Setting aside the disappointing play of the offensive tackles in Saturday's game, one of the more curious slash disappointing moves in the St. Louis Rams offensive line's woeful performance was the decision to move Jason Brown from center to right guard and start Hank Fraley at center.
Spagnuolo explained the decision in terms of the matchup; He wanted a bigger body at guard against the larger defensive tackles in Minnesota's 4-3 scheme. With injuries forcing both Jacob Bell and John Greco to the sidelines that night, the Rams coaches didn't have many options to choose from among their starting interior linemen, leaving Brown, Fraley and Goldberg as the three guys they had to work with.
Sticking with the size issue, had Greco and his 329 lbs been available, I have no doubt that the starting interior would have had he and Goldberg at the guard spots and Brown back in the middle.
You also wonder about the move in terms of continuity. Had Brown stayed at center, the Rams and Fraley played OG, the interior o-line would have had two established guys in the middle. Goldberg having spent enough time filling in OG last year to know the position and the grouping well. The only new faces in new places on the OL in that case would have been Saffold at LT and Fraley at RG. On the surface at least, that combo would have provided some continuity.
Missed assignments were a factor in the sacks, as identified by Spagnuolo himself. The center has the primary responsibility for making those line calls, getting guys to be aware of their responsibility of who to block.
However, Brown was back at center when Bradford came into the game and the Rams line started giving up sacks. So how come the line blocked the Vikings starting defense better than their second string? The Vikings second teamers were more aggressive than the starters, who didn't play but a series or two. Which makes what happened to the Rams OL even more frightening had Jared Allen and the Williams brothers been working against this unit in a regular season game.
Without having the video in front of me, I know that at least two of the sacks Bradford took came from the outside, from the Rams OTs getting beat. Still, the inside of the line wasn't strong at holding the point of attack. They also failed to do much of anything in the run game, as witnessed by the two runs on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 that ended Bradford's first drive. So what happened to the interior line and what's next?
Hank Fraley did nothing to impress, at either spot. He seemed to lack power and mobility, getting owned at the line. Fraley helped anchor a pretty good OL in Cleveland in 2007, but in the two subsequent years, the middle part of the Browns' OL was weak. I don't know much else about the Browns' OL, so I present that fact with an asterisk next to it. Brown and Goldberg both have precedent on their sides, particularly Brown who was back in familiar territory at C when Bradford came into the game, ditto for Goldberg. I suspect having Fraley next to Jason Smith made his struggles with defenders getting around him on the inside slightly more pronounced. The running backs also did a poor job in pass protection on those plays.
I asked the guys at Pro Football Focus via Twitter about the logic in Spags decision about Brown, here's what they said:
There's logic to it. RG is the most on an island of the 3 interior guys, so the most likely to be 1 on 1 vs the DT
That was Richie Incognito at that spot last year, for most of the season anyway. And it makes you think that Greco would be the first in line for that job this year, given his size. After him, you drop further down the depth chart to guys who may have some talent, but lack the experience, e.g. Roger Allen III.
Bell is expected to be back in action this week, though limited, begging the question of whether or not they'll move Goldberg, 309 lbs, to the right side. Greco is out another week, at least.
The most watched story in the Rams camp this week will be the offensive line. The tackles will get most of the press, but the configuration of the interior will be important to keep you eye on too.