NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowl center Shaun O'Hara selects offensive line units to watch heading into the week, breaking down what's on the line for each group, potential matchups and other significant factors. Following each week's games, O'Hara will select a Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Week.
The Cowboys are coming off their second loss of the season and face another red-hot defense Sunday. Since Week 10, Tampa Bay's defense ranks first in points per game (12.8), takeaways (14) and passer rating allowed (62.5). On paper, it's not a great matchup as Dallas just had one of its worst offensive performances of the season, when it converted once on 15 third-down tries against the Giants. The Cowboys also lacked production on first down last week. They ran the ball 16 times on first down and only three of those attempts went for more than four yards. The Cowboys' offense is looking to get back to its usual ways -- ranked sixth in the NFL in scoring (26.2 points per game) and fifth in yards per game (385.2) -- to put themselves in good position because converting third-and-long against the Bucs' stout defense isn't going to be an easy task.
Ezekiel Elliott has the most 100-yard rushing games this season with six, but the Bucs have only allowed one 100-yard rusher this season (Chicago's Jordan Howard in Week 10). Elliott will need a boost from his offensive line and he's sure to get help when running behind one of the best left tackles in the league, Tyron Smith, who will be against Robert Ayers. The eighth-year defensive end has the most QB disruptions (26) in the last three weeks, according to Pro Football Focus. And another matchup to watch is left guard Ron Leary vs. Gerald McCoy, who is tied for most sacks (seven) by defensive tackles with Aaron Donald.
Sitting at 7-6 and tied with the Texans, the Tennessee Titans must win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The home crowd played in Tennessee's favor last week but playing in a stadium that is host to one of the loudest stadiums in the league could be a huge challenge for Titans' offensive tackles Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan. The rookie is PFF's highest-graded right tackle in the NFL, while Lewan is the league's sixth highest-graded left tackle. The offensive line has been the catalyst for DeMarco Murray and the run game -- a big reason why Tennessee was able to beat Denver last week despite just 88 passing yards by Marcus Mariota. Murray has racked up 1,135 rushing yards, giving him his third 1,000-yard season, and he sits in second in rushing yards behind Elliott with three weeks remaining.
After facing a top-five defensive opponent last week, the Titans face a Kansas City unit that is tied for the league lead in takeaways (25) and defensive touchdowns (five) while holding teams to 19.6 points per game, good enough for eighth-best in the NFL. Kansas City has been excellent in the red zone so Tennessee will have to continue its red zone dominance (It's scored 71.4 percent of the time in the red zone, best in the league). Conklin and Lewan are going to face some top-notch pass rushers this week. Justin Houston has four sacks in the last three games and Dee Ford has 10 sacks on the season.
Kansas City Chiefs
On the other side of the field, the Chiefs' offensive line has a tough challenge when facing a Titans defense that has quietly been very stout. Last week, Tennessee held Denver to just 10 points and 18 rushing yards. The Titans are third in the league against the run, giving up 86.6 yards per game, and have recorded 27 sacks since Week 5 (second most in that span). The Chiefs' run game -- led by Spencer Ware -- is averaging 96.2 yards per game behind an offensive line that features left tackle Eric Fisher, left guard Zach Fulton, center Mitch Morse, right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
If the Chiefs struggle to run the ball against Tennessee, there could be a lot of pressure on tackles Fisher and Schwartz. According to PFF, Fisher has given up five sacks and 26 QB disruptions and Schwartz has allowed nine sacks and 30 QB disruptions, and they've combined for 18 penalties. This pair will be up against Brian Orakpo, who has 10 sacks this season, and Derrick Morgan.
New England Patriots
The Patriots return to the scene of the crime where Tom Brady was bruised in last year's meeting, as he was hit 17 times in the AFC Championship Game loss. Sebastian Vollmer filled in for injured left tackle Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon didn't play well in that game at right tackle. This season, the Patriots are getting much better play out of Cannon and the return of a healthy Solder has helped boost the run game. LeGarrette Blount is having the best season of his career with 1,029 rushing yards heading into Week 15. He'll try to give the Patriots third-and-short opportunities and take the raucous Denver crowd out of the game.
In the playoff meeting, Brady was pressured a lot by Von Miller. Cannon will go against Miller on Sunday, while Solder takes on DeMarcus Ware. The two pass rushers have helped the Denver defense to rack up 100 QB hits (7.7 per game) this season, the most per game by any team since the stat started being tracked in 2000. The Broncos have the NFL's No. 1-ranked passing defense and are second in sacks, third in total defense and fifth in third-down defense. Not surprisingly though, Brady has been the best quarterback on third-and-7 or farther this season, and the Patriots lead in the NFL in first-quarter point differential, outscoring opponents by 74 points. But as good as Brady's been this season -- as he leads the league in passer rating (113.6), he's 2-7 in his career when playing in Denver.
Washington is trying desperately to keep playoff hopes alive but they face a Carolina Panthers team that leads the NFL in sacks with 39 -- recording 27 of them since Week 8. However, the Redskins' offensive line has been one of the best at protecting its quarterback, giving up 18 sacks (third in the NFL). The story this year is whether or not Kirk Cousins deserve a contract after the season, and he continues to make his case. Cousins, who's in third in pass yards behind only Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, has helped the Redskins become the No. 2 total offense, and they are on pace to set franchise records in total yards per game, pass yards per game and yards per play. Washington has racked up 500-plus yards in three of their last six games and is coming off a comeback win on the road.
Last week, Washington welcomed Trent Williams back to the lineup and the team will look for another big performance from him as he's PFF's highest-graded left tackle. A big matchup to watch in this contest is right guard Brandon Scherff, who hasn't given up a sack in 2016, against Carolina's Kawaan Short. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly has missed the last three games and the defense has certainly struggled without him, allowing 17.5 points per game in Weeks 8-11 with Kuechly and 30.2 ppg in Weeks 12-14 without him.