Cohesion is the most important trait an offensive line needs to have. The offensive line is a unit that is as good as the sum of its parts. At skill positions and along the defensive line, exceptional players can have a great impact on the game in their own right. Along the offensive line, generally, all five players have to be competent and flow together for any given play to work.
Rodger Saffold gave the Rams offensive line cohesion and a true anchor. He is no superstar, but he was the most talented, violent and savvy linemen that the Rams had. Sadly, Saffold only survived the first four games of the season, going down with a season ending injury in the fifth week of the season versus the Green Bay Packers. The Rams offensive line was never truly good last year, but Saffold's presence made it functional.
Cohesion, violence and savvy. Saffold puts all of his best traits on display here. The Rams are running an outside zone play with the offensive line moving to the left and Lance Kendricks coming the opposite way to lock up the free defender. Center Tim Barnes' first step off of the line is poor and he does not get into great position to make this block in his own right. Saffold, knowing he has the room to get help his center and still get to the linebacker, delivers a massive blindside blow to Rodney Gunter (95), putting him in the dirt. Saffold then quickly readjusts his body, moves to Deone Buccanon and stands him up. Todd Gurley ends up taking the cut back route here because of Barnes' poor effort off the line and inability to win his own block.
This example really highlights Saffold's nuance. He understands tendencies and how to counter them. Frostee Rucker (92) tries to get to Saffold's right shoulder and drive him back. Saffold fires his left hand into Rucker's chest and jolts him back a bit while he uses his right hand to pull Rucker out of his gap. Once Rucker is out of the gap a bit, Saffold resets his feet and continues to force him out of the way.
Saffold could be counted on more than any other offensive lineman on the team. He did more in his own right than anyone else, on top of his ability to help out others on his way to his assignment. Now, Saffold also had times where he completely spaced on his assignment or got beat to his spot, but those moments for Saffold did not happen all too often, in comparison to the rest of the line. He was the constant anchor that the Rams needed up front.
The Rams could not get it together without Saffold. A handful of players, from Jamon Brown to Cody Wichmann, stepped in for Saffold throughout the remainder of the season. None of his replacements had sustained success, and Brown's move to right guard also weakened his normal left guard spot. With Saffold sidelined, teams began teeing off on the guards, which also exposed Barnes at center. The interior fell apart.
Wichmann (69) is lost here. Arizona shifts their defensive line just before the snap. As the play goes live, Wichmann steps off the line and hesitates as if he was going to help Barnes with his block. Without making a physical effort to help Barnes, Wichmann tries to get over to help out Rob Havenstein (79) with a double team block before Havenstein moves up to the second level. Havenstein, expecting Wichmann to have been there, works to the linebacker, but Wichmann is not yet in position because of his previous hesitation, allowing Ed Stinson (91) into the backfield. Wichmann's mental mishap derailed any shot at cohesively blocking the Cardinals defense on this play.
Barnes needs to help Garrett Reynolds (71) on this play. He moves as if he is going to help Wichmann, but Gunter, the defender in the left A-gap, looks slanted toward Barnes and away from Reynolds. Gunter is able to gain a lot of ground with his first step because he already is not head up with Reynolds. Between Gunter's alignment and slant, this is a very low percentage block for Reynolds unless he gets a chip from Barnes to allow Reynolds to swivel his feet and get square with Gunter. Ultimately, Barnes halfheartedly assists Wichmann before moving to the linebacker, who he fails to cut block.
This play is different from the last because Barnes' assignment is the second level, meaning he should have the time to chip and move on. In the Wichmann play beforehand, Wichmann's assignment was to get to the far defender, double team him with Havenstein momentarily and then allow Havenstein to move to the second level. The two errors may look the same because of the nature of zone blocking, but that is not the case.
Of course, the offensive line had its moments without Saffold and created room for a handful of stellar runs. Barnes can be a road grader when he gets clear one-on-one situations, Havenstein was fine when he was healthy, Greg Robinson was a high variance player whose good plays gave hope for the future, and Brown found his footing a bit, at his unnatural position, more as the year went on. Though, the line was night and day when the Rams had Saffold as opposed to when they did not. A full year of Saffold leading the way for Gurley is going to be pivotal for the rushing offense.