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 ...
Week 9 became a two-horse race between the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders, with both putting up strong performances. In the end, Oakland downed tougher competition in prime time, making that the deciding factor. The Raiders' offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage to give Oakland its first win against Denver at home since 2010. The fact that both teams entered the contest 6-2 and were playing for the lead in the AFC West made the victory that much sweeter.
The Raiders had 397 total offensive yards, which doesn't seem like a lot but is quite impressive against Denver's fourth-ranked defense. One way to slow down the No. 1 pass rush in the NFL is to run the football, and that's exactly what Oakland did. The Raiders had 218 yards on the ground -- the most rushing yards Denver has allowed since Week 5 of 2012 -- and were led by Latavius Murray's huge performance (114 yards on 20 carries for 5.7 yards per carry and three touchdowns). He became just the third player in NFL history to rush for 100-plus yards and three TDs against a defending Super Bowl champion team (joining DeAngelo Williams and Warrick Dunn). Pro Football Focus had Oakland ranked as the No. 1 run-blocking unit of the week, and the offensive line earned this spot by executing a well-designed game plan. As an extra body to block on the line, Denver Kirkland played 42 snaps and helped the Raiders' smashmouth attack move Denver's defense.
In addition to a strong run-game performance, the Raiders' pass protection was superb for most of the night. The lone exception was the sack Austin Howard gave up to Von Miller. Howard allowed one other QB hit, the only two times the O-line allowed the defense to get to quarterback Derek Carr. That's remarkable, considering the fact that Miller ranks second in the NFL in sacks (9.5) and that, coming into the game, Denver led the NFL in sacks (26) and QB hits (75). Donald Penn had another excellent performance, doing a great job against DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray and cementing himself as one of the top left tackles in the league.
Other notable O-line units in Week 9
Dallas Cowboys: Seeing the Cowboys on this list should surprise no one. Dallas' offensive line took over the game and helped its stars rack up 423 yards of total offense against the Browns. The Cowboys made third down look easy, converting 8 of 12 chances, and dominated time of possession, having the ball for nearly 40 minutes. Ezekiel Elliott had 18 carries for 92 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Alfred Morris chipped in with 56 yards on 17 carries. PFF had Dallas ranked as the third-best run-blocking unit this week and the third-best pass-blocking unit. Quarterback Dak Prescott was only hit one time the entire game, as the O-line didn't allow a sack. Prescott finished with 247 yards and three touchdowns. Lastly, Tyron Smith was the highest-graded left tackle this week, according to PFF, while Travis Frederick had a good matchup against nose tackle Danny Shelton, allowing just one QB hit and one hurry.
San Diego Chargers: The Chargers welcomed the NFL's second-leading rusher, Titans back DeMarco Murray, to town Sunday -- but it was their own Melvin Gordon who ended up having the big day. The Chargersexploded on Tennessee's defense, with 43 points led by the ground game, which racked up 208 yards -- the most rushing yards by San Diego in a game since Week 17 of 2008. Gordon had 32 carries for a career-high 196 yards and one touchdown, and the performance marked the first time in his career he had 100 yards or more in the first half. Plus, it was the most rushing yards in a game by a Chargers running back since LaDainian Tomlinson's 198 yards in Week 6 of 2007. Gordon has had an amazing turnaround from his rookie season, when he led the NFL in touches without a touchdown, to this season, when he leads the league in total touchdowns (11).
In addition to the run game, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers had a rare clean game in the pocket, as the O-line didn't give up a sack or QB hit but did allow 13 hurries. The lone sack that was recorded was credited to Gordon, who lost track of his linebacker in pass protection. The O-line was PFF's fourth-best run-blocking unit in Week 9, and there's no better feeling than ending the game by running the ball. Gordon's 47-yard scamper to ice the game gave the Chargers their third win in four games.
New Orleans Saints: Don't look now, but the Saints have won four of their last five games after starting 0-3, and three of their next four are at home. Against the 49ers on Sunday, the Saints accumulated the second-most yards in a game by any team this season with 571 yards of total offense -- their third game with 500 or more yards this season. There's nothing more motivating than getting benched, and after taking a seat in Week 8, Mark Ingram responded well this week, notching 15 carries for 158 yards (10.5 yards per carry) and one touchdown. Tim Hightower piggybacked off his strong performance a week ago, chipping in 87 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
The offensive line gave up one sack and allowed seven hurries in Drew Brees' 40 dropbacks. The veteran quarterback finished with 323 yards and three touchdowns with the help of PFF's fifth-best pass-blocking unit leading the way. New Orleans led the NFL in yards before contact (154 yards on 38 carries) this week. As much as the Saints like throwing the ball, they are 22-0 in the Sean Payton era when they run the ball 35 times or more. Interesting.