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Salient points: The lessons of 2010 that will impact the Rams in 2011

Over at the New York Times' Fifth Down NFL blog, they break down the St. Louis Rams today. It's a brief, but thorough look back at the Rams' 2010 season. In a few paragraphs it makes some salient points to keep in mind as the 2011 NFL season approaches. 

Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith get solid reviews here. On Saffold & Smith:

A lot of people are trumpeting left tackle Rodger Saffold as The Next Big Thing. Given the way he improved his pass protection over the course of the season, he might just be.

Like young right tackle Jason Smith (who has quick feet but must deliver contact more resoundingly), Saffold almost never required tight end blocking help.

The Rams have a solid offensive foundation in place for a long time with Saffold and Smith protecting Bradford on the edges. A lot of people still criticize the Smith pick. "Why pay second-overall pick money to a right tackle," the thinking goes. That kind of thinking is outdated in today's NFL that puts a premium on pass rushing from all angles, strong side, weak side, blind side and all the others. As the NFL evolves into a passing league defenses will value blitzes from all angles, just as Steve Spagnuolo, and that requires teams to have the best blockers they can bookending their offensive line... well as the middle, which is a problem for the Rams according to this analysis. The author notes the interior line's propensity to get pushed back and lack of power, going so far as to strip away the idea of Jason Brown as an elite center. 

A lot of people blame left guard Jacon Bell for St. Louis's lack of power on the inside line, but Brown was the weaker of the two in 2010. Too often bull-rushers drove him into the backfield or played him to a draw in situations where he should have been able to clear a path.

I think he means Adam Goldberg. Bell, though not a power blocker, was solid this year. He got to the second level, pulled well and had his athleticism back...he even stayed off the injury list. 

I go back and forth on Brown. He was never the Nick Mangold power guy, but plays with solid fundamentals and an understanding of the defense in front of him. Linemen, especially interior linemen, are also effected by the players next to them, so you have to wonder whether the tandem of Brown and Goldberg together created additional issues. Remember how much better the Rams blocking looked with John Greco in there? That Spagnuolo chose to keep Fraley active because he could play center is telling. Was Brown playing through an injury? There are a lot of questions to answer with Brown...and the Rams don't have many options to address their interior line at this point either. 

A point about the Rams pass rush...

Defensive end James Hall was not the pass-rushing presence that his 10.5 sacks suggested, and counterpart Chris Long was disruptive but not in a way that alters an opponent's game plan.

At first that's a bit of a surprise, but when you think back to the better offensive lines the Rams played it's not at all. Against teams like New Orleans or Atlanta, the Rams had the dual challenge of keeping their linebackers in coverage most of the time and relying exclusively on their front four to pressure the passer. It didn't work. Even against lesser teams, when they had seven men in coverage the pass rush suffered. The scheme trumped personnel, and it's a big reason why Robert Quinn was the Rams' first round pick this year. Even raw around the edges, Quinn should give the Rams pass rush the speed it lacks. Saving Hall from playing every snap should also help him keep some effectiveness as a 34-year-old.

I'll leave it to you to go and read the rest, including the highlights. But there is one I'll throw out there for you.

Bradley Fletcher wasn't physical but still showed hints of No. 1 corner potential. 

This could be a breakthrough year for BFB. We noted earlier last month that he's primed for a big season, in no small part because he should be full recovered and in even better shape two years removed from a nasty knee injury.