Through the third week of the season, here are five key storylines for NFL offensive lines:
1. A better read on the Steelers' line
After steamrolling the less-talented defenses of the Texans in Week 1 and the Browns in Week 2, we got a better read on where the Steelers' offensive line really is after its performance against the Eagles in Week 3. The line was unable to generate anything in the running game, producing just 33 yards on 19 carries (1.7 yards per carry). Even more troubling was the line's inability to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger against the blitzing Eagles defense, as the line allowed nine sacks in 32 pass attempts. Byron Leftwich replaced Roethlisberger in the second half, as no quarterback can survive the amount of punishment that Big Ben took against the Eagles.
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Up Next: vs. Baltimore (Monday night). The Ravens present another tough matchup for the Steelers' offensive line. If the unit does not make major improvements in pass protection, Roethlisberger will not finish the game against the Ravens. Downgrade your Pittsburgh players based on the poor matchup against the Ravens.
2. Miami dominates New England
The Dolphins had the upset of the season against the Patriots in Week 3, and the Miami offensive line was at the center of the team's strong offensive output. The Dolphins ran for 216 yards on 36 carries (6.0 YPC), led by running back Ronnie Brown's 113 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Pass protection was impressive, as the line did not allow a sack in the game, however, due to the success in the running game, QB Chad Pennington threw just 20 times. It was a performance that allows the unit to forget how poorly it had played during the first two weeks of the season and focus on the positives heading into the team's bye week.
3. Saturday returns for the Colts
Although the Colts lost to Jacksonville, the offensive line turned in a strong performance against the Jaguars in Week 3. The line received a huge boost when starting center Jeff Saturday returned to action, after missing two games with a knee injury. The line was also without starting left tackle Tony Ugoh, who is out for the next few weeks with a groin injury. The offense was efficient in running the ball in limited opportunities, as the line led the way for 114 yards on just 19 carries (6.0 YPC). Pass protection was also much improved, against a strong Jacksonville pass rush, as the unit allowed just one sack in 29 pass attempts.
Up Next: The Indianapolis offensive line receives a much-needed bye week, so it will be even healthier in Week 4.
4. Cleveland struggles without Steinbach
Cleveland's offensive line had an uneven performance against the Ravens in Week 3. The line was without starting left guard Eric Steinbach, and the unit was unable to compensate, providing little help for a struggling offense. Run blocking was solid, as the offense ran for 73 yards on just 15 carries (4.9 YPC), however, the score of the game forced the Browns to abandon the running game. Pass protection was awful, as the line allowed five sacks in 37 pass attempts. Overall, the line has held its own this season, but the running game has been virtually non-existent due to turnovers and the defense's struggle to keep games close.
Up Next: at Cincinnati. Last season's meetings were high-scoring affairs, as this week's matchup should be. Even though the Bengals defense has allowed less than 130 yards per game through the air, opposing offenses have been able to run all over the Cincinnati defense, which bodes well for running back Jamal Lewis.
5. Falcons line continues to overachieve
Although it was against a struggling Chiefs defense, the Falcons' offensive line was able to take advantage of another good matchup and perform well in Week 3. The line was able to open running lanes, as the offense ran for 186 yards on 36 carries (5.2 YPC), led by running back Michael Turner's 100-yard game and three touchdowns. Pass protection was stellar, as the line did not allow a sack in 18 pass attempts. The Falcons' offensive line is not overly talented. The unit will struggle against better defenses, but continues to perform well against weaker ones.
Up Next: at Carolina. The Panthers' defense ranks in the middle of the pack against the run and pass. It will be interesting to see how the Atlanta offensive line performs on the road and in a divisional game, as the unit did not play well in that scenario in Week 2 at Tampa Bay.