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Thoughts on the Rams' offensive line performance

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The St. Louis Rams got better pass blocking from their offensive line this year than in seasons past, but was the unit good enough?
The St. Louis Rams got better pass blocking from their offensive line this year than in seasons past, but was the unit good enough?

This season, the St. Louis Rams pass protection didn't get the discussion it once did. A big reason for that was that the Rams pass protection was much better than it used to be. 

Sam Bradford was sacked 34 times on 590 passing attempts (5th most in the NFL). The team's sack rate, via Football Outsiders, was 5.6 percent, the 10th best sack rate in the league. You have to go all the way back to 1999 to find a season in which the Rams allowed fewer than 40 sacks; they allowed 33 that year on 530 attempts. 

What are others saying about the Rams OL and what do the numbers say?

Part of the credit for the low sack total goes to Sam Bradford and the hated dink and dunk and passing game. Bradford's quick throws and mobility outside the pocket prevented some sacks and staved off pressure at times, and the short passing game negated some of that as well.

As far the offensive line goes, we've talked extensively about the offensive line's pass protection, especially in regards to their run blocking. Health finally cooperated with the Rams offensive line, leaving the same starting five together for most of the season. However, pass protection wasn't flawless. Clearly, it's an area of improvement for next season, something that should happen naturally as young players like Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith grow into their roles.

A piece at Pro Football Focus pointing out the offensive line as the issue that kept the Rams out of the playoffs. It didn't help the Rams' cause, but there are a few other issues that might be more to blame for the Rams on the outside looking in, like maybe the glaring issue at receiver. Even some of the issues related to the coaching decisions might have carried more weight. The article mentions run blocking from the OTs specifically, leaving out the terrible run blocking in the middle of the field, and a conversation with PFF this morning on Twitter dealt mostly with the pass protection. Either way, let's look at the OL in more detail. First, here's what PFF had to say about the Rams tackles in their article:

...their offensive line just doesn't get it done, especially their tackles. Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith might have bright futures, but the blue-chippers were both subpar this year, especially in opening up holes for Steven Jackson.

And via Twitter:

@RamsHerd @TurfShowTimes Point we were making was that pass pro doomed the Rams, needs to improve. Exactly who is secondary

Obviously, there's a little dissonance between the article and the Twitter discussion, but let's fight every urge to point out that, clearly, the middle of the Rams OL was the bigger problem in run blocking than the OTs, and still with the pass pro for a minute. 

Late in the season, the worst possible time, the pass protection faltered most, giving up 10 sacks in their last four games; 3 sacks each against NO, KC and SEA. Saffold's mistake in the NO game that allowed a defender to get pressure on Bradford while trying to throw, leading to an INT particularly stands out. 

Just a couple quick stats, focusing on sacks and knowing that sacks aren't the only measure of pass protection. 

Per Stats, Inc., Jason Smith allowed 4 sacks this season; Saffold allowed 3.5; Jacob Bell allowed 2.5; Jason Brown allowed 2.5; and Adam Goldberg allowed 4.5. That doesn't account for all 34 sacks, because the OL aren't the only ones to blame. We saw Bradford hold on the ball too long a couple of times, and the pass blocking from the running backs was very problematic at times, especially in those games with Kenneth Darby on the sidelines and unable to contribute on third downs. 

Bradford's success on rollouts to the right side lends some credence to Smith's development as a starting offensive tackle. Saffold had allowed just two sacks through eleven games this year. 

Down the stretch, however, Saffold and the rest of the line lapsed, letting protection become an issue. Like I mentioned above, ten sacks in the last four games of the season, with three sacks versus NO and KC, two of the better teams the Rams played this season. Purely anecdotal, but quality of opponents and the longer NFL season surely had an impact on the rookie and the near-rookie. 

The tackles and the rest of the line should get better next season, and they seem more than talented enough to do just that. For all the criticisms being leveled at the Rams coaching staff in the wake of a needless week 17 loss, one thing they have done well is get their rookies to improve over the course of two seasons.

And a note about the OTs and run blocking. Using Football Outsiders' OL stats, the Rams had 3.84 adjusted line yards on runs at the LT spot (22nd ranked); they had 3.71 ALY at the RT spot (23rd). At right end, the Rams had a league-best 6.10 ALY, and at left end it was 3.53 ALY (24th best). 

That's a big drop off at LT from last year when the Rams had 5.27 ALY at that spot. They had 3.88 ALY at the RT spot last year, when the rotation included both Smith and Goldberg. So, yeah, run blocking needs to get better too. 

Request for the community

If you're film inclined, we'd like your help. Specifically, we want to see some film on the interior offensive line, Jason Brown, Jacob Bell and Adam Goldberg, comparing the 2010 performance to seasons past.