Anyone who has watched the St. Louis Rams over the last three years (especially those that actually watched all 16 games) knows just how damaging injuries and the team's lack of depth on the offensive line was for the team, not to mention the well-paid guys playing behind said line.
This year, the Rams look to have much improved o-line depth behind their starters. Tonight, against the Falcons, two starters will sit out: LT Alex Barron and LG Jacob Bell. Which brings us to the question:
Is the Rams offensive line depth good enough?
This week, with Barron and Bell out, the left of the Rams line will have quite a different look. Adam Goldberg has filled in at LT during the regular season. Next to him will be John Greco, as well as Mark Setterstrom and Roy Scheuning who'll get some time with the first team.
The Falcons totaled 34 sacks last season, for a 6.9% adjusted sack rate. That put them solidly in the middle of the pack. They sacked Marc Bulger three times last season, which was really no great feat for opposing defenses. They were, however, rather costly sacks considering how close the game was. One came late in the second quarter, on 4th-and-3 with the Rams leading 7-3. The Falcons scored on their next possession. The last sack came on the Rams final possession of the game, just after the two minute warning with the Falcons leading 31-27. It was 2nd-and-2, and the sack made it 3rd-and-10. The rest is history.
None of those three sacks came from the Falcons' sack leader John Abraham, who had 16.5 last year. However, the Falcons move him from side-to-side to play the matchup, so this could create problems for the Rams blockers. Atlanta uses LB Stephen Nichols against the pass, mostly because of his coverage skills, but he did get a sack against the Rams last year.
Atlanta struggled against the run last year. Staring in the are 2009 first round pick Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux; both players are good one-gap technique tackles who could figure heavily in the team's pass rush, but could struggle against the run. The Rams tough middle linemen should be able to handle both players, and I'm curious as to whether or not the Falcons will double team Jason Brown. The guards filling in for Bell have a decent matchup with either of these two DTs.
Players to watch:
Jason Smith - He'll be starting on the right side tonight. Smith has shown real aplomb in run blocking but Abraham and other Atlanta rushers will be looking to give him a proper introduction to NFL-level pass blocking. I suspect the Rams, on passing plays, will put the TE on the right side or assign someone from the backfield to reinforce pass protection on Smith's side of the line. This is Smith's golden opportunity to play himself into a starting job.
John Greco - Last year's third round pick, Greco got his first NFL start against the Falcons, making a good impression and giving us all reason to believe that the line's depth was indeed better.
Mark Setterstrom - Had a great debut filling in for injured starters in his rookie season, 2006, playing both guard positions. His injury early in 2007 hurt the Rams line, making Milford Brown the starter. A serious preseason knee injury put him out all last season. Setterstrom has proven his ability, and now needs to prove that he's 100% ready to play again.