Just as we always suspected, this old saw is proving to be true for the Rams. Our front five are solidly mediocre, although they've displayed Paul Boudreau's characteristic resiliency, adaptability, and consistent depth. A shout-out should also go to the good blocking our tight ends and receivers have produced since Jeff Fisher's "preseason" reboot.
But let's take a look at the last five games to see why this is true. In the three wins, our OL faced similarly mediocre front sevens, particularly teams that have given up bottom-20 rushing totals throughout the season. In the two losses, they faced top-10 defensive lines known for stout run defense.
Admittedly, this could just be coincidence. But let's look at how the rest of the team performed. In the wins, the DL got penetration against opposing OL's with good track records, helping our challenged secondary hold back otherwise superior receiving corps, beating offenses known for consistency and explosiveness.
The only standout among the five offenses we faced would be SF - a power running, read-option team with a great OL. The other four share similar qualities - good slot and explosive downfield receivers, good tight ends, home-run-threat backs, and smart, efficient passers. So what gives? This brings us back to my original contention - the Rams' OL matchups.
It's the only real difference between the wins and the losses, and it percolates through the rest of the team's performances. When the Rams' run blocking - and I'm including our TE's, backs, and WR's here - can dominate the line of scrimmage for the run game, it helps us score early and often, and runs down the clock. Even in a game like yesterday's vs. the Saints, where we didn't use play action much despite a strong run game, it keeps the ball out of Kellen Clemens' hands, which seems to do wonders for his accuracy.
On the other side of the ball, the cliche proves true - it helps the defense by keeping them off the field. Our front four are of less concern, as the depth on DL lessens the need for fresh legs, but it shows in our secondary. Janoris Jenkins' play get sloppier the longer he's out on the field jawing and letting opposing receivers get into his head. The fewer stupid penalties going on in the backfield, the more the refs get to focus on the outrageous holding Robert Quinn faces on almost every play - he practically gives left tackles no other option - and the more we find ourselves defending easy third-and-long situations. And our secondary, which is down to the bottom of its depth as is, and can't sub out as easily as the front four, can defend better when they get plenty of time to rest between possessions.
I'll put it this way - with the exception of when he's facing a guy like Joe Staley, there's absolutely no other reason Robert Quinn shouldn't be giving QB's headaches every Sunday and having multiple-sack games. We obviously don't have the talent to be a pass-first offense like NOLA, and Schottenheimer's play-calling discipline is still too weak for him to stick to the run against heavy run defenses. Which all means that when our OL can dominate the run game, the Rams are likely to win more often than not, even when pitted in supposedly lopsided matchups.