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Doin' Lines: Grading the Rams' offensive line

Let's start the day with some lines!

Oh you, I mean the offensive line. Just what exactly were you thinking about?

The Rams O line is a study in paradox. In terms of pass protection, they rank near the bottom of the league. According to Football Outsiders statistical rankings for offensive lines, the Rams' O line has allowed 22 sacks and sport an adjusted sack rate (percentage of pass plays resulting in a sack) of 7.9%, 13th worst in the league.

Yet, Mark Bulger is on pace for a career season. He's got the second best QB rating, 101.3, 1946 passing yards, 12 TDs, 2 fumbles, and just 1 INT. He's also got a very healthy 63% completion rate. In part, this is a testament to Bulger's ability; at 29 years old, he's quietly joined the ranks of the league's elite quarterbacks. Not bad for an offensive line in the bottom half of the league for pass protection.

As far as sacks allowed go, missed assignments by running backs and tight ends, not to mention injuries and guys not playing at 100% this season, have a lot to do with it. This week, against the Chargers, a missed assignment and a poorly executed block by the full back and the tight end, respectively, added two sacks the Rams' total sacks allowed. Learning new plays and a truly un-Martzian approach to the offense, deserves at least part of the blame.

Points in a Line

Let's break it down further, section by section and identify the weak spots. With Michael Lewis' new book, the left tackle is in the spotlight. Why the left tackle? Because for a right handed QB they protect his blind side, gaurding agaisnt the defenders coming at the QB that he pick up because they're not in his field of vision. The left side, because of the prominance of right-handed QBs, gets the attention, but for left-handed QBs the right side bears the same responsibility.

With 1997 first rounder Orlando Pace being given the franchise tag, the left side has been a particular strength through the years. But, in terms of adjusted line yards (ALY), the left side isn't the Rams' strength, from Football Outsiders. At the left tackle spot, the Rams are getting 3.70 ALY, 27th in the league. At left end, the Rams post 2.43 ALY, also ranking them 27th in the league.

In the middle, behind first time center Richie Incognito, and guards Todd Steussie and Adam Timmerman, the Rams shine. Here, the Rams are posting 4.76 ALY, 5th best in the NFL. A full 53% of the Rams running plays go this route, not an unusual number with a league average of 48% of rushing plays going through those holes. And to think we lost to Marty Ball this week!

On the right side, it's a mixed bag. At right tackle, the Rams are getting 3.55 ALY, just 24th in the NFL. At right end, it's 5.20 ALY, 5th best in the NFL.

Overall, the Rams line is mediocre on run blocking. With an overall ALY of 4.30, 12th best in the league. But how dependent are we on the line for the running game versus the running back? There's a statistical measue for that involving the ALY rank and another statistical measurement called 10+ Yards, explained thusly, "Percentage of a team's rushing yards more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.  Represents yardage not reflected in Adjusted Line Yards stat." This stat is dependent far more on the individual running back. So we can contrast the two to partially determine how dependent the Rams are on the line versus the RB for rushing plays.

13% of the Rams' rushing yards come on runs going more than 10 yards past the line, ranking us 22nd overall in the 10+ yards category. Versus our 12th place overall rank for ALY. Thus, the Rams are more dependent on the line for their running game than they are on the individual runners.

All in all, it's about what you'd expect, given what we've seen this season. It's surprising that the Rams aren't getting better blocking overall on the left side, given the franchise player at Left Tackle. Some, dissonace, however, can be attributed to young Tight Ends, a dramatically different offensive scheme, and the fact that it's still Bulger's blind side no matter how good the blocking is.

The biggest surprise on the line is the play of Incognito. He's an experienced lineman, but he's playing center, a tough position to learn, for the first time in his pro career. Although it looked like he was revealing the count in the shotgun with his regular series of headchecks resulting in tacklers coming through the middle so fast they looked offsides, but a varried count could overcome that. He's giving an impressive performance nonetheless.

Rating the O line isn't an easy proposition, as players get beat bad some times no matter how good they are, and much of our judgement should still rely on how they look over the course of an individual game. Still, they get a solid mark.

Now if only the defensive line could catch up.