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Congratulations to those that have made the playoffs and to those that are still trying to make it to the dance for a Week 15 playoff, good luck. Now are the weeks where the money is made and championships are won. In most circumstances, there are a few core players on your roster that have carried your team to this point so they are locked and loaded into your lineup. There can be a question around some of your flex choices in this all-important time of the season.

Those end of the starting lineup players can make or break your playoff success. Sometimes those players are not in the best match-ups, but need to be trusted going forward due to a team’s commitment to that player. One such player is Adrian Peterson in Washington who has found the fountain of youth this season. Rattling off a 90 yard touchdown run this past Monday proved Peterson has plenty of juice left in his legs. However, will his situation make him unplayable in the playoffs after injuries on the offensive line and at quarterback?

Not only will I take a look at the Redskins, but I’ll also try to figure out what happened to the Carolina Panthers this past week in their loss against the Bucs and if this trend will continue. Can owners trust Christian McCaffrey heading into the first week of the playoffs and beyond?

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Offensive Line to Watch - Carolina Panthers

Over the past few weeks, it’s been obvious that the lack of talent is finally rearing its ugly head. This offensive line has regressed over the last few weeks individually. Greg Van Roten has started to demonstrate his lack of skill, regressing to the number 51 ranked guard according to Pro Football Focus. Joining Van Roten will be Tyler Larsen at the other guard position. Veteran Trai Turner was injured during the Panthers’ week 13 loss to the Bucs. Larsen has not been a strong contributor this season at the 61st ranked guard according to PFF.

His grade of 40 in pass blocking is one of the worst in the NFL. This lack of proficiency in pass blocking was shown numerous times throughout last week’s game as the Panther’s game up four sacks to a lackluster pass rush. Cam was under constant pressure throughout the game leading to one of his worst passing games of the season.

Even on designed play-action passes, the Panthers were unable to protect Newton. Late in the first quarter, Tamps schemed up a beautiful backside blitz to take advantage of a play-action pass when the Panthers were in shotgun. The Panthers faked to Christian McCaffery and as soon as the fake was executed, a Tampa defender was on Newton’s back. The Panthers then moved away from these play-action passes out of shotgun until the second half and still saw pressure.

Luckily for the Panthers, the running game is still one of the best in the NFL. Naturally, it’s going to be one of the best with Cam Newton accounting for 450 rushing yards this season, but the Panthers’ offensive line has continued to be a force. The Panthers still rank number eight in the NFL in “Stuffed” rank according to Football Outsiders, meaning 83% of their runs are going for positive gains. Not only are they achieving positive gains, but they are ripping off runs in chunks.

The Panthers still rank number six in 2nd Level Yards which is the number of yards a team’s running backs earn between five and ten yards past the line of scrimmage divided by the total number of carries. This is well above the NFL average of 1.07 yards. These runs are helping to keep the Panthers on schedule in order to stay away from the drop back passes that are causing some issues for Cam’s protection.

They have continued to be extremely effective when pulling guards on their runs. Christian McCaffrey has run this style of play dating back to his time at Stanford, so he is accustomed to following pulling guards for big gains. McCaffrey was very effective on limited work on the ground in Week 13, totaling 106 yards on just 10 carries.

For the Panthers to have success going forward, they will need to continue to get the ball out of Cam Newton’s hands quickly and take advantage of the speed of McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel, and DJ Moore in space. That plus a commitment to the running game should help the Panthers snap their four-game losing streak.

 

Fantasy Impact

Trust: Christian McCaffrey

Fantasy owners should continue to consider McCaffrey an RB1, regardless of format. He has as safe of a floor in terms of total yardage that there is in the NFL, going over 100 total yards in each of his last five games. His 36 receptions over that same span are close to elite WR1 production, so fantasy owners can ride CMC for the stretch run.

Trust: D.J. Moore

Moore is a great break-glass option in case of a last season injury to a starting wide receiver and offers weekly flex appeal. He’s seen at least eight targets over the last three games, even though his production dipped this past week. Moore has been one of the best wide receivers according to Pro Football Focus, earning the 18th overall grade so far this season. He saw a season-high 66 snaps this past week and has firmly entrenched himself as the top wide receiver in Carolina. He deserves every week flex consideration for the rest of the season.

 

Offensive Line to Watch - Washington Redskins

Once again the Washington Redskins offensive line has been hit by the injury bug and had to sign players off the street just to form a starting lineup. They currently have a total of six offensive linemen on injured reserve including starters at guard Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao. Tony Bergstrom has stepped in for Scherff, but is nowhere near the player that Scherff is. Bergstrom is currently the 67th ranked guard according to Pro Football Focus, grading out at a 51.6. He’s now joined by Luke Bowanko, a journeyman who hasn’t graded above a 64 in any season in his short career, and Ty Nsekhe, who was starting at tackle in 2017 due to injury.

The issues on the interior of the offensive line certainly reared their ugly head this past week against the Eagles. Adrian Peterson was able to break off a 90-yard touchdown run but failed to eclipse 100 rushing yards on the day. The Eagles were consistently able to penetrate against the Redskins line, which bears out in the numbers. The Redskins are currently 28th in the NFL in “Stuffed” percentage at 22.6% of their runs being met at or behind the line of scrimmage.

This needs to change for an offense that will be starting Mark Sanchez going forward after a leg fracture is going to sideline backup quarterback Colt McCoy for the rest of the season. The line as a whole isn’t helping its group of running backs as they rank 25th in adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders at just less than four yards per carry.

Luckily for the Redskins, both tackles, perennial Pro Bowler Trent Williams and Morgan Moses are currently healthy. Williams hasn’t been playing up to his reputation this season, only grading out at a 77.5, and his worst PFF grade since his rookie year of 2010. That being said, Williams has still been a very, very good in pass protection, earning a grade of 81.2.

Morgan Moses has been playing through injuries throughout the season and it shows on the field. Moses currently ranks 50th among tackles and has been severely limited in his mobility and ability to keep up with speed rushers. The Redskins will have to continue to use play-action to limit the exposure for Moses.

Against elite defensive fronts, the Redskins will continue to struggle to not only establish the running game but protect the passer due to the influx of new players on the offensive line trying to become one cohesive unit.

 

Fantasy Impact

Cause for Concern: Adrian Peterson

Some may think that it’s hard to be concerned about a player that just ripped off a 90-yard touchdown, but fantasy owners need to take notice. The box will continue to be stacked against Peterson as the Redskins have Mark Sanchez under center going forward which should limit the running room for Peterson. He still looks like the Adrian Peterson of old with his amazing jump cuts and acceleration, but Peterson can’t be considered anything more than a low-end RB2 in non-PPR scoring and a flex in PPR scoring formats.

 

Top Five Offensive Lines

1) New Orleans Saints
2) Los Angeles Rams
3) Pittsburgh Steelers
4) New England Patriots
5) Los Angeles Chargers

 

Bottom Five Offensive Lines

32) Buffalo Bills
31) Arizona Cardinals
30) Minnesota Vikings
29) New York Giants
28) New York Jets

 

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

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