Slowly but surely, the St. Louis Rams offensive line has made great strides this season, both in run blocking and pass protection.
Without a doubt, much of that success comes from the relative health of the unit, having played together for every game this season, something that hasn't happened in years. Let's take a look at their stats and see what conclusions we might draw.
First, pass protection. Sam Bradford has been sacked 15 times this season. It's a middle of the pack number, far off the 31 sacks allowed by Chicago and a long way from the 5 allowed by Kansas City. However, figured into the total passing attempts, the Rams offense has a sack rate of 5 percent, tied for 7th best in the league. Last year, the Rams had a 7.7 percent sack rate...and that was their best since 2005. Much credit to rookie LT Rodger Saffold and second year RT Jason Smith. The Rams were smart to invest in their offensive line BEFORE drafting a quarterback, even if it did mean one more painful season of rock-bottom football.
And how about the run blocking?
It used to be that Steven Jackson performed well in spite of the offensive line. That's changing. Through seven weeks, here are the numbers:
Adjusted line yards: 4.00, 19th
RB yards: 3.85
That indicates that the OL is opening running lanes for Steven Jackson. It was usually flipped, with most of the Rams' rushing yards coming because of Steven Jackson's ability rather than the line itself.
They also do well on 3rd and 4th down "power" situations, less than 2 yards to go for a 1st down or TD, with a 69 percent success rate (11th). Runs are "stuffed," tackled at the line or behind it, just 18 percent of the time (16th).
Directionally, 58 percent of the Rams' rushing plays have come through middle, with a 3.60 adjusted line yards number, 23rd. That's slightly below last year's ALY of 3.70, but not a big surprise considering that defenses are still loading the box against Jackson.
The last two games were the Rams' best in terms of rushing DVOA, with 13.7 percent mark against San Diego and a 10.9 percent against Tampa Bay. I think some of that improvement has come about with the team using John Greco more on run blocking, where he gives them some heft to clear defenders. I don't have the numbers on hand, but their results on runs in the middle have improved.
The best direction for the Rams is on the right side. Runs over the RT have an ALY number of 4.14, 13th, and off the right end they have a league best 6.68 ALY. They run through those spots 16 and 6 percent of the time, respectively.
One cause for some slight concern is in the open field, where the Rams have the 22nd ranked 0.55 open field yards (Yardage gained by running backs at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by total running back carries). That's off last year's mark of 0.88 open field yards. What's going on?
Jackson has run for 20+ yards just twice this season. He did it 10 times last year. That puts him on pace for just about 5 runs of 20 yards or more, which would be his lowest total since 2004, his rookie year. SJ39 has started picking up more yards in his last three games, but he hasn't had a run of 20+ yards since week 3 against Washington.
That could have something to do with his groin which he was dealing with for two of his last 3 games. It might also say something about the downfield blocking of the Rams young receivers. Opponent-wise, San Diego and Seattle are both top ten defenses in terms of open field yards, but Detroit and Tampa Bay are among the four worst teams in the league.