A position of strength faces a number of offseason questions."The 2018 New Orleans Saints won the majority of their 14 games by simply winning the physical battles up front. Offensively Terron Armstead Jersey Stitched , they possessed one of the most powerful offensive lines in football to go along with their Pro Bowl stars like Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Alvin Kamara. Defensively, New Orleans has built one of the most underrated, but formidable, defensive lines in the league. All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan was joined by veteran Alex Okafor and promising rookie Marcus Davenport to give the team a presence from the edge. The Saints finished the regular season ranked 2nd against the run, having held the top ranking most of the year. Much of the reason for this was due to a powerful interior line, which often stalemated the opposition at the point of attack. Today, we'll have a look at a position group that was largely responsible for winning most of these important wars at the line of scrimmage. DEFENSIVE TACKLE Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportsA head scratching Pro Bowl snub did not take away from the fact that Sheldon Rankins played dominating football throughout the majority of the 2018 season. The Saints had hoped for a disruptive inside force when they selected Rankins with the 12th overall pick in the 2016 draft, and that's exactly what they got from him last season. Rankins achieved career highs with 8 sacks and 12 tackles for loss, both second on the team, along with a career best 40 total tackles. He and Jordan combined to make a devastating duo on the left side of the Saints line, usually wrecking offensive lines. Listed at 6'2, 305-lbs., Rankins uses great power, leverage, and an explosive first step to overpower double teams and gets into the backfield quickly. He was one of the more effective defensive tackles in the league during 2018, and a key part of the Saints defensive success. Unfortunately, Rankins suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the team's divisional round victory over Philadelphia. His presence was greatly missed during the NFC Championship game Youth Thomas Morstead Jersey , and he is likely going to miss at least the first portion of the 2019 season. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsDavid Onyemata was taken in the 4th round of the 2016 draft, joining the team the same year as Rankins. A freakish athlete, Onyemata is learning to translate his abilities to the field. He played the run much more consistently in his third season, and is rounding into an every down defensive lineman. A career high 23 of his 35 tackles were solo, including 4 for loss. Onyemata had a monstrous performance against the Dallas Cowboys, sacking the quarterback 3 times and notching 7 tackles. He had 4.5 sacks and six quarterback hits on the season, and was a consistent pass rushing threat over the final portion of the year. Onyemata may face a league suspension to start the '19 season though, after being arrested in the beginning of February for possession of marijuana. Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY SportsA 5th round pick in the 2015 draft, Tyeler Davison remains one of the team's best run defenders. The 6'2, 309-lb Davison provides a powerful punch against the run, proving to be a handful against even multiple blockers while getting a good push into the backfield and stonewalling inside runs. He isn't a well-rounded pass rusher, although he did have a career high 2 sacks this year, but Davison is tenacious and comes straight ahead with tremendous strength. He is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but the Saints hope to re-sign him as a key rotational player. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty ImagesTaylor Stallworth made the team last summer as an undrafted rookie, but quickly worked his way into the defensive tackle rotation. He played in 14 games, recording 1 sack and a fumble recovery. Stallworth has a squat but powerful frame, and has an explosive first step off the snap to put blockers on their heels. He is a feisty run defender, who improved his pass rushing skills as the season went along. Stallworth's emergence relegated veteran free agent Jay Bromley to little more than a depth player, and the team signed former Saint Tyrunn Walker down the stretch once Bromley was injured. Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY SportsThe Saints had one of the deepest defensive tackle rotations in the league in 2018, led by the dominant Rankins. The position faces many questions this offseason however Thomas Morstead Jersey Stitched , and may need to be addressed in either free agency or the draft. Rankins looks unlikely to be available for the start of the season, Onyemata may be facing league discipline for his transgressions, while neither Davison or Bromley are sure bets to be re-signed. The Saints will attempt to remain strong inside, and Rankins' return at some point will certainly bolster that goal. He has blossomed into one of the NFL's better defensive linemen, and led a position that helped the New Orleans defense become a formidable unit that carried the team to a number of victories in 2018. DEFENSIVE TACKLE GRADE = B It’s been awhile since the NFL flexed a game to Sunday night. The Bengals vs. Chiefs is a worthy choice.No games were moved from day to night last season, except for the final weekend, when all games are scheduled for the afternoon until the league and NBC figure out what is most attractive for prime time. In 2016, there were three flexed games, including Week 17. Not counting that, the last flex was Bucs at Cowboys on Dec. 18, 2016.So switching a pair of first-place teams made sense: Cincinnati (4-2) is at Kansas City (5-1).Some of the juicy plot lines involve offense, hardly a surprise in this year of points, points and more points. Kansas City has the league’s lowest-ranked defense and the Bengals rank 29th. Even worse, both are dealing with a slew of injuries on that side of the ball.So Patrick Mahomes throwing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt could fill the screen. So might Andy Dalton connecting with A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.“Any time you want to be one of the great ones on the defense or you want your defense to have a statement-type game, you have to do it against the best offenses in the league,” Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “And right now, they’re putting up those points like they’re one of the best offenses in the league. So you’ve got to go out there and put it on ’em.”There are some caveats to this matchup, however.Although the Bengals have won four straight in the series dating to Oct. 14, 2007, they are 3-15 on Sunday nights Youth Nick Easton Jersey , losing eight straight. The Chiefs are 7-3 in games on Sunday nights.The weekend began with Denver’s 45-10 victory at Arizona on Thursday nightEmmanuel Sanders threw and caught touchdown passes, Denver returned two interceptions for first-quarter touchdowns and the Broncos snapped a four-game losing streak.Todd Davis returned rookie Josh Rosen’s deflected pass for a touchdown on the second play of the game and Chris Harris Jr. took another back 53 yards for a score with 2:02 left in the quarter as the Broncos (3-4) opened a 21-3 lead. Rosen threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice on a rough night that began badly for him and never got better. The Cardinals (1-6), down 35-3 at the half, fell to 0-4 at home for the first time since 1979.Off this week are Seattle (3-3), Green Bay (3-2-1), Oakland (1-5) and Pittsburgh (3-2-1).New England (4-2) at Chicago (3-2)Seems like every week, the Patriots’ opponent is battered by injuries to key players. No one is more key in Chicago than edge rusher Khalil Mack, who is battling an ankle problem.Just what Tom Brady needs against one of the five teams he’s never lost to. Brady is 4-0 against the Bears; the others are Atlanta (5-0), Dallas (4-0), Minnesota (4-0) and Tampa Bay (4-0).While the Bears should be able to move the ball on New England, they’ll likely need lots of points for a chance in this one.New Orleans (4-1) at Baltimore (4-2)Just like Patriots-Bears, this is one terrific offense against defense matchup. New Orleans ranks third in total offense and Baltimore is first on defense.Led by Drew Brees, who set the yards passing career mark in a rout of the Redskins before their bye the Saints have won four in a row. Nobody is more balanced with the ball now that RB Mark Ingram is back from suspension to team with dynamic Alvin Kamara. Brees, who is 0-4 vs. the Ravens, this year has a 78 percent completion rate for 1,658 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.The Ravens had 11 sacks last week against Tennessee and a league-most 26 overall. They are allowing an NFL-low 12.8 points per game and the fewest yards per game (270.8). Baltimore has four of the NFL’s past 14 shutouts since the start of the 2017 season.Carolina (3-2) at Philadelphia (3-3)An intriguing matchup of a solid running team in Carolina, led by Christian McCaffrey and QB Cam Newton, facing the second-stingiest rushing defense in a place where the Eagles are 17-4 under Doug Pederson.As for the air game, which seemingly everyone needs to succeed these days, Carolina is far too inconsistent.Meanwhile White Sam Mills Jersey , Carson Wentz has thrown at least one TD in his past 19 games played, the longest streak in franchise history and second-longest active streak behind Andrew Luck (28). Wentz has thrown 133 consecutive passes without a pick. His longest streak is 135 passes.Tennessee (3-3) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) at LondonThe Titans were humiliated at home by Baltimore and should welcome the long trip overseas. Then again, they have lost 10 of the past 11 to the Chargers and bring a sputtering offense into Wembley.Although Tennessee has a solid D, it faces an in-synch offense. The Chargers are 13-5 since starting last season 0-4 and QB Philip Rivers leads the AFC and ranks second in the NFL with a 115.1 passer rating. He has 13 TD passes and four interceptions in seven games vs. the Titans.Houston (3-3) at Jacksonville (3-3)The other AFC South leaders.After beginning the season with three defeats, the Texans have turned it around, albeit all their wins have been tight affairs, two in overtime.Defensive end J.J. Watt , perhaps the NFL’s best player when healthy, is back in form after missing most of the 2016 and ’17 seasons with injuries. Watt has seven sacks and three forced fumbles in the past four games.The Jaguars have a solid defense, too, particularly against the pass, where they ranked first in yards surrendered. But Jacksonville was outscored 70-21 in consecutive road losses, forcing coach Doug Marrone to return to training camp practices this week to emphasize fundamental football.Dallas (3-3) at Washington (3-2)Among pro sports’ most intense rivalries, this will be a physical and possibly low-scoring affair given the strength of both defenses and imbalance of the offenses.Dallas, winless on the road, will try to run with Ezekiel Elliott, second in rushing yards with 586 and third in yards from scrimmage with 752. Washington will counter with Adrian Peterson, who averaged 108.5 yards rushing in the past two home games.Minnesota (3-2-1) at New York Jets (3-3)The Vikings have never won at the Jets, going 0-5. To break that slump, the main weapon could be WR Adam Thielen. He had 11 catches for 123 yards last week Nick Easton Jersey Stitched , joining Houston’s Charley Hennigan (1961) as the only players in NFL history with 100 or more yards in each of his team’s first six games to begin a season. Thielen leads the NFL with 58 catches, the most by a player in the first six games in league history, and 712 yards receiving.Guess what: New York’s secondary is banged-up and porous.The Jets are seeking their first three-game winning streak since Weeks 3-5 of 2017.Los Angeles Rams (6-0) at San Francisco (1-5)Keeping the NFL’s only perfect record shouldn’t be too challenging for LA, which has the most dangerous offense around. RB Todd Gurley ran for a career-high 208 yards and two TDs last week. The Rams are averaging 32.7 points per game despite scoring TDs on only 56.7 percent of red-zone trips. Los Angeles also leads the NFL with 7.64 yards per play on first down.San Francisco blew a game at Green Bay last week and Niners QB C.J. Beathard is tied for the NFL worst with seven turnovers in the past three weeks since Jimmy Garoppolo tore up his knee. The Niners have an NFL-worst minus-11 turnover margin.New York Giants (1-5) at Atlanta (2-4), Monday nightMore injuries plagued the Falcons, who placed top running back Devonta Freeman on IR. No team has been more damaged by injuries in 2018, most of them coming on defense.That means Atlanta needs shootouts to have a chance most weeks, and QB Matt Ryan leads the NFL with 1,432 yards passing and a 128.2 rating since Week 3.He is tied for first with 12 TD passes in that span.New York’s D is vulnerable and the offense is enigmatic despite the presence of sensational rookie RB Saquon Barkley, and firebrand wideout Odell Beckham Jr. The O-line should be dubbed the “Awful-Line.”Detroit (2-3) at Miami (4-2)The Lions are feeling upbeat following a victory over Green Bay and a week off, but that special feeling could turn sour because of their special teams.Lions coverage units rank last on punts and sixth worst on kickoffs. The Dolphins rank second in kickoff return average and third in punt return average.Miami is no powerhouse, though. The Dolphins are tied for the AFC East lead even though they’ve been outgained by 398 yards.Cleveland (2-3-1) at Tampa Bay (2-3)The Dawg Pound was silenced in Cleveland when the Chargers pounded the Browns last week. Tampa will be hitting the airwaves, trying to find mismatches for WRs DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans. It won’t hurt the Bucs that Browns Pro Bowl MLB Joe Schobert is out with a hamstring injury. This will be his first game missed — at any level — due to injury.The Browns do lead the NFL with 16 takeaways, three more than all last season. Tampa has 11 giveaways.Buffalo (2-4) at Indianapolis (1-5)Remember Derek Anderson, most lately the backup to Newton in Carolina. He has surfaced as the new starter in Buffalo with rookie Josh Allen hurting and Nathan Peterman an interception machine.On the positive side, the Bills‘ defense is tied for the league lead with seven fumble recoveries.The Colts will try for the fifth time to win game No. 300 since moving to Indy in 1984. And placekicker Adam Vinatieri needs 10 points to break Morten Andersen’s scoring record (2,544 points).
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