Smashmouth - Offensive Lines Impacting Fantasy Football For Week 14

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It’s finally here, the fantasy football playoffs. All of the countless hours avoiding our “real” jobs researching who to pick up on the waiver wire, wondering if that potential trade really makes your team better and if you should cut that rookie third string running back for a quarterback streaming option come down to this week.

It’s very important to realize that even though fantasy owners are playing for a potential fantasy championship in a few weeks, not all NFL teams will share that thought process. Some teams will be benching veterans for younger players to see if they deserve more prominent roles for next season, which could make a big difference in the outcome of a fantasy playoff matchup. This can not only impact skill position players, but also offensive lines as well, which can lead into a host of communication issues and timing issues up front.

This week’s Smashmouth is going to focus on two teams’ offensive lines going in opposite directions, the Dallas Cowboy and the Washington Redskins. For Dallas, it looked like rinse and repeat from earlier in the season with Ezekiel Elliott, while Washington was concerned with having enough healthy bodies to field a full five-man line.

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Offensive Line to Watch - Dallas Cowboys

It took an entire quarter against Washington, but the Dallas Cowboys finally started to resemble the Cowboys offense from earlier this season.  They were able to establish an early lead thanks to numerous Washington turnovers and after establishing the lead, pounding Washington into submission with their running game. Left tackle Tyron Smith was particularly impressive throughout this game in pass protection and in the run game. He essentially neutralized the Washington pass rush throughout the game from the left side. He did have one holding penalty after Dak Prescott scrambled to his left, but was nearly flawless besides that penalty.

Smith is having a “down season” compared to his All-Pro reputation in 2017, grading out at and 81 according to Pro Football Focus (his lowest grade in six seasons), but appears to be as healthy as he can possibly be heading into the stretch run. He was looking athletic in the pass and run game like in this clip from the second quarter. The Cowboys are running a zone run to the right side and Smith is able to stay on his track and cut off the backside linebacker. This gives Alfred Morris a clear running lane into the second and third levels of the Washington defense and pick up a first down. Being able to reach and cut off that linebacker who is lined up inside of Smith prior to the snap is no easy feat, and Smith is able to with relative ease.

Earlier that drive, the Cowboys established the zone run to the right behind right guard Zack Martin and right tackle La’el Collins. Martin has been amazing once again this season, grading out at the number two guard in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus with a grade of 89.3. Again on this zone run Martin is able to occupy the down lineman and Tyron Smith and left guard Jonathan Cooper are able to get to the second level and create a good lane for Morris to run through.

One of the biggest reasons for the success of Alfred Morris and the running game last week was how the combination of La’el Collins and tight end Jason Witten were able to slow down Washington’s star outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan did not record a sack on the day and was only able to add in three total tackles. In this example in particular, Collins is able to take a pass set and force Kerrigan slightly upfield. Collins positions himself to wall off Kerrigan allowing Morris to cut back and exploit a massive hole after Zack Martin is able to pick up a blitzing safety. Morris does a great job cutting this run back. Holes like these allowed for Morris to compile 127 yards and 27 carries.

 

Fantasy Impact

Stock Up: Alfred Morris

In positive game scripts like the one that is projected coming against the Giants, Alfred Morris can be viewed as a high-end RB2 or low end RB1 in non-PPR formats. He is the clear rushing downs back and the player the Cowboys trust to run out the clock when they are leading. When the Cowboys offensive line is in a matchup where it gets to wear down the opposing defensive line, they can prove to be a dominant force. Fantasy owners should expect to see some of that this week against the New York Giants.

 

Offensive Line to Watch - Washington Redskins

As one offensive line is getting healthy and looking like a potentially dominating unit, the Washington Redskins are going in the opposite direction. This line is certainly patchwork at this point of the season with their first two centers, Spencer Long and Chase Roullier sidelined, leading to Tony Bergstrom attempting to fill in. Left guard Shawn Lauvao hasn’t played since Week 11, leading to Arie Kouandjio seeing increased reps at left guard. In addition to Lauvao being out, right tackle Morgan Moses went down the middle of the game against the Cowboys. Ty Nsekhe who was starting for Lauvao at left guard was moved to right tackle and struggled mightily. Nsekhe has earned a grade of 48.6 so far in the 2017 season and should continue to play inside versus outside at tackle. Early in the third quarter Nsekhe is simply too slow out of his stance and does not move his feet to try and keep up with DeMarcus Lawrence. Nsekhe does not kick/slide back to meet the defender and try to stay square and get to Lawrence who just runs around Nsekhe. This poor effort was characteristic of the entire day for Nsekhe in both the pass and running game, allowing consistent pressure on Kirk Cousins.

Even in the instances that Nsekhe was in position to hold down the fort against the Dallas pass rush, he runs into unfortunate circumstances. He is able to get his hands on the defender and adjust back as his slides back until running back Samaje Perine knocks Nsekhe off the block allowing a sack and forcing a fumble.

There is a hope that Morgan Moses can return next week and that would certainly boost for this group. While Moses is not an elite pass blocker like left tackle Trent Williams (80.2 pass blocking grade according to PFF for Williams versus 67.3 of Moses), he is certainly more competent at the position than Nsekhe. In this clip Moses and right guard Branden Scherff are able to pick up the Cowboys twist with ease allowing a clean throwing lane for Kirk Cousins.

Health will continue to be an issue for this team throughout the season with missing pieces especially in the middle of the offensive line with their center and left guard positions still in flux. This weakness in the middle of the line will not only impact the running game, but also the passing game as pressure will be in the face of Kirk Cousins consistently.

 

Fantasy Impact

Stock Down: Kirk Cousins

Run Kirk, run for your life. That was exactly what Cousins was doing this past week against the Cowboys and now he faces the dynamic pass rushing duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa of the Chargers. In all likelihood Cousins and the Redskins will be trailing in this game (Washington is a near touchdown underdog at the time of this writing) which will lead to plenty of pass rushing opportunities for the Chargers duo. Things will look especially bleak if right tackle Morgan Moses cannot play this weekend. Cousins can be benched this week in most formats.

Stock Up: Jamison Crowder

Fantasy owners have seen the best and worst of times for Jamison Crowder over the past few weeks. Crowder dominated the Giants for 141 yards and a touchdown and then came back down to earth against the Cowboys, catching five passes for 67 yards with a fumble. Cousins will have to continue to throw the ball quickly with his reduced time to work the ball down the field from the lack of pass protection. This should allow Crowder to continue to see around nine targets per game (he’s seen 36 in his past four games), and provide a safe floor as a WR3 or flex option for the fantasy playoffs.

 

Top Five Offensive Lines

1) New Orleans Saints
2) Philadelphia Eagles
3) Pittsburgh Steelers
4) Minnesota Vikings
5) Dallas Cowboys

 

Bottom Five Offensive Lines

32) Miami Dolphins
31) San Francisco 49ers
30) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
29) Cleveland Browns
28) New York Giants

 

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

 

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