Using protection: Josh McDaniels and blocking with skill players

We know he catch, but can Steven Jackson block enough for the St. Louis Rams new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels?

Today our friends at Pro Football Focus kick off a week long look at pass protection. The series rolls out with a look at quarterback pressures allowed by each NFL team and the various parts of their pass protection scheme, from the offensive line to the quarterback. For this post, we're interested in the use of skill players - the running backs, receivers and tight ends - in pass protection and what impact it may have on the St. Louis Rams for 2011. 

Mike Clay, author of the PFF piece, breaks down the cumulative number of snaps for a team's skill players in pass protection for 2010. Last year, St. Louis' skill players combined for a total of 409 snaps in pass pro, allowing 35 pressures. That works out to skill players allowing pressure on 8.56 percent of snaps, ranked 25th in league. 

A couple quick thoughts. First, the Rams' receivers fooled nobody as their blocking ability. For all the talk of Austin Pettis' size as a red zone target, he can also block. So can Greg Salas. Of course, running backs do some heavy lifting in pass blocking, and that is an area where the Rams lack. Steven Jackson has improved as a blocker, but can still be a liability in that role. Kenneth Darby was the team's best pass blocker; the Rams declined to offer him an RFA tender. We'll come back to this in a minute. It will be interesting to see how the tight end trio of Michael Hoomanawanui, Lance Kendricks and Billy Bajema do in pass blocking this year, because...

Josh McDaniels likes to use his skill players in pass protection. In fact, his Broncos led the league in skill players on snaps in pass protection, per PFF, with 587 cumulative snaps. They did a pretty good job of it too, allowing 30 pressures for a 5.11 percent rate, 6th best in the league. I can't speak to Denver's skilled players specifically. Their tight ends were mostly blockers, and a bevy of running backs worked through McDaniels' roster last year. Some of that also accounts for a weaker offensive line. 

Drawing a straight line conclusion is dangerous business. With the two-TE emphasis borrowed from his old boss, McDaniels has already signaled that his Rams' offense will be different than his Denver offense. New England's skilled players saw just 303 snaps in pass protection last year.

One conclusion I think that can be drawn from this is that the Rams will need to add a pass blocking running back via free agency. That probably explains some of the Cadillac Williams talk. 

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