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PFF ranks the Eagles offensive line ahead of the Cowboys, but who’s really better?

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It’s tough to split hairs between these two great lines, but we’ll definitely do it.

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Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers

For about four years now, the Cowboys have had one main thing as their calling card: a dominant offensive line. The three mainstays, Tyron Smith at left tackle, Travis Frederick at center, and Zack Martin at right guard, have been perennial All-Pro players. The other two positions have seen a rotation between players such as Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green, Ronald Leary, La’el Collins, and Doug Free. Now, rookie Connor Williams joins the fold at left guard.

But while this line has been absolutely brilliant in recent history, the Cowboys’ rival in Philly has quickly built another dominant line. The likes of Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, and Brandon Brooks were the catalyst for a potent, balanced offensive attack that led the Eagles to a Super Bowl win despite being led by two different quarterbacks.

It shouldn’t be controversial to say that these two teams have the top two offensive lines in the NFL right now. But which one is better? Pro Football Focus seems to think it’s the Eagles.

As you can see from their tweet, the highest individual ranking goes to Kelce, who PFF ranks as the best center in the NFL. Peters and Brooks are both ranked as the fourth best at their positions, while Johnson is ranked sixth best. Stefen Wisniewski is the weak link, but still at least functional with the others.

The breakdowns of the Cowboys’ offensive linemen, who as a unit are ranked second behind the Eagles, are as follows:


Left Tackle: Tyron Smith, 79.7 overall grade

Left Guard: Connor Williams, 85.7* (2017 college grade)

Center: Travis Frederick, 90.8

Right Guard: Zack Martin, 92.2

Right Tackle: La’el Collins, 50.7

There are a few important things to note here, though. For one, Smith’s rating of a 79.7 is uncharacteristically low, and it no doubt has to do with the recurring back injury he played with most of the season. For the last two years now, Smith’s PFF grade was sitting right at 93.3. Assuming Smith is healthy and fully recovered in 2018, we should see a return to form from the All-Pro left tackle.

Frederick sits at 90.8, good for second-best overall rating in the league by 0.5 units. Interestingly enough, Frederick’s 2016 grade was identical to Kelce’s 2017 grade. It’s hard to see why Frederick’s rating dropped, as his statistics were actually better than 2016. He surrendered zero sacks and only had three penalties for 29 yards, all of which were holding calls. The difference between Frederick and Kelce is minuscule, and without being too biased here, it’s a stretch to argue Frederick’s play in 2017 wasn’t the best at his position.

On to the third All-Pro, Martin, who continues to be the best interior lineman in the league. His 92.2 rating is the best of all right guards, and his pass blocking has been the best among all guards for two consecutive years now. The Eagles have a tremendous and athletic right guard in Brooks who often makes highlights when pulling outside for Jay Ajayi on run plays, but he’s no match for Martin.

Now comes the biggest question mark in Connor Williams. PFF notes that their 85.7 rating is based on his play at the University of Texas, as the rookie has yet to take an NFL snap, but they did rate him as a first-round prospect for the 2018 draft. The strength and agility that made Williams a first round-talent at one point is what should help him perform well at left guard for the Cowboys. In OTA’s and minicamp practices, many of their run drills had Williams as the lead puller, something that should be expected to carry over into the preseason. After all, he ran a 5.05 40 yard dash and 7.83 cone drill at the NFL Combine. With that type of utilization, Williams could end up surpassing his 85.7 rating once the regular season begins, but even if he matches their projections, he’ll end up better than Philly’s Wisniewski.

The biggest discrepancy with PFF’s evaluation of the Cowboys’ line, though, has to do with Collins. After two years at left guard, with mixed to positive reactions and an injury thrown in, Collins moved to right tackle in 2017. The initial consensus was that Collins was average at best in his first outside. PFF even agreed, rating him at 50.7. Collins did, in fact, surrender 51 total pressures throughout the 2017 season and allowed five total sacks. Most notable of his struggles was in Week 2 against Denver when Von Miller racked up 12 pressures against Collins.

However, Collins was going up against some really elite pass rushers all year, and as the season went on, he rebounded in a big way. Much of this can be chalked up to Collins getting more comfortable with his stance, footwork, timing, and general chemistry with Martin. Our own Connor Livesay broke down all of Collins’ tape from 2017 and wrote about it in depth, and he specifically notes how well Collins was playing by the end of the year:

In week 15, Collins had yet another tough matchup against a top defensive end in the league, Khalil Mack. Mack, who is looked at as one of the top three pass rushers in the NFL, had a productive night with two sacks and five tackles. Neither of Mack’s sacks came when he was lined up against Collins. When one-on-one, Collins controlled Khalil Mack at the point of attack in the run game, and kept the pocket relatively clean.

In week 16, Collins went up against the Seahawks who deploy a variety of different looks on their defensive front. Collins did not give up a sack in the week 16 matchup, and played one of his better games of the season against one of the most disruptive defensive fronts in football.

While it’s not easy to predict how Collins will play in 2018, the indication from his final few games last year would point to a huge improvement. He would likely still be the worst of the linemen for Dallas, but that says more about how great the other players are than anything about Collins.

A large part of this admittedly has to do with making assumptions - assuming Smith returns to form and is healthy; assuming Williams hits the ground running; assuming Collins continues his upwards trend - and that is probably why PFF ranked the Eagles first; there is more tangible evidence to support the greatness of their line.

However, if all three of the above assumptions come true, there is no way that this offensive line doesn’t regain its title as the unequivocally best offensive line in the NFL, regardless of how good Philly’s unit is. What do you think?


Who will have the better offensive line in 2018?

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