Week 8 O-Line Spotlight
In the 7th century A.D., an Italian Monk who has remained nameless for fourteen centuries came up with a brilliant plan to congratulate the good religious boys and girls of his town who studied feverishly to memorize their prayers. A happenstance occurrence brought him across strips of baked dough that were crossed in a manner that resembled the folded arms of prayer. Thinking this was a wonderful sign from his god, he began to produce the bread and hand it out to the children as “pretiola,” or, “little rewards.” And thus, the first pretzels known to man were born.
This is a fascinating, heartwarming story of how those salty delicious treats became such an integral part of human snacking.
Except it’s likely a cross-armed piece of hot garbage. There is absolutely no historical evidence that any of this ever happened and is very likely a simple story someone made up because they didn’t know the real answer.
We can draw parallels from pretzels and stories just like it to the stories we’re told every Sunday.
Things like “you have to run to set up play action” or “Booger McFarland knows what he’s talking about” or “running backs matter.”
Most important is the one we tackle here every week: “offensive linemen are just big dumb oafs.” Lineman are, in fact, the lifeblood of every play. The good ones help propel their team to greatness. And the bad ones, well, the bad ones are quite the detriment. Let’s dig in and find evidence as to why these teams’ O-Lines are impacting the progress of the offense.
Cleveland is clearly already having a terrible week, but who doesn’t love a good Dawg Pound Pile?
A new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, and a possible new offensive system incoming. Not much else could rattle a rookie quarterback more than disorganization in your organization. Except maybe a shaky offensive line. Before Hue Jackson left town, he oversaw one last performance from a group that desperately misses the services of Joe Thomas.
It’s unfair to compare undrafted rookie left tackle Desmond Harrison or undrafted fifth-year right tackle Chris Hubbard to the hall of fame left tackle – one of the most difficult positions on the field – but the drop-off reared its ugly head on Sunday afternoon. Baker Mayfield was being tortured play in and play out by the likes of T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Being overpowered or outmaneuvered by a wily outside linebacker is one thing, having holes in your protection that are glaringly obvious to the defense is another.
— Justin Edwards (@Justin_Redwards) October 31, 2018
Even though Cleveland scored opening-drive points for the first time this season with a field goal, the blocking schemes they curated that allowed Pittsburgh to walk into their backfield were difficult to watch from the beginning.
Constant pressure forced the ball out of Mayfield’s hand, evidenced by his 5.0 yards per attempt and his No. 1 receiver turning eight (8!) receptions into thirty-nine (39!!!!) yards.
Consistently forced into long third downs, Cleveland converted only 3 of their 13 attempts, right about on par with the 31.2 percent third down conversion rate they have across the season.
Even with all their pressure, the Steelers only managed two sacks, much lower than the league-leading 4.1 sacks per game the Browns have allowed on the season. Though we could see that as a net positive, we’d be ignoring the five offensive holding calls Cleveland racked up. One of those holding calls resulted in a safety. Another resulted in whatever this is:
The Browns now rank second in both offensive holding penalties (17) and total penalties (65). Sacks and penalties: the antithesis of scoring.
Well, what can we make of all this? We can’t just drop all our Cleveland players because of one… okay, a multitude of poor offensive line performances, can we? Believe it or not, there’s still hope in the form of a string of possible shootouts. Cleveland’s next month-plus of opponents look like this:
Week 9: vs. Chiefs
Week 10: vs. Falcons
Week 11: Bye (insert awful “Cleveland can’t lose this week!” joke here)
Week 12: at Bengals
Week 13: at Texans
Let’s begin with Nick Chubb, who leads the league in yards per carry and yards after contact per attempt. The latter stat is important behind a weak offensive line. Chubb has set career-highs in touches back-to-back in the sort of game scripts Cleveland will likely see moving forward. Seeing 15-20 rushes a game (with some receptions sprinkled in) against the remaining string of opposition should contribute to our fantasy teams, regardless of the Browns’ high likelihood of playing from behind.
Another beneficiary over the next month should be someone who just burned us in a plus match-up: David Njoku. It was revealed after the game that Njoku was playing with a knee injury when he popped up on the injury report early this week. According to DVOA, the Browns next four opponents rank 27th (KC), 10th (ATL), 11th (CIN) and 30th (HOU) against tight ends. What those rankings don’t quite account for are the recent rash of injuries the Falcons (linebackers and safeties) and Bengals (linebackers) have suffered from among their middle-of-the-field defenders. As long as Njoku is healthy, he should contribute some consistent fantasy goodness all the way up until the fantasy playoffs.
And if not? Well, we’ll always have Baker Mayfield doing a 720°. That’s all that really matters.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Colts’ offense is humming along, especially over this last month. In that span, they have averaged more than 34 points per game with totals of 24, 34, 37, and 42. A big reason for this surge of points and yardage is—you guessed it—exceptional offensive line play. Going into Oakland, Andrew Luck had gone 125 pass attempts without taking a sack, which occurred on his very first dropback of Week 5 in New England. The longest stretch of his career would get even longer on Sunday as the Raiders notched a big goose egg in the sack department, increasing Luck’s sackless dropback count past 150.
Oakland’s lack of pressure allowed Luck to throw for three touchdowns, his fifth-straight game with at least three scores. Indy’s three tight end touchdowns extended their league lead in tight end scores to 12 and produced this gem:
— NFL France (@FirstDownFR) October 28, 2018
Beyond the passing game, the Colts also have a ground game firing on all cylinders. The running back committee of Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins has combined for back-to-back rushing performances over 200 yards, the first time the Colts have managed that in decades.
The #Colts have now rushed for over 200 yards in two straight
games for the first time in the same season since 1985 (12/15-
12/22). The last time the Colts rushed for 200 yards or more
in two straight games was over a two season span from 2003-
— Matt Conti (@ColtsConti) October 29, 2018
According to Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball), Indianapolis has the second best success rate running the ball over the last four weeks. As you can see below, the Colts are accomplishing an above average success rate regardless of which direction they are running. With varying degrees of talent across the offensive line, and tight ends/receivers with a myriad of different skill sets, it is incredibly rare for an offense to find this sort of success all over the field.
To get a better understanding of exactly how Indianapolis’ O-line is working so well, we will employ the use of Tuesday’s interview with offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. I’ve pulled several quotes from the uncommon “O-Line coach air time” to get a feel for how this team is excelling.
“When you got three first rounders, a second rounder, and a fourth rounder all playing pretty high-level football level right now; I guess I’m a good coach now. I was a bum a month ago, now I’m a pretty good coach.”
This is a good place to start, with the Colts No. 6 overall pick of this Spring’s draft. Says DeGuglilmo:
“A lot of times, you pick a guy in the first round and he’s a ‘good’ player. But this guy is an exceptional football player who has come in right away and made an impact.”
DeGuglilmo went on to call Quenton Nelson an “exceptional puller,” a sentiment Brian Baldinger agrees with:
.@Colts #colts @BigQ56 thank you for making my Monday my Funday and restoring my faith in great OL play. Colts are building a “brotherhood” week by week and I can’t wait for next Monday. This is awesome football #BaldysBreakdown pic.twitter.com/unPswP17yv
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 29, 2018
Nelson also earned a spot on PFF’s team of the week, allowing zero sacks, hits, or hurries on 35 pass-blocking snaps.
Flipping to the rookie on the other side of the line, coach isn’t concerned with small hiccups in the play of right tackle Braden Smith:
“He’s had some struggles. I think everybody has some struggles when you play as a rookie. No matter who you are, including Quenton [Nelson]. Ya know, he’s had his up moments and a few blemishes, but those two young men are as good as you can get…”
PFF’s grading agrees that these two are about as good as you can get. Both rank top-four in grading among rookie offensive linemen
Mike McGlinchey has been the highest graded rookie offensive lineman in the NFL in 2018. pic.twitter.com/v2xmVLbEUY
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 31, 2018
“To be honest with you, a guy that doesn’t get enough credit is Ryan Kelly…I’ve coached Pro Bowl centers. I’ve been around Nick Mangold, Pouncey. I’ve had some really good athletic ones, strong ones, smart ones. He’s the most complete center I’ve ever coached. I have no doubt he is the best center in the National Football League.”
Whether this is simple hyperbole or sincere praise for a phenomenal center (I guess mostly the latter), Kelly gave everyone a fright when he left the field against the Raiders with an apparent hand injury. They had him wrapped up and back on the field after missing only eight snaps. Kelly’s injury shouldn’t be a worry moving forward.
A fellow offensive lineman who won’t be returning this season is right guard Matt Slauson, who was sent to injured reserve after a Week 5 matchup in which he played 83 snaps with two (!) broken vertebrae.
Backstory on Matt Slauson's scary injury: Broke 2 vertebrae in his spine early 3Q Thursday, then played through it. Only later he learned he was one play away from serious damage — could have been paralyzed. "I had no idea how close I was to changing my family's life," he said.
— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) October 10, 2018
Indy had to look to Mark Glowinski, who hadn’t played significant snaps since 2016, while he was still with the Seattle Seahawks. Whether it’s simply the sum of the pieces around him or a career rejuvenation, Glowinski has allowed only four total pressures through 115 pass blocking snaps after allowing 11 pressures in 127 pass blocking snaps in mop-up duty throughout last year.
For the second consecutive week the Colts’ “replacement” right guard has garnered Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 rated guard grade and has earned an elevated grade in every game he’s played this season (54.8, 62.4, 79.8 and 81.2) . Coach DeGuglielmo offers his own praise:
“Mark brings a little bit of uniqueness in his play because he’s very, very aggressive. He had I think five cuts, five knockdowns, and then three what I would call ‘bonus blocks’ this past week alone. He was off the charts.”
“…There’s really become quite a brotherhood among those guys. They’re playing strong together, they have confidence when we run certain plays…You want to get to the point where lineman are excited to run a particular scheme. ‘Coach, let’s double team this guy’. When they come over and they start asking for plays, now you know you’re getting somewhere.”
This offense is definitely getting somewhere, and they’re doing it on the backs of their frontline. Coming out of next week’s bye, they will be greeted with a difficult game at home against Jacksonville. Outside of a second Jaguars game, the Colts have an easy breezy second half including a fantasy playoff run against the Texans, Cowboys, and Giants. Those teams all have bottom-third pass defenses. As long as Luck remains upright, your fantasy pieces from Indianapolis will continue to contribute mightily.
Week 7 Accountability
Before we take our leave, let’s revisit the Week 7 O-Line Spotlight and see how it did:
ARI vs. SF
The Cardinals squeezed out a win, but didn’t do much for our fantasy squads. They barely topped 300 total yards of offense. Larry Fitzgerald did come out of retirement to the tune of 8-102-1, which was nice to see. As I mentioned in last week’s article, the team coming out of the bye has smooth sailings ahead
NO vs. MIN
No need to panic here, Drew Brees owners. It was simply a week of Wil Lutz and Alvin Kamara. New Orleans’ offensive line still allowed zero sacks and have a multitude of high-scoring matchups incoming.