Offensive Line Breakdown – Thanksgiving Bonus

For those who don’t know me since I am new to providing content for the RotoRadar NFL team this season, I am going to take a second to introduce myself and why I am specifically providing this content. My name is Chris Hendrickson (giannis4prez in the Discord). I grew up in an extremely small town in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin where football was EVERYTHING. I started playing football in 3rd grade. I’m going to be extremely blunt when I’m saying this, but our youth football program had a “weight limit” and me being a bigger kid, I was forced to play offensive line. As a kid, you obviously hated not being the guy carrying the ball but I wanted nothing more than to play football. Middle school I grew into my body and things really took off. High school I realized I loved playing in the trenches because you got the opportunity to physically assault someone every single play of every single game. I was coached by a former offensive lineman for the Wisconsin Badgers and former defensive lineman for Notre Dame. I ultimately chose to not accept an offer to play college ball after a knee injury. Ten years later, I chose to pick up the sport again. After one semi-pro season, I was selected as an all-star and named Offensive Lineman of the Year.

Offensive line and defensive line is all about technique. Size matters, but it isn’t all that important. As long as you are explosive, have quick feet, and know how to use the greatest weapon ever given to you – your hands – you will be an elite lineman on either side of the ball. I was playing offensive line competitively at 200-220 pounds for my entire life and absolutely dogging guys pushing 300+. If you really want to get down in the mud, study player tendencies. As a lineman, you’re not going to make a play every single time. Every single play, you need to set yourself up for success for the next one. I’m looking forward to helping everyone help understand how offensive and defensive line play drastically affects the game this season. 

Offensive Line vs. Defensive Line – Thanksgiving Bonus

1. Lions OL vs Bills DL
Projected Starters
Von MillerDaQuan JonesEd OliverBoogie Basham
Taylor DeckerLogan StenbergFrank RagnowEvan BrownPenei Sewell

Analysis: I’m going to start this first analysis off by saying this is a brutal slate for these offensive line units. If you look at OL/DL projections for Thursday on just about any website, you’ll see that expect these defensive lines to thrive in these matchups. This Detroit Lions offensive line should have the best matchup on the slate against this incredible Buffalo front. Of the 112 offensive lineman who have played 440+ snaps this season, all five of these guys rank within the top 48 in PFF blocking grade. Although the edge is very small, this is the only unit I’m projecting to have an edge in both run blocking and pass protection on Thursday. The Buffalo defensive line gives up the least yards before contact in the entire league. The Detroit Lions rank in the top half of the league in that category. The Lions 7th least sack conversion rate will face off against Buffalo’s 11th best sack rate. If Detroit is able to move the ball between the twenties, I’m expecting their 43% conversion rate on 23 carries inside the five to be the determining factor in this matchup. If you haven’t heard, Jamaal Williams is leading the league in rushing touchdowns and it’s all thanks to these guys up front.

Worth noting – Logan Stenberg will step in today at left guard for the injured Jonah Jackson. He’s had to step in and play before with no issues.

2. Bills OL vs Lions DL
Projected Starters
Aidan HutchinsonAlim McNeillIsaiah BuggsJohn Cominsky
Dion DawkinsRodger SaffoldMitch MorseRyan BatesSpencer Brown

Analysis: Surprisingly, I’m giving the number two spot to Buffalo. On paper, this Bills offensive front has the 3rd highest yards before contact in the league. Also on paper, this Lions defensive front gives up the 3rd most yards before contact in the league. I’m taking these numbers lightly this week because the Lions have faced:

  • Jalen Hurts (90 yards rushing)
  • Carson Wentz (23 yards rushing)
  • Geno Smith (49 yards rushing)
  • Tua Tagovailoa (19 yards rushing)
  • Aaron Rodgers (40 yards rushing)
  • Justin Fields (147 yards rushing)
  • Daniel Jones (50 yards rushing)

Do you see where I’m going? While targeting running backs against this defense was optimal in the first five weeks of the season, Detroit hasn’t allowed a 100+ yards to a running back room since Dallas in Week 7. They’ve seemed to have turned a corner defensively and I’m expecting them to limit the rushing upside from everyone not named Josh Allen – who only ran three times for seven yards last week after injuring his elbow. In pass protection, this is the best projected matchup on the entire Week 12 slate.

Worth noting – John Cominsky and Austin Bryant will split reps opposite of Hutchinson. Both are very average defenders who are way better in run defense than pass rush.

3. Cowboys OL vs Giants DL
Projected Starters
Kayvon ThibodeauxLeonard WilliamsDexter LawrenceJihad Ward
Tyler SmithConnor McGovernTyler BiadaszZack MartinTerence Steele

Analysis: Here is where things start getting brutal. Every other offensive line I’m projecting in the bottom ten matchups in all of Week 12. This Dallas offensive front gives up sacks at the lowest rate in the league while New York has the 9th lowest pressure rate. One significant thing to mention here is that I feel like Tyler Smith has found his footing at left tackle, which has solidified this entire unit. Dallas has only given up three sacks in as many weeks, which includes zero given up last week. The rushing numbers might not tell the full story here with how inefficient Zeke was at the beginning of the year. The numbers are projecting them to have the 11th worst rushing matchup in the trenches. I’ll take the eye test and say there should be an edge to be had here, as long as it continues to be the Tony Pollard show. The Giants defensive front gives up 1.71 yards before contact – second worst in the league.

4. Vikings OL vs Patriots DL
Projected Starters
Lawrence GuyDavon GodchauxDeatrich Wise JrMatthew Judon
Blake BrandelEzra ClevelandGarrett BradburyEd IngramBrian O’Neill

Analysis: Technically speaking, this matchup grades out to be the 3rd best matchup on the slate. However, the Vikings are missing their best player on offense (and he’s not named Justin Jefferson). Starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw is the fourth best offensive lineman in the entire league. He has been ruled out of Thursday’s matchup. Darrisaw exited Week 11 after only playing 18 snaps. What happened next? This Vikings front allowed seven sacks, which accounts for 25% of total sacks this front has given up all year. What do the Cowboys and Patriots have in common? They are both top three teams in generating pressure. The Cowboys rank 1st in total sacks while the Patriots rank 2nd. After Darrisaw went down, he was replaced by 2020 sixth round pick Blake Brandel. In 28 total allowed pressure opportunities, Brandel allowed: 2 sacks, 1 quarterback hit, 1 quarterback hurry, and 4 pressures. The only worse graded pass blocker on the entire team was Dalvin Cook. Expect a lot of tight end chips to attempt to slow this pass rush down but I really don’t think there’s any stopping them in this spot. Bill Belichick’s pass rush is foaming at the mouth in this matchup.

5. Patriots OL vs Vikings DL
Projected Starters
Jonathan BullardHarrison PhillipsDalvin TomlinsonZa’Darius Smith
Trent BrownCole StrangeJames FerentzMike OnwenuYodny Cajuste

Analysis: It only gets worse from here so I’m going to keep these next two short and sweet. New England has the third worst yards before contact. The Vikings have given up the 7th fewest rushing yards to the running back position. While this New England offensive line has been good, they’re totally outmatched in the run game this week. As of this writing, starting center David Andrews is listed as doubtful and starting left guard Isaiah Wynn is questionable. Wynn is also listed as their backup left tackle and right tackle. There is little to no depth behind these guys so injury news here is key. I’m expecting this front to be able to hold their own in pass protection.

Worth noting – Patriots will be without starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn and starting center David Andrews. Both James Ferentz and Cole Strange have found themselves in and out of this lineup while both of those guys have dealt with injuries. Both of these guys have struggled in run blocking. Quite frankly, James Ferentz has not been very good all season. However, rookie Cole Strange has seemed to find his footing at the NFL level. We’ve gotten to the point where New England has opted to move Isaiah Wynn from guard to tackle to get Cole Strange on the field. He has still been struggling in run blocking but he has become an elite pass blocker. He was the highest graded guy in Week 11 across the Patriots offensive front. I believe that the Patriots front can “get by” today but I do not think it will be pretty in the run game.

6. Giants OL vs Cowboys DL
Projected Starters
Dorance ArmstrongNeville GallimoreOsa OdighizuwaDeMarcus Lawrence
Andrew ThomasJack AndersonNick GatesMark GlowinskiTyre Phillips

Analysis: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, this Dallas front seven is the best in the league. They’re leading the league in both sacks and pressure rate. This Giants offensive line gives up the highest pressure rate in the league. They haven’t given up a ton of sacks this year solely because Daniel Jones has been way too effective at avoiding pressure and using his legs. I’m not expecting Jones to have such an easy time doing that here. To make matters worse, everybody besides right guard Mark Glowinski is currently listed as questionable – along with two of their five bench players. While I’m projecting all of their starters to give it a go on Thanksgiving, I’m not expecting them to be 100%.

Worth noting – I really have no idea what this Giants offensive line is going to look like today. It has been confirmed that starting left guard Shane Lemieux, starting center Jon Feliciano, starting right tackle Evan Neal, and back up left guard Josh Ezeudu will not be playing today. Without Evan Neal, Tyre Phillips has been playing at right tackle. Without Lemieux at left guard, they’ve been playing Nick Gates at center and sliding Jon Felicicano over to left guard. The issue here is that both of those guys are not playing. Ezeudu would then slide in but he also is not playing. The only two other guys listed at left guard on the depth chart are Tyre Phillips (who has been starting at right tackle) and Nick Gates (who has been starting at center). They realistically have 2 positions to fill and only one guy as seen the field who can fill both of those spots. The only other guys who are active this game: 2021 7th round pick Jack Anderson, 2022 undrafted free agent Devery Hamilton, and 2018 7th round pick Korey Cunningham. On the depth chart, Jack Anderson is listed at right guard and both Hamilton/Cunningham are listed at right tackle. I’m going to take an educated guess here in saying that Tyre Phillips stays at right tackle and Jack Anderson flips sides and starts at left guard.

2022 Preseason Offensive Line Rankings