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Another week in the NFL leads another mess for fantasy owners. The Giants seemingly have lost their entire receiving corps to foot and ankle injuries, including Odell Beckham and Sam Bradford is back where he has spent too much time in his NFL career, the sideline. Each of these injuries can be devastating to not only NFL teams, but fantasy teams as well. The same could be said for injuries on the offensive line taking their toll on teams throughout the season. Offensive lines are built on cohesion and precision. The best offensive lines know their strengths and weaknesses and the unit is able to overcome and faults of the individual.

This week’s focus is on two offenses that have underperformed in the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams have numerous fantasy assets, some of which that have performed up to expectations like Antonio Brown and Michael Crabtree, while others like Amari Cooper and Martavis Bryant seem to be struggling mightily. There are certain aspects of these offenses such as the deep passing game for the Steelers that can be impacted mightily by poor offensive line performance.

Let’s examine how both the Raiders and Steelers offensive lines are impact two underperforming teams.

Editor's Note: One of our favorite fantasy football apps this season is SquadQL, where you can sync your ESPN, CBS and Yahoo teams and and optimize your lineups each week. The SquadQL app will give you customized lineup recommendations, and also player news, waiver wire and trade suggestions! Download SquadQL Now!


Offensive Line to Watch - Oakland Raiders

There is no doubt the Raiders missed Derek Carr this past week during their 30-17 loss to the Ravens this past weekend. However, Carr should be returning soon to the lineup after his back issue heals for at least another week. The question will be once Carr returns, will the Raiders return to the high powered offense from Week 2 against the Jets or look like the hapless bunch from Weeks 3 and 4 prior to his injury? A lot will have to do with the performance of the offensive line in front of Carr. While the offensive line was dominant a season ago, this season has not been the case.

One of the most noticeable decliners has been RG Gabe Jackson. Jackson was a standout in 2016 and 2015, grading out above an 80 according to Pro Football Focus each season. However in 2017, his play has declined, especially in the run game where Jackson is grading out beyond “Poor” at 34.3. Jackson is currently the 58th ranked guard in the NFL. Jackson lost his spot in the starting lineup in Week 5 to Jon Feliciano who resembled Jackson from years past. Feliciano graded out above an 80 last week and helped to get the running game going with backup QB EJ Manuel under center. The remainder of the offensive line has performed well. LT Donald Penn is one of the top 10 left tackles in the NFL after Week 5 and Rodney Hudson has graded out as a top-5 center according to Pro Football Focus. They have anchored the running game through the first few weeks and should continue to show improvement. Notice in this clip how the combination of Feliciano and RT Marshall Newhouse are able to wall off the backside of the Ravens defense allowing Marshawn Lynch to cut into the second level of the Ravens defense.

Later in the game, the same duo on the right side is able to double team down on the defensive tackle and allow LG Kelechi Osemele to pull around and block on the second level. This hole created by the movement to the second level of the Ravens defense allows the running back to pick up a nice gain and a first down.

Even though the Raiders appear to be back to their road grating ways, there still some big issues especially in pass protection. In the third quarter, the Ravens walk up linebackers into gaps which confuse the offensive line and leads to a quick sack of EJ Manuel.

The change to Feliciano appears to have solved a few of the issues especially in the running game, but if these miscommunications continue, Derek Carr may find himself back on the sidelines sooner rather than later. However, as this group starts to play together on a consistent basis, they should return to the near dominance that they demonstrated last season. This upcoming week against the Chargers should especially be a get-right game for the running game in particular.


Fantasy Impact

Stock Up: Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn Lynch saw less than half the snaps last week in a comeback effort and has only been effective in tighter games this season. That being said, the offensive line has a combination that should remind fantasy football players of the Raiders from 2016. They should be able to impose their will going forward even in matchups against tougher the Chiefs and Bills in two of the next three weeks. Lynch should have a safe floor as a strong RB2 in each game until their bye, and could be a buy-low candidate for fantasy teams that need a strong floor at running back for the next few weeks.


Stock Up: Michael Crabtree

Seemingly the only reliable option on the outside for the Raiders, Michael Crabtree should continue to flourish in this offense once Derek Carr returns from injury. Crabtree has been a touchdown maker so far in 2017, scoring four times in four games played including a three TD effort. He is only averaging six targets per game so far this season, but as the offensive line gels, expect longer drives and more production to come. Crabtree is a locked-and-loaded WR2 in all formats.


Offensive Line to Watch - Pittsburgh Steelers

Continuing with the disappointing offense theme, the Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off an ugly loss at home to the Jaguars in Week 5. Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted five times and Le’Veon Bell was held to just 46 yards on 15 carries against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL heading into that game. All of the patient Le’Veon Bell runs that manifested into big gains a season ago appear to have been lost in this offense due to some inefficiencies on the offensive line.

They are sorely missing Right Tackle Marcus Gilbert who still ranked as one of the top 10 offensive tackles according to Pro Football Focus to start the season. There is still no word about when Gilbert will return from his ankle injury. His replacement Chris Hubbard has just not filled in well, grading at a 49.3 through his last three starts. His run blocking grade of 47.2, Left Guard Ramon Foster’s 37.1 run blocking grade and Center Maurkice Pouncey’s 64.2 are just not getting the job done. In this clip coming out of the goalline in an obvious run situation, the Steelers are not able to generate any push, especially at left guard and Le’Veon Bell is stopped for no gain.

There are some flashes of the Steelers offensive line from last season, but they are few and far between in the running game. Even on this strong run from Le’Veon Bell, Ramon Foster loses his leverage against the defender. Luckily, Pouncey is able to get to the second level and impact the linebacker who is scraping to make the tackle allowing Bell to scamper for nearly 10 yards.

The pass protection for the Steelers has been better than their run game output. Both Ramon Foster and Right Guard David Decastro are grading out over an 80 according to PFF and Left Tackle Alejandro Villanueva is nearly grading out at a 74. Due to this better production, Ben Roethlisberger is able to take shots down field like in the first quarter. Even though Pouncey falls near the end of the play, the line is able to give Ben just enough time to load up and unleash a deep ball to Antonio Brown.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, they did not take as many downfield shots throughout the game and relied on the short passing game to try and move the ball down the field. Even though the offensive line performed fairly well against the Jaguars pass rush, Big Ben held the ball for too long, too often resulting in either tipped passes at the line of scrimmage or sacks.


Stock Down: Martavis Bryant

It’s not just the fact that Bryant is consistently being out-snapped by rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, but the deeper pass attempts which this Steelers offense has been known for seem to be fading away as well. Bryant did catch a majority of his targets in Week 5 (five of eight), but for just 21 yards. His weekly ceiling appears to be limited due to the lack of deep playaction pass opportunities. When Le’Veon Bell is performing well, defenses are drawn closer to the line of scrimmage to contain Bell and Bryant, Brown and company can then attack down the field. The offensive line is providing enough balance to this team for Bryant to be used to his full potential.


Top Five Offensive Lines

1) Philadelphia Eagles
2) Atlanta Falcons
3) Washington Redskins
4) Tennessee Titans
5) Oakland Raiders


Bottom Five Offensive Lines

32) Arizona Cardinals
31) Cincinnati Bengals
30) Miami Dolphins
29) New York Giants
28) Houston Texans

For any questions about offensive line play in the NFL, feel free to contact me @TheRealHalupka on Twitter.


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