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The 4 trench matchups to watch in the 2019 NFL Conference Championship Round

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz previews the key OL vs. pass rush battles this weekend.

Los Angeles Rams v New Orleans Saints Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The NFL Conference Championship Weekend is upon us! The winners will then head to Atlanta for the Super Bowl. Everyone will have you covered with the matchup on the edges, but who’s going to have you covered in the trenches? Guess what, I will. Let’s talk about these offensive lines and the matchups I’m looking at.

The four teams playing these weekend have elite offenses. This is the NFL in the 2018 season. These offenses can do it all. They score points at a high level and run efficient offenses, both in the run and the pass.

How the offenses ranked in the NFL this season

Team Points per game DVOA Yards per play
Team Points per game DVOA Yards per play
Kansas City 1 1 1
Los Angeles 2 2 2
New Orleans 3 4 7
New England 4 5 9

And shocking to no one, when you have an excellent offense, your offensive line is elite. There’s no way to have a great offense without having some uglies up front to move defenders off the ball and protect the quarterback. Here’s how these offensive lines stack up, per Football Outsiders:

OL rankings

Team Adjusted rushing Adjusted sack rate
Team Adjusted rushing Adjusted sack rate
Los Angeles 1 6
New Orleans 2 3
New England 3 1
Kansas City 16 5

So yes, these offensive lines can ball. And although the Chiefs are middle of the pack for adjusted rushing, they are sixth in yards per rush.

Let’s look at some important matchups for the offensive lines this weekend.

NFC Championship

The first matchup is when the Saints are on offense and the Rams are on defense. The second is when the Rams are on offense and the Saints are defense.

Andrus Peat vs. Aaron Donald

Saints left guard Andrus Peat was outstanding last season. I thought he played well this season but battled through injury. Injuries are still a concern for Peat this weekend after it was revealed he played last weekend with a busted hand. During the bye week, Peat had surgery to fix a broken hand. He played with that surgically repaired hand against the Eagles and it was a rough go. Peat was called for four penalties — two holdings and two false starts — and had some issues in the run game. I can only imagine. Our hands are our job and not being able to use one of them effectively can be detrimental to our play.

Now Peat is up against Aaron Donald. We know all about Aaron Donald. Donald can straight up ruin a game. The Saints MUST find ways to get Peat help any way possible. They can send Max Unger his direction in pass protection but in the run game, they can slow up Donald but trying to cut him and get at his legs.

Rob Havenstein vs. Cam Jordan

Sheldon Rankins suffering a torn Achilles this past weekend is a HUGE loss for the Saints. Rankins helped their second-ranked rushing defense and was able to terrorize quarterbacks on the regular. If Rankins were healthy, he’d be the matchup to highlight. Instead, we will highlight Cam Jordan against Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein. Havenstein was the third-best right tackle in the NFL this season and he can do everything well. He’s going against Jordan, who’s routinely underrated as a player.

Jordan has an amazing ability to reach the edge against an offensive lineman with his jump chop move. He jumps to the outside, knocks down your hands, and pulls himself through. He sets it up with a strong bull rush early in the game. It gets an offensive lineman leaning. Havenstein will have to stay balanced in his sets to avoid getting up pressures to Jordan. I think he’s up to the challenge.

AFC Championship

Let’s start with the Chiefs’ pass rush against the New England offensive line and then the Kansas City OL against the Patriots’ defensive pressure.

Trent Brown/Marcus Cannon vs. Dee Ford/Justin Houston

The Patriots have a fabulous offensive line. They are underrated. They’ve kept Tom Brady upright, and it’s hard for me to find a matchup to watch. They traded for Trent Brown this offseason and he’s been rock solid at left tackle. Marcus Cannon has been solid for years now. However, both these guys will need to play well this weekend at Arrowhead.

Dee Ford had his best professional season: 13 sacks and 29 QB hits. Then there’s Justin Houston, who’s been in the lineup full-time since Week 13. In that time, including the playoff game, Houston has seven sacks and nine quarterback hits. If the Patriots get behind early, they will need their tackles to hold if they want to throw it around the field.

Chiefs offensive line vs. New England’s pressure packages/stunt/twist games

The Patriots front four doesn’t strike fear because on the whole they don’t rush the passer well one-on-one. However, the Patriots are elite at generating pressure by bringing extra men and stunting up front. I’m sure the Patriots will have something dialed up the Chiefs. I have no fear the Chiefs will be ready for all of this. If they can block it up, Patrick Mahomes can make the Patriots pay.