By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
The offensive line is the heartbeat of an organization. If your line is good, your offense is good. Through four weeks of the NFL season, these five offensive lines rank among the top tier of units around the league.
The Eagles’ offensive line is the gold standard. Philly has built a dominating unit over the years through the draft, combining high-value assets early in the draft with project players the team has developed into some of the best in the NFL.
The heartbeat of the Eagles is center Jason Kelce, an undersized energizer bunny who has been a first-team All-Pro four times. The Eagles selected Lane Johnson, the best right tackle in football, with the sixth pick of the 2013 draft. Left guard Landon Dickerson was a second-round pick while right guard Isaac Seumalo was a third-rounder. Last is Jordan Mailata, a late seventh-round pick who had never played football until Philly drafted him in 2018. He’s now one of the best left tackles in football.
A lot of credit is due to Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who has been with the team since 2013. He has crafted this unit into a beast.
The offensive line has led the way for an offense that ranks fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and is sixth in yards per play. The Eagles have amassed at least 400 yards of offense in all four of their wins. They are graded as the best pass-protecting unit by Pro Football Focus but have a lower run-blocking grade than I expected. I do wonder if that’s because they played keep-away in the second half of two of their four games this season. Last weekend they pushed around a Jaguars defense near the top of efficiency rankings.
If you ever doubted the importance of a quality offensive line, look no further than the Chiefs’ Sunday night game. When the Chiefs last played Tampa Bay, the Bucs’ defensive line terrorized Patrick Mahomes over 60 minutes in their Super Bowl win.
Now, over a year later, the results were vastly different with a Chiefs offensive line that has been completely rebuilt. Outside additions at left tackle (Orlando Brown Jr.) and left guard (Joe Thuney), plus hitting home runs in recent drafts at center (Creed Humphrey) and right guard (Trey Smith) have upgraded this entire unit. Don’t forget right tackle Andrew Wylie, a forgotten member of the offensive line who is steady and solid. The Chiefs’ offensive line is coached by one of the best in Andy Heck, who has been with Kansas City since Andy Reid took charge in 2013.
The Chiefs’ offense is ranked first in points per drive and third in success rate. The offensive line is ranked second in run blocking by Pro Football Focus. The line needs to clean up some pass protection at the tackles, but that has not resulted in much change in the offense. Mahomes has been knocked down on only 7% of his pass-protection reps, far below the NFL average. The line’s ability allows the Chiefs to run multiple protection schemes and is versatile enough to be excellent in space on screens. That’s an underrated part of the offense’s success.
Rarely does a team without an excellent quarterback hover near the top of all the offensive efficiency rankings. Investments with first-round picks at both tackle positions (LT Taylor Decker, RT Penei Sewell) and at center (Frank Ragnow) have paid off for Detroit.
The Lions’ offense is seventh in DVOA and is averaging 35 points per game. The offensive line, even through all its injuries, continues to open up huge rushing lanes for Lions running backs. The line is fourth in adjusted rushing yards and has allowed only five sacks on QB Jared Goff.
The Lions have the most yards per play, and there’s no surprise why: Their line helps them pile up explosive runs and deep play-action pass attempts.
It’s no surprise the Browns are on this list. They’ve had a top-five offensive line for years. Once again, investment in the unit alongside one of the best offensive line coaches in the game equals continued success, even with injuries at center and right tackle.
The Browns have excellent guards in Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio, who anchor the unit with all the injuries around the squad. The line is seventh in adjusted line yards and has given up only five sacks. Pro Football Focus has this unit graded fourth in both run and pass protection grades. More specifically, the line is seventh in pressure rate allowed, which has enabled the Browns to move the ball through the air with a backup quarterback in Jacoby Brissett.
When Tyron Smith went down with a lower leg injury in training camp, I did not expect Dallas to make this list. And while the Cowboys’ line not been perfect, it continues to improve each week.
Rookie left tackle Tyler Smith is a heck of a run blocker, and the Cowboys have done a good job of helping him in the passing game. Right tackle Terence Steele has quietly played very well. He’s ranked 15th in run blocking for OTs and 11th in pass blocking. Center Tyler Biadasz has some issues while singled up in pass protection, but he makes up for it with his ability to move defenders off the ball in the run game. And then there’s right guard Zack Martin, who continues to be the best player at that position in the NFL. He’s so much fun to watch.
The Cowboys’ offensive line is first in power rate, which means that Dallas can gain a yard on third or fourth down better than any other team in the league.
Geoff Schwartz played eight seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffSchwartz.
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