As the NFL regular season winds down and the playoffs begin to take shape, the margin for error of teams hoping to hoist the Lombardi Trophy lessens with each snap. Room for mistakes is razor-thin, especially when it comes to the offensive line. Look no further than last season’s Super Bowl LV losers, the offensive juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs. All the fire power at the skill positions could not account for shaky offensive line play in the biggest game.
The battles that take place in the trenches will be critical in determining which team reaches Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13. The NFC features some of the best linemen in the NFL, but which team has the best overall group in the conference?
The Bucs may have the best O-line in the NFC. At the very least, the defending champs have one of the better pass protection units in the game. According to Pro Football Reference, the Buccaneers allow the least amount of pressure per quarterback drop backs (11.3 percent) out of the seven teams currently slated to compete in the postseason.
Tampa Bay has also allowed the least amount of sacks among the conference’s elite teams, surrendering just 22 sacks on the year. Out of those 22 sacks, Pro Football Focus credits the offensive line as being responsible for only 13 quarterback takedowns.
2). Dallas Cowboys
The offensive line has been a staple of the Cowboys’ success for what feels like the better part of a decade. Dallas has invested a lot of draft capital in protecting the quarterback and opening up rushing lanes for running backs. Both left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin are among the best linemen in the league.
So, the Dallas Cowboys only had two Pro Bowlers on offense, both on the offensive line.— KD Drummond (@KDDrummondNFL) December 27, 2021
I'm not really calling any of the rest snubs, but..
Dak, Coop, Schultz and Lamb all showed they are clearly All-Star caliber players this season.
PFF certainly has a lot of love for the Cowboys, as both Smith (91.7) and Martin (93.9) rank second in the NFL at their respective positions. The website also ranks Dallas’ O-line as the best in the league through Week 16.
Pro Football Reference also views the Cowboys’ offensive line as an elite unit, especially in the running game. Out of the NFC teams currently penciled in the playoff bracket, the big guys in ”Big D” also generate some major push in the running game, providing their running backs with an average of 2.58 yards before contact. Though being flagged 44 times should be a concern for any Dallas fans.
3). Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have proven to be one of the most consistent and versatile offensive lines in the NFC. Whether it’s making multiple personnel adjustments up front against the Minnesota Vikings or implementing more heavy packages with an extra member on the O-line, LA has found a way to get the job done upfront more times than not.
Similar to the Cowboys offensive line, the Rams have given their running backs the opportunity to get a downhill head start, providing an average of 2.49 yards before contact. The running game has been a major factor in Los Angeles’ recent winning streak, which is likely to continue with running back Cam Akers set to return to the team down the stretch.
LA has also proven to be an exceptionally deep group, as reserves Joe Noteboom, Coleman Shelton, and Alaric Jackson have each come off the bench and played well in meaningful games for the team.
The 49ers play a very physical brand of football and it all starts with the offensive line. Left tackle Trent Williams is PFF’s highest graded tackle in the NFL at 98.3 overall. San Francisco constantly mauls the opposing defense in the running game.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan has been able to plug-and-play different running backs behind the offensive line. It seems like the combination of the bruising O-line and that Shanahan system can make a star out of almost any capable running back. The same was true about Mike Shanahan in the ‘90s during his stint as head coach of the Denver Broncos. The apple certainly did not fall far from the coaching tree.
Anyone who plays Madden knows that the Eagles’ offensive line is sneaky good. All jokes aside, this unit is starting to peak at the right time. The unit may not blow you away with some of the pass blocking numbers, but they might in the running game.
The Eagles offensive line consistently generates movement at the line of scrimmage, allowing their running backs to get going “north and south” with minimal resistance. They create the most average yards before contact at 2.9 per attempt. If that isn’t good enough, Philly’s O-line allows the least amount of stuffs — running plays where the defensive line is able to tackle the running back before he reaches the line of scrimmage — in the entire NFL, according to Football Outsiders.
The Packers could easily be higher on this list, had left tackle David Bakhtiari been in the lineup during any point this season. Bakhtiari has yet to play a down for Green Bay, after suffering a torn ACL late in the 2020 campaign. The NFC North champions also lost guard Elgton Jenkins in their Week 11 loss to the Vikings. Regardless, it still feels odd to have the top seed in the NFC this low on the list.
They aren’t a bad offensive line, though referring back to the first chart, the Packers do allow the second-highest rate of pressure per quarterback drop backs (22.9 percent) out of the NFC teams currently slated to compete in the playoffs. Green Bay also allows the least yards before contact for their running backs of the NFC playoff hopefuls at only 2.07. Aaron Rodgers sure does fix a lot of issues.
This just feels right. The Cardinals have a ton of playmakers on offense, but the offensive line is the weakest unit on that side of the ball. According to SIS Data Hub, Arizona has the highest percentage of blown blocks out of the seven teams discussed, topping out at 2.27 percent. I’m sure facing Aaron Donald twice doesn’t help that number.
The Cardinals have also allowed 34 sacks and give up sacks on 6.04 percent of quarterback drop backs. Both of those marks are the highest out of the NFC’s top teams.
Most professional athletes grow up dreaming of being the player that leads their team to victory in the biggest games, placing their name in the headlines and immortalizing their plays in highlight packages and franchise lore. And then, there are those who dream of their name and number never being called, thriving in the role of being anonymous. There is no better place for that kind of success and anonymity than the offensive line.
Who do you think has the best offensive line in the NFC playoffs?
Los Angeles Rams
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Green Bay Packers
San Francisco 49ers