Despite some new faces in new places up front, the results look disturbingly familiar for the St. Louis Rams' offensive line. On the surface pass protection in the middle of the line has improved over last season, but run blocking seems to be too irratic to make a difference. What's the issue here? Is it a matter of balance or performance?
The Rams have legitimate offensive weapon in RB Steven Jackson, so the game plan for defending against their offense is simple: stop the run. Week after week teams stack the box with 8-10 defenders making holes difficult to open for the offensive line. Those teams concede the pass, knowing that the Rams don't have the talent at WR to do much more than chip away with 4, 5 and 6 yard passes.
Look at the Rams first half performance against the Colts last week. Jackson had one run that went for more than 4 yards, a 9-yard run on the first play of their last drive of the half. Somehow, the second half, third quarter anyway, was much different. Jackson broke off an 11-yard run on drive that featured two Alex Barron penalties. The next drive started with three consectutive runs of 10+ yards. It was great to see, even though the inconsistency from the first two quarters was maddening.
Let's look at some stats.
According to FO's OL numbers, the Rams are generating 3.81 adjusted line yards (through week 6) per carry. That's good enough for 19th in the NFL. Last year, the Rams had 3.73 adjusted line yards per carry. Statistically, things are better. But there are some troubling numbers within.
In "power" situations (defined as: Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer) the Rams are successful just 44% of the time, ranked 30th in the league. Rams runners are being tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage (stuffed) 21% of the time (ranked 20th).
Compare those to last year. Power: 66%, ranked 16th; Stuffed: 19%, ranked 20th.
Though it doesn't paint a full picture, the decline in power success certainly does owe something to teams having only to concern themselves with Jackson. How much?
Now, let's look at directional stats, adjusted line yards and percentage of running plays through those five directions defined by FO.
Compare that to last season.
First of all, why are they not running to the left side more? I suspect the numbers for the right side have something to do with the changes at RT where Smith and Goldberg have split playing time. The change from '08 to '09 also has to do with the more experienced Barron moving over to the left side. Still, lots of factors go into those numbers, so it's hard to break them down based exclusively on a player.
The one number that is a little surprising is the mid/guard number. There's been virtually no change despite the fact that the Rams signed free agents C Jason Brown and FB Mike Karney. Runs up the middle should be better. Of course, how much of that goes back to the stacking the box to counter Jackson more this year than last.