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 five units, headlined by a Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Week. And the Week 1 winner is ...
1) Kansas City Chiefs
The opening week of the 2017 campaign featured a slew of surprises, starting right off the bat in New England with the Kickoff Game between the Chiefs and defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. While many predicted an offensive explosion from one team in this game, no one thought it'd come from Andy Reid's Chiefs, who racked up 537 yards in a 42-27 victory.
Rookie running back Kareem Hunt burst on the scene with 246 total yards of offense -- the highest figure for a player in his first NFL game since the 1970 merger. Meanwhile, Alex Smith torched Bill Belichick's defense for 368 yards and four touchdowns, and Tyreek Hill began his new life as a WR1 with seven catches for 133 yards.
Of course, while K.C.'s triplets owned postgame headlines, none of this occurs without the excellent job from the men up front. Kansas City's offensive line owned the line of scrimmage throughout this season-opening contest, and that's why the unit earns top billing here.
Right out of the gate, the Chiefs controlled New England's interior D-line, as center Mitch Morse and guards Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Bryan Witzmann manhandled Alan Branch and Co. to provide some big holes for Hunt. Kansas City continued to bludgeon the Pats' D (which ranked third in rushing defense in 2016) on the ground, finishing the night with 185 total yards on 27 carries -- a stellar average of 6.9 yards a pop. In his first regular-season game, Hunt had an unprecedented coming out party, with 148 rushing yards on just 17 totes. One more eye-popping stat on K.C.'s run game: On RB designed runs (18 total), the Chiefs averaged 5.61 yards before contact, according to Pro Football Focus. Talk about creating room to run ...
In the passing game, Smith carved up the Pats secondary, completing 28 of his 35 throws. Often disparaged as a low-octane "game manager," the veteran QB authored big play after big play. Entering this season, Smith had two career touchdown passes of 75-plus yards. Last Thursday, he added two more: a 75-yard strike to Hill and a 78-yarder to Hunt. On both those deep strikes, which took some time to develop, Smith was given a squeaky-clean pocket from which to deliver the football. Bookends Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz held their own on the edges.
The one troubling statistic, upon taking a quick glance at the box score, is New England's sack total (three). But the game film removes blame from the O-line, especially on the first two sacks. On the first one, Smith scrambled to his right and failed to get back to the line of scrimmage (or throw it away!). On the second, Smith actually lost his footing while still in the pocket. No doubt he bailed his unit out a couple of times by tucking and running with the ball, but I can only hold the OL accountable for the third sack, which occurred on a third-and-11 and very well could have been considered a coverage sack. The unit did allow some other pressures and get flagged four times -- three holding penalties (one declined) and a false start -- but all in all, this was a fantastic start for an underappreciated group.
One last (very telling) stat: Of Kansas City's 537 yards of total offense, 231 came in the fourth quarter -- a true indicator of wearing down your opponent. And that effort starts in the trenches.
The rest of the top five O-lines from Week 1
2) Dallas Cowboys: The ballyhooed unit completely eliminated Big Blue's pass rush on "Sunday Night Football," allowing just two total pressures on Dak Prescott in the 19-3 win, according to PFF. New York's lone sack of the game came on a screen play where Prescott failed to actually throw the football. Dallas' O-line also paved the way for Ezekiel Elliott, who gained 104 yards on 24 carries, and helped the offense convert eight of its 15 third-down attempts. Don't forget that the Giants swept the Cowboys last season, and in the Week 14 game, Dallas went 1-for-15 on third down. Zack Martin continues to stake his claim as one of the best RGs in the game, while LT Tyron Smith didn't allow a single pressure on 41 pass plays. Impressive.
3) Buffalo Bills: This offensive line picked up right where it left off last year, when the Billsranked No. 1 in rushing offense. In a 21-12 win over the Jets, Buffalo racked up 190 yards on the ground, including 110 from LeSean McCoy on 22 carries. The Bills bullied the Jets' stout front, averaging 3.04 yards before contact (the second-best figure in the NFL this week) on 22 RB designed runs, per PFF. While the Bills did yield two sacks, they weren't on the O-line. (Though they did allow seven pressures, per PFF.) One of the standouts in this game was powerful LG Richie Incognito, who really battled with stud DE Leonard Williams. I haven't seen an OL get that much movement on Williams since he entered the league.
4) Carolina Panthers: The Panthers returned to the scene of the Super Bowl 50 crime and came away with a 23-3 Week 1 victory over the 49ers, thanks to a balanced attack. The Panthers rushed for 116 yards and found some good running lanes in between C Ryan Kalil and RG Trai Turner, averaging 6.3 yards per carry in the front-side A-gap. Cam Newton and his surgically prepared shoulder were well protected, as the QB wasn't sacked and only got hit twice all day. The Panthers look like they are getting back to the "Keep Pounding" mantra that served them so well just a couple of seasons ago. It was very encouraging to see this offensive line excel -- in both the run and pass -- against a 49ers front that has some intriguing young talent.
5) Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars surprised most folks by traveling to Houston and spanking the Texans, 29-7. But here's something that's downright stunning: Going up against one of the most feared defensive fronts in football today, Jacksonville allowed just 2 QB hits and zero sacks. Not only did the Jags' offensive linemen protect Blake Bortles, but they also helped RB Leonard Fournette become the first rookie in franchise history to eclipse 100 yards rushing in his debut performance. Rookie Cam Robinson already resembles a franchise left tackle, as he more than held his own against former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Left guard Patrick Omameh looks very powerful, while right guard A.J. Cann might be the unsung hero of this group at the moment.