Heading into the season the NFC West is one of the most intriguing conferences in pro football. From the top of the heap Rams and the perennially good Seahawks, to the will-they-won’t-they 49ers and the rookie phenom in Arizona.
With all the headlines being hogged by the big contract stat collectors and golden boy quarterbacks, once again the men in the trenches go overlooked. The truth is the game plan revolves around the offensive line going unnoticed. Basically, if the line is getting attention something bad just happened. So here’s one for the men that make everyone else look good out there, here is our NFC West Offensive Line Rankings.
Los Angeles Rams Offensive Line Rankings With Rest Of NFC West
LT – D.J. Humphries – 6’5” 307lbs
LG – Justin Pugh – 6’5” 311lbs
C – A.Q. Shipley – 6’1” 307lbs
RG – J.R. Sweezy – 6’5” 310lbs
RT – Justin Murray – 6’5” 315lbs
PFF Preseason Rank: 30/ 2018: 32
Preseason projections place the Cards O-line somewhere between a snowball in hell and a hippie in a Tarantino movie. Last year, this line allowed 52 sacks, tied for 4th worst. With the dismal projections of improvement on the offensive line, Kyler Murray’s legs better hold up all 16 games. This year they face some of the most fearsome edge rushers, including Aaron Donald and Miles Garrett.
On the bright side, the biggest issues the line suffered were due to injuries. Center, Mason Cole was the only player who played every snap last year. The Cardinals added veterans Marcus Gilbert and J.R. Sweezy. Sweezy has started at least 14 games in the last five seasons and Gilbert is a true veteran with eight seasons on a winning team under his belt. Although as luck would have it, Gilbert is sidelined with injury.
While improvements have been made, there is not one stand out lineman to anchor their efforts. The Cardinals will be relying heavily on this squad to protect Klyer Murray. Best case scenario for this line is to keep Kyler Murray out of the concussion protocol tent. In week one, he avoided injury, but was sacked five times.
LT – Duane Brown – 6’4” 315lbs
LG – Mike Iupati – 6’5” 331lbs
C – Justin Britt – 6’6” 315lbs
RG – D.J. Fluker – 6’5” 342lbs
RT – Germain Ifedi – 6’5” 325lbs
PFF Preseason Rank: 23/ 2018: 18
Last season the Seahawks offensive line exceeded expectations by leading the league with most rushing yards per game. That being said, expectations weren’t high going into last season. In 2017, Seattle rushed for just over 100 yards a game and were third in QB hits. Four of the five starters returned and they added four-time Pro Bowler Mike Iupati. Thus far, Iupati has been sidelined by injury.
Seattle’s offensive line did not look good against the Bengals. Cincinnati’s defense is no slouch, but was described by Sports Illustrated as “maddeningly- inconsistent.” The running game was stifled by the Bengals 5-2 front only gaining 72 yards and the line gave up four sacks and nine hits and allowed pressure on 46% of Russell Wilson’s dropbacks. Two of the sacks were credited to unblocked defensive linemen
With Iupati set to return in week two, the line should see improvement. But they will go from the furnace into the fire against Pittsburgh’s defensive front led by Pro Bowler, Cameron Heyward.
Much like Arizona, the goal for the Seahawks line is to keep their quarterback in the game. Russell Wilson has been among the top six sacked qb’s since 2013 with last year taking the most sacks of his career. While he hasn’t seemed to have lost a step while scrambling, these hits take a toll year after year. Furthermore, he has started 112 games in a row. Point being, Wilson is not getting any younger and has somehow miraculously avoided serious injury. Considering how valuable he has been to the Seahawks, the line better get serious about protecting him.
San Francisco 49ers
LT – Joe Staley – 6’5” 300lbs
LG – Laken Tomlinson – 6’3” 315lbs
C – Weston Richburg – 6’4” 295lbs
RG – Mike Person – 6’4” 305lbs
RT – Mike McGlinchey – 6’8” 310lbs
PFF Preseason Rank: 16/ 2018: 15
There is no question that Joe Staley is one of the best left tackles in the game. Much has be said for his football prowess, but he has also been a consistent leader for the 49ers. He has persisted through six coaching regime changes and expertly protected 13 different starting quarterbacks since his rookie season in 2007. Whether it is a Super Bowl or a 2-14 season there’s no question of who is playing left tackle for the 49ers.
With that being said, one big question heading into this season was the health of Weston Richburg. He missed all of the preseason as he was recovering from quadricep surgery. Last season, Richburg struggled all year, battling a leg injury which led to offseason surgery to reattach his quadriceps to his kneecap. He only recently got in reps snapping the ball at the beginning of September. Richburg looked like the weakest link on the line in week 1 against Tampa Bay. In week two, he will have to create more room to establish a quality running game.
As a whole the o-line has the potential to surprise the league. The second-year former golden domer, Mike McGlinchey, had an impressive rookie season and has shown improvement in pass protection, which was less than stellar in 2018.
In order for the 49ers to have a winning season, they have to establish the running game. With Jerick McKinnon out for the season and Tevin Coleman already dinged up, it will fall on this line to create holes for Matt Breida and for Coleman when he returns.
Los Angeles Rams
LT – Andrew Whitworth – 6’7” 330lbs
LG – Joe Noteboom – 6’5” 321lbs
C – Brian Allen – 6’2” 303lbs
RG – Austin Blythe – 6’3” 298lbs
RT – Rob Havenstein – 6’8” 330lbs
PFF Preseason Rank: 13/ 2018: 6
The loss of John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold seemed like it may decimate one of the league’s best offensive lines. After week one against the Carolina Panthers, they have started to quiet those concerns. The biggest questions were around the untested members. Noteboom and Allen made their first NFL starts and it was Blythe’s 19th start.
They got off to a rocky start, allowing a sack and facilitated only 36 yards rushing in the first half, 17 coming on one Malcolm Brown rush. They were able to pull it together in the second half. The Rams racked up 166 rushing yards with Todd Gurley rushing for 97 of those. While Jared Goff didn’t have an amazing game he was only sacked once and hit six times.
For the Rams to make it back to the Super Bowl this season, they will have to walk and chew gum at the same time. They need to establish the running game and keep pressure off Jared Goff. Goff’s passer rating drops off a cliff when under pressure.
Furthermore, when Todd Gurley was healthy, defenses didn’t know what to do. In week one, the offensive line helped punch in two rushing touchdowns inside the 5-yard line. They need to be helping put points on the board and extending drives when Goff isn’t completing passes.