Offensive Line of the Week: Saints protect vintage Drew Brees

Print

In today's fantasy-obsessed football world, it's easy to overlook the contributions of one position group: offensive line. Well, NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowl center Shaun O'Hara is here to fix that. Following each batch of games, O'Hara will revisit the O-line performances of all the teams that played and ultimately select that week's top units, headlined by a Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Week.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The rankings that you see below reflect O'Hara's pecking order for the Wild Card Weekend and the Wild Card Weekend alone. This is NOT a running O-line Power Rankings for the season. This is NOT a projection into the future. The goal of this weekly column is to answer one simple question: Which five offensive lines stood out above the rest in last week's action?

Without further ado, the Wild Card Weekend winner is ...

1) New Orleans Saints

The Saints impressively beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday for the third time this season, scoring at least 30 points in all three contests. With that, New Orleans secured its first playoff win since 2013 and the first one at the Superdome since 2011. The deciding factor for the Saints, who had 410 yards of total offense, proved to be their red-zone production as they got into the end zone on all three red-zone appearances.

Carolina was determined not to fall victim to the Saints' running game again and forced Sean Payton to beat them differently than in the first two losses, when the Saints rushed for 297 yards combined. And with the Panthers committed to stopping Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, we saw a vintage Saints team, with Drew Brees dropping dimes left and right. Remarkably, Carolina held Kamara and Ingram to only 41 rushing yards and just 68 scrimmage yards combined -- the fewest in any game this season for the duo. Loading the box to stop the run allowed Drew to breeze through the first half with 230 passing yards and two TDs after the first two possessions.

Sunday afternoon might have been the Drew Brees show, but the offensive line was an integral part of the 31-26 wild-card victory. The unit had an impressive performance against a team that had the third-best defense against the run and compiled the third-most sacks in the regular season. The Saints stood out in pass protection and were awarded by Pro Football Focus for the effort. They were ranked as the No. 1 pass blocking unit in the postseason so far. They allowed one sack, one quarterback hit and five total pressures on 35 pass plays, continuing the O-line's regular-season trend of allowing the fewest pressures in the league. The lone sack happened when Kawann Short pushed Larry Warford back into Brees, who tripped and fell after getting stepped on by his right guard. This was a winning performance by the O-line, considering the Panthers were one of three teams that boasted two rushers with double-digit sack numbers (Julius Peppers and Mario Addison). Peppers finished with one tackle for loss and two total tackles, while Addison didn't even end up on the stat sheet Sunday.

The Saints have handled adversity well all season long, and their depth proved to be valuable again as left guard Andrus Peat suffered a broken fibula 12 plays into the game. Senio Kelemete came in for Peat, played 47 snaps at left guard and didn't give up a single hurry. Left tackle Terron Armstead had a big game by not allowing a single pressure, and rookie right tackle Ryan Ramczyk finished with one QB hit and one hurry. This unit is playing well at the right time and leads an offense that can beat opponents on the ground or in the air.

Runner-up O-line from Wild Card Weekend

2) Tennessee Titans: The Tennessee Titans looked down and out at halftime, but they overcame an 18-point deficit by following their formula of pounding the rock to wear down the Kansas City Chiefs. Scoring 19 unanswered second-half points propelled the Titans to their first playoff win since the 2003 Wild Card Round.

The Titans, who finished with 397 yards of total offense, improved their record this season to 7-0 when they rush for more than 100 yards in a game. They finished with 202 yards on the ground and were led by Derrick Henry's monster performance. The second-year running back started in place of an injured DeMarco Murray for the second straight week and compiled 156 rushing yards and a TD on 23 carries, joining Eddie George and Earl Campbell as the only players in franchise history to rush for over 100 yards in a playoff game. The offensive line did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage and was especially successful when attacking the right side of Kansas City's defense. The Titans' "left side, strong side" mentality showed up on the big screen Sunday. According to PFF, the Titans had 141 rushing yards on 21 carries (6.7 yards per carry) when they ran to the left.

Marcus Mariota came up with some big plays with his legs as well as a big touchdown pass to Eric Decker in the fourth quarter -- plus this miraculous TD pass to himself. The offensive line was credited with one sack, one hit and 11 pressures on 36 dropbacks. Ben Jones, Quinton Spain and Taylor Lewan were solid in the run game, but Jones struggled a bit in pass protection. He was credited for the sack but Spain and Lewan all share a little of the blame for not passing off the defensive stunt. Jones also allowed four hurries in the game and had an unnecessary roughness penalty. Spain was a barbarian on the field, with his best game of the season. He mauled defensive linemen, linebackers and basically everyone with a red jersey on as he did a fantastic job of finishing blocks.

Tennessee offensive line coach Russ Grimm and assistant Mike Sullivan deserve a lot of credit for how their unit wore down the Chiefs' defense. The Titans are clearly a well-coached group and one that helped give this team another 60 minutes on the field.

Follow Shaun O'Hara on Twitter @ShaunOHara60.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop