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 week's games, O'Hara will revisit the O-line performances of all the teams that played and ultimately select a Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Week. And the winner is ...
The Falcons' No. 1 scoring offense was on full display against the NFL's worst scoring defense Sunday, when Atlanta jumped out to a 21-point first-quarter lead over the 49ers. This game never really was a contest and almost needed a mercy rule as the Falcons tallied 550 yards of total offense and scored 40 points. It was the second time this season the Falcons scored 40 points in back-to-back games, achieving this feat most recently without Julio Jones.
Atlanta's offensive line set the tempo early and helped spur a run game that accrued 127 yards in the first half alone and scored three touchdowns on team's first three possessions. The Falcons finished the game with 248 yards on the ground, led by Devonta Freeman's 20 carries for 139 yards and three touchdowns. (Freeman became just the eighth player this season to have 100 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a game.) Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward chipped in 58 and 52 yards, respectively. Pro Football Focus credited the Falcons with 146 rushing yards before contact, which led the NFL in Week 15.
Quarterback Matt Ryan, still on pace for a career season, threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns. He continues to exploit defenses with castaway receivers Taylor Gabriel and Aldrick Robinson, who combined for 7 catches and 171 yards. The offensive line was just as good in pass protection as it was in the run game, as it wasn't responsible for a sack or QB hit. The lone sack came early in the contest on a play-action pass that Ryan scrambled on and slid down before he could get back to the line of scrimmage. While not counting against the O-line, it still goes in the books as a sack -- a really frustrating thing for an offensive lineman!
The left side of the O-line played particularly well. Left tackle Jake Matthews had his highest grade of the season by PFF, and left guard Andy Levitre has had his best-graded games the past two weeks. Center Alex Mack continues to solidify this unit and did a great job moving the nose tackle in the run game. PFF had the unit ranked as the No. 1 run-blocking group and the No. 2 pass-blocking group of Week 15.
Other notable O-line units of Week 15
Indianapolis Colts:In a surprise performance of the week, the Colts went into Minneapolis and ruined the return of Adrian Peterson, the 2015 rushing leader. Not only did Indy rack up 411 yards of total offense, it rushed for 161 yards and 34 points against a top-five defense. All three numbers are the most against Mike Zimmer's defense this entire season, and the Colts did it all with a rookie right tackle (La'Raven Clark) making his first start. PFF's second-best run-blocking unit of the week helped veteran Frank Gore rush for 101 yards on 26 carries for his second 100-plus yard game this season. (Gore is the first Colts player with multiple 100-plus yard games in a single season since Joseph Addai in 2007). Robert Turbin also contributed in the run game with 32 yards on seven carries and more importantly rushed for two touchdowns.
Andrew Luck enjoyed a sackless game for the first time since Week 5 of 2015 and threw a pair of touchdown passes. The Colts' offensive line had allowed a sack in 24 straight games, so to pull off a game without a sack or QB hit against a tough Minnesota defense is spectacular. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo had one of his best games despite giving up three hurries, and rookie center Ryan Kelly had a good game with his second-highest grade of the season, according to PFF.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans continued to grind out impressive victories behind the NFL's third-best rushing offense. Battling the cold and a well-rested Chiefs team (10 days removed from beating Oakland on "TNF") the Titans were able to overcome a 14-point deficit in the first quarter by rallying with 12 points of their own in the fourth. Behind the offensive line (Taylor Lewan, Quinton Spain, Ben Jones, Josh Kline and Jack Conklin), Tennessee rushed for 148 yards. DeMarco Murray conrtributed 89 yards on 18 carries, while Derrick Henry ripped off 58 yards with a whopping 6.4 yards per carry en route to his first multi-touchdown game of his career.
Marcus Mariota threw for 241 yards and an interception and was sacked once on a disastrous play -- his intended receiver, Delanie Walker, tripped and fell, forcing Mariota to tuck the ball and scramble, which led to a fumble recovered by Kansas City. Other than the one sack, Mariota was kept clean. He wasn't hit but was hurried 10 times, an impressive stat considering how good the Chiefs' pass rush has been the last few weeks. PFF ranked the Titans as the third-best run-blocking unit of the week. Lewan and Conklin continued their impressive play. Conklin, who had one of his best overall games, should be in the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year, as his play reminds me of Dallas' Zack Martin during his rookie season.
Buffalo Bills: Nothing to see here but the NFL's best rushing offense going about their business against a very porous Browns defense. The offensive line has battled injuries to left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Eric Wood, but the unit keeps churning out yards on the ground week after week. They helped to generate 280 yards on the ground against Cleveland, the fourth time the Bills have rushed for over 200 yards this season (most in the NFL). LeSean McCoy logged his fifth 1,000-yard season on another big day in the cold, with 153 yards on 19 carries (8.1 yards per) -- the cold never bothered him anyway! The Bills' 27 rushing touchdowns is the new single-season franchise record, and they still have two games to go. The previous record stood for 41 years (26 touchdowns in 1975).
Center Ryan Groy and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio filled in for Wood and Glenn, giving up one QB hit between the two. Left guard Richie Incognito continues to anchor this group and had his best overall grade of the season, according to PFF. The Bills, who are rated by PFF as the sixth-best run-blocking unit and the 12th-best pass-blocking unit, totaled 108 rushing yards before contact. However, Buffalo wasn't the winner this week because it allowed one sack and two QB hits.