The conventional wisdom for the Los Angeles Rams coming out of the 2019 season was that change was needed on the offensive line perhaps significant change.
The personnel on the line rotated throughout the year several times but never led to consistent play regardless of who got pushed into starting duty. Longtime stalwart LT Andrew Whitworth had his worst season as a Ram with an unusually poor first six games. RT Rob Havenstein himself, also ever reliable in the past, had a very shaky start to the season before seeing his year end in Week 10 with a knee injury. The rotation along the interior never found a sweet spot.
This isn’t for a lack of spending. The Rams signed Whitworth and have now re-signed him to a second lucrative deal. Havenstein was provided a significant extension through 2022. And the Rams drafted four players who saw significant playing time on the line along with the trade for OL Austin Corbett who played nearly half of all the offensive snaps in 2019.
The Rams had a plan for the line in 2019. The plan failed.
Now they must come up with a new plan. One that suits the needs of the team moving forward. A team without RB Todd Gurley. A team looking to reestablish their offensive credentials.
But that plan doesn’t necessarily require new personnel.
The Rams bought into the idea that an offensive line depth chart of Whitworth, Havenstein, Austin Blythe, Joseph Noteboom, Brian Allen, Bobby Evans, David Edwards and Rob Havenstein could work. There’s, obviously then, reason to believe they could just as easily buy into it moving forward.
And there’s reason to think that’s just fine for three reasons.
1.) Despite the poor play from the line, the Rams still went 9-7
Amid the disappointment from the season for missing the playoffs and underwhelming most projections, the Rams still had a winning record. A few luckier bounces here or there and the Rams could have easily snuck into the wild card slot. This isn’t to say that matters much, but it is to say the Rams weren’t far off last season despite the O-line’s performance.
Our report cards from last year week by week? C, C+, C, D-, B-, F, B, A+/C+, D, A, F, C-, B, A, D, N/A. That’s 2.5 A’s, 3 B’s, 4.5 C’s, 3 D’s and 2 F’s. Not exactly as bad as most of us probably remember it, but that’s kind of the point. The Rams didn’t benefit from great O-line play, but they played well enough for the most nonetheless.
So the requirement here isn’t to come out of 2020 with 10 A’s and 6 B’s. Clearly the Rams don’t need that kind of offensive line output to succeed.
2.) It likely won’t get worse
If the Rams run it back on their OL group, there’s little chance the quality of play declines. For one, the Rams aren’t likely to get a poor start from Whitworth. For two, the Rams’ worst lineman was OL Jamil Demby who probably is on the outside looking in when it comes to the 53-man roster. Beyond that, the experience for Noteboom, Allen, Evans and Edwards can only help their causes headed into 2020.
The chances of injury are much lower as well. Blythe was initially injured in Week 2 and missed out on Week 3. Noteboom went down three weeks later followed by the Week 10 calamity in which the Rams lost Havenstein and Allen. For a line that had remained entirely intact the previous two seasons into the playoffs, it was a severe regression to the mean.
Could the line have a similar season in 2020 to 2019? Of course. But if the injury front looks better, there’s obvious reason to buy into improvement here especially because the line has improved over time every season under Run Game Coordinator/Co-Offensive Coordinator Aaron Kromer. Unlike the first two seasons though, the improvement last year coincided with the injury-forced personnel changes. Could the line last year have seen a similar improvement with the Week 1 starters had they been able to get through the season unscathed? I think it’s possible. That kind of improvement, since deprived of it, might be on track for 2020.
3.) The rest of the offense has the opportunity to pick up the slack
Part of the reason the Rams won nine games despite the poor line play in 2019 was the rest of the offense. Rams Head Coach Sean McVay is still a very good offensive overseer despite a departure from the lofty perch he held in 2018 as he saw the Rams toward a Super Bowl berth. QB Jared Goff threw for 4,638 passing yards, the third-most in the NFL. The Rams still have a plethora of weapons in the passing game. And while the Patella Novella has come to an ignominious ending that deprives the Rams of Gurley’s natural talent, it does free up a more sincere rushing attack. Perhaps a sign of hubris, the Rams thought they’d be able to keep Gurley on a load management plan and maintain their offensive potency. While they were clearly wrong, moving on from Gurley means moving on from the load management plan.
If you were to chart a course from 2019 to 2020 that would see the Rams win more games, the conventional wisdom would start with the offensive line. A more realistic plan (and one that might be more popular among the staff and front office that bought into that line in the first place) might instead look at a more impactful running game. a more consistently dependable Goff and more consistent team overall.
Part of what the Rams’ O-line suffered from was the wild swing from 2018 in which we saw the best Rams offensive line season of my liftetime to 2019 in which we did not. The detrimental effect that had on the team was blatant at times and more subtle others but nearly always on the wrong side of the fence.
While improvement should be expected in 2020, I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes from a similar cast in 2019.
Don’t be surprised if the Rams get through Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft without a new offensive lineman.
And don’t be too upset about it either.
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