I don't know that you can overstate just how much the St. Louis Rams are counting on a rebound season from their offensive line, especially the two tackles. Rodger Saffold, who mans the left side, might be the most important of the bunch. Fortunately, there is reason to believe that he should be able to bounce back to at least an above average level of play.
Ben Muth at Football Outsiders breaks down one of the Rams' more eggregious struggles with blocking, a Week 4 loss last season to the Washington Redskins in which they sacked Sam Bradford seven times. SEVEN times.
Saffold was credited with three or four sacks in that game. Assigning blame for sacks is difficult. But in this case the game plan left Saffold struggling.
Like many tackles, Saffold struggled against Brian Orakpo.
The main problem Saffold had was Brian Orakpo's bull rush. The Rams were constantly in passing situations due to their 317 false starts in this game, and as a result Orakpo was able to line up in a wide-nine technique. Saffold had to bust his butt to kick out to him, and because Saffold was so concerned with Orakpo's speed, he wasn't able to re-adjust his body weight to anchor down when the bull rush came.
Despite those problems, the Rams never sent an extra blocker or changed the game plan to help Saffold. They used an extra blocker early to help an overwhelmed Jason Smith, but even called that off in the second half. It's a pretty stark reminder that Josh McDaniels was constantly outmatched as an offensive coordinator and Steve Spagnuolo was out of his league as a head coach. Their steadfast refusal to change the game plan, and only to something worse when they did, hogtied the Rams all year.
All is not lost. Saffold still possesses the ability to play left tackle in the NFL. Muth explains:
He has a very natural looking pass set. He does a nice job of getting depth without turning his shoulders. In the running game, I thought he blocked well at the second level and got decent movement against down linemen (though he seemed to get the benefit of a lot of doubles). On top of that, he just moves well out there. He looks the part.
You really need to go read the full piece. The author goes further to diagram a disastrous play in which Jason Brown is sent out wide to protect Bradford from Orakpo, a play which ends exactly how you would expect it to.
And for those of you still worried about the line this season, check this out:
Really, I don't think the line is that far off from being decent. I like Dahl, and I think Saffold will bounce back from a tough year. Smith might make some nervous, but most lines have one guy like that. Plus, if they can get away from using so many five-man protection schemes, I think the unit will look much better to the casual observer.