When I first saw the numbers from Football Outsiders about the St. Louis Rams offensive line, I almost fell out of my seat. This deserved a post of its own. There's been some debate about the Rams offensive line after two weeks, with some fans pleased, others not so much. But the fact is, these number confirm the team's improvement up front.
Let's take a look at the numbers. (ALY = adjusted line yards, which is a statistical method for determining the line role and value on each carry by a RB. Here's a really involved explanation.) The 2009 digits with category rank in parentheses:
|3.96 (15)||5.26 (4)||100% (9)||33% (5)||26% (26)|
The standard caveat applies here, two games isn't a huge sample size, but when one of those games was against one of the league's better defensive lines, a unit featuring Albert Haynesworth, the small sample size becomes kind of noteworthy. In week one, Seattle's defense hadn't suffered the rash of injuries that helped Frank Gore have the week of a lifetime. The Seattle team we faced started the game with all of their linebackers, as well as DT Brandon Mebane, who was out last week. The Redskins DL, we've covered. That's an impressive ALY total for the Rams after those two games, and especially for a team that's been at the bottom of those rankings for the last two years.
Power runs are 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 have been 100% successful on those attempts. Again, that number won't be 100% at the end of the season, but it is an impressive return early on considering the defenses faced. In 2008, the Rams finished with a 66% power success rate.
10+, running plays for 10 yards or more, speaks more to the running back's ability, though when you consider that Steven Jackson's big run last week resulted from a nice second level block by Richie Incognito, you can't discount the line completely. Last year, just 16% of the Rams runs went for 10+ yards.
The stuffed percentage (Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage) clearly represents an area for improvement. I don't mean to sound like an apologist, but that reflects the more aggressive attacking defenses we've faced in the first two weeks. Last season, the Rams were stuffed 19% of the time.
It's hard to deny that the offensive line has improved since last year.
Let's take a look at the directional numbers.
In the middle, where the Rams have sent 31% of their running plays, they have just 2.53 ALY. Again, some of that is attributable to the defenses they've played. As far as the individual players go in the middle, I was ready to bemoan Jacob Bell when the season started, but he handled Haynesworth much better than I expected last week. That's who tied the big guy up on Jackson's 58-yard run.
Clearly the coaches are happy with Jason Smith's run blocking, since they've run 37% of the rushing attempts that direction for a very respectable 4.29 ALY. I can understand the arguments that maybe the Rams would have been better off taking one of the other coveted names with the second overall pick, but, for me, it's hard to argue against Smith's talent. This pick will look even better next season and beyond. I'll stand by that statement.
The right side has definitely been favored so far...in the very early proceedings. The team sent another 23% of their runs through the right end, for 4.85 ALY.
QB Marc Bulger has been sacked 4 times, representing 5.2% of the team's passing plays. That's the 16th best sack rate in the league. That's a number that is likely to change some during the season, and it doesn't account for the number of times Bulger's been rushed. Were the Rams starting Marc Bulger version 2007/08, that number would definitely be higher since that was the Bulger that had serious problems with letting go of the ball.
Last season the Rams finished with a 7.8% sack rate, and an 8.1% sake rate the year before.
For a line that has played together as a unit in just two games, going all the way back to the preseason, there have been real signs of progress over those two games. I really feel like this is unit that is going to get better as the season rolls along, and that's not hubris thrown out from behind a fan's blinders. That said, there's plenty of room for improvement, and we shouldn't settle for being middle of the pack. The fact remains, however, that the Rams have a much better offensive line than what we've seen in some time.