The Rams smash the record
If I'm reading their numbers correctly, the 2018 Rams offensive line own the best run blocking score ever recorded by Football Outsiders, finishing the season with 5.49 Adjusted Line Yards. This is a Bob Beamon level accomplishment considering that the previous record was 5.13 ALY, set by the 2002 Denver Broncos. After their great 2017 season, some experts wondered whether the aging Rams line would take a step backwards. Instead, they put together another remarkable year of excellence on the field and almost no injuries. Congratulations to not just the linemen, but also to Higbee, Robert Woods, the other blockers who contributed, and of course to Gurley for his great running.
Are the Rams really the best?
While the Rams now hold the record for best ALY, there could be some debate as to whether they are really the best run blocking offensive line of the modern NFL era.
One argument against giving the crown to them is that just as we've seen stat inflation impact NFL passing and receiving statistics, we might be in a period that is friendly to rushing offenses as well. The second place team this season, the Saints, also would have broken the record if it weren't for the Rams. The Saints finished with 5.19 ALY. The third place team, the Patriots, also had an ALY score over 5, coming in at 5.03 ALY. In the last 20 years, there have been only 6 NFL teams that have had ALY scores over 5 and 4 of those teams have done it in the last 2 seasons. Three of those teams are from 2018 and the Patriots did it last year. So, it may have been inevitable that a team was going to break Football Outsider's record this year, it was just a question of which team would do it.
A second reason the 2018 Rams might not be the top unit is that while their numbers in subcategories such as power runs and stuffed run percentage are good, they did not set any records in those areas. This year, the Rams had 68% success in power run situations (13th in the NFL) and were stuffed on runs 14.6% of the time (2nd in the NFL). The 2000 Rams (who previously had been 2nd best in ALY at 5.09) had a 79% power success rate and only a 12% stuff rate, both of which led the NFL that season.
When you factor in pass blocking, the 2018 Rams had a very good line, but they were not an historically great team. The Rams were 6th in the NFL in adjusted sack rate per FO and they had the 6th overall ranked line according to PFF. Bottom line is we might quibble with exactly where the Rams sit in the all time rankings, but it was still a great season and the players have an opportunity in the playoffs to bolster their resume even more.
Individual PFF grades
Havenstein 84.4 (3rd best tackle)
Whitworth 82.7 (5th best tackle)
Saffold 73.5 (8th best guard)
Blythe 71.3 (12th best guard)
Sullivan 51.9 (32nd best center)
Perhaps a surprise that Hav finishes the regular season as the highest graded Rams lineman, but that's how PFF saw it. A notable player to me on another team is Quenton Nelson of the Colts. It is rare for a rookie to play well in the NFL at an interior line position. Even though he was regarded as one of the best college guard prospects ever to be in the draft, some people thought that a top 10 pick should never be used to take a guard. Nelson was named 1st team AP NFL All Pro and he has a higher PFF score than Saffold. After watching him some in the Colts games, I don't dispute either of those accolades, because he's really good in both run and pass blocking. PFF ranked the Colts offensive line 3rd overall. Just as the Rams enjoyed a turnaround last year when their offensive line improved, I believe the Colts line is a key reason that team made the playoffs.