incredible.
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) October 24, 2018
Who would have guessed, right? The author of an offensive line article is trying to pin a team’s problems on the big guys up front. Well, maybe not all of them, but whether or not McCoy should’ve been fired, he was absolutely scheming the ball out of his rookie’s hand with promptness.
If Rosen can’t be kept upright by getting rid of the ball faster, then what’s the proper next step? Head coach Steve Wilkes talked about it during his presser after Thursday night’s stomping: “…We’ve got to protect better. How do we do that? Well six-man, seven-man protection, we can’t get five [receivers] out every time on routes and leave the quarterback back there to go through his progressions.”
Translation: he doesn’t think they can run as much spread offense. Wilkes went on to talk about using max protection, insinuating the need for extra tight end or fullback usage. As the season plugs along, look for increased snaps from Jermaine Gresham (returning to health after an injured reserve stint) and possibly Derrick Coleman, who has seen a measly 32 offensive snaps so far.
Ricky Seals-Jones 2018 snap counts: 92.50%, 97.80%, 84.00%, 65.00%, 66.70%, 67.20%, 43.90%
Jermaine Gresham's snap counts (out week 1 +2): 34.00%, 55.00%, 54.90%, 51.70%, 59.10%
#Cardinals need the vet's pass-blocking chops as the O-Line crumbles
— Justin Edwards (@Justin_Redwards) October 24, 2018
Gresham is by far the most experienced and productive pass blocker from the tight end trio he forms with Ricky Seals-Jones and Gabe Holmes. While Gresham hasn’t had over 30 receiving yards since Week 10 of last season, he will continue to see more and more playing time to compensate for the offensive line’s flakey pass protection. We don’t need to worry about his fantasy value, but we do need to worry about the playing time he will take from RSJ, effectively limiting the ceiling of our plug-and-pray sophomore tight end.
Heightened snaps for the fullback could cut deeper into Chase Edmonds’ already lacking play time (his eight touches in last week’s blowout were a season-high). Excitable dynasty owners don’t need to get too itchy-fingered about this backup running back on the worst offensive team in the league just yet. He’s still just a terrifying handcuff.
Is the offensive line actually poor enough to merit more playing time for tight ends and—god forbid—fullbacks? The short answer? Yes. But don’t take my word for it; have a look at all these phenomenal outlets and what they say about the Arizona offensive line:
- Pro Football Focus – 32nd in pass blocking
- ESPN Insider – 31st in offensive tackle combos
- Football Outsiders – 23rd in Adjusted Sack Rate (pass blocking), 29th in Adjusted Line Yards (run blocking)
You catch my drift. Arizona’s offense is in a bad way, and a whole heap of the problems can be dumped on their monsters up front. Lucky for the Cardinals, they are set to get some relief in the form of scheduling beginning Sunday.
As you can see in the graphs below from SharpFootballStats.com, Arizona has an easy road ahead of them, leading all the way into the fantasy playoffs. If new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich (yes, that Byron Leftwich) can right the ship, we could find ourselves with fantasy weapons from a team that has been bereft of them thus far.
Coming out of their Week 9 bye, the Cardinals will face a very giving Chiefs defense and start a streak of seven-straight opponents in the bottom-third of rush defense efficiency. If you’re looking to cheer on a David Johnson awakening, you won’t have much longer to buy low.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have been a mainstay at the top of every metric I’ve looked at since I began digging into O-lines for TwoQBs back in Spring. In the three-year sample I dug up from 2015 to 2017, New Orleans allowed the fewest quarterback hurries in the league—only 5.85 hurries per game over 48 games. The league average over that span was 8.02 hurries per game, and the current average for 2018 is 8.94 hurries per game. N’Orleans is back at the top of the pack again, allowing only 6.0 hurries per game with an Adjusted Sack Rate of 4.9 percent (sixth best).
That’s all fine and dandy, but how can this affect our fantasy players when Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas are already some of the most coveted shares in our game? Well, I’m just here to let you know that, as far as this offense is concerned, #DefenseDoesntMatter.
After a week in which the Baltimore Ravens set a franchise record with 11 sacks and utterly dominated the trenches, the story flipped when New Orleans came to town. The Saints allowed only a single sack while Brees completed 73 percent of his passes.
Last week’s matchup will easily be the toughest task for the Saints over the remainder of the season. Not only do they have the fourth-easiest rest-of-season schedule in terms of defensive pass efficiency, they are set for a multitude of shootouts against some or all of the Vikings, Rams, Bengals, Falcons and Buccaneers between Weeks 8 and 14. That’s just craziness.
Week 7 Accountability
Before we take our leave, let’s revisit the Week 6 O-Line Spotlight and see how it did:
TEN at LAC
Marcus Mariota fared much better than I presumed, as the Chargers only got to him for two sacks. Hopefully, your QB2 spot did a little better than his QB19 stat line (237-1-1).
CHI vs. NE
This one may have been obvious, but we predicted the offensive line would give plenty of time for the Bears to do whatever they wanted. Mitchell Trubisky (QB2) and Tarik Cohen (RB12) were the biggest beneficiaries and would have turned out even better had Trubisky not tossed a couple trash interceptions.