Through five weeks, it’s no longer a secret. The Los Angeles Rams have an offensive line problem. After a loss to the Dallas Cowboys in which the team once again allowed an insane pressure rate, it’s clear that Sean McVay and co. have their work cut out for them.
The offensive line has allowed 84 pressures which is the most through five weeks in the NFL. That number is the second-worst in the McVay-era, behind 2019’s 94. It’s also the most allowed by a single team in five weeks since the 2020 New York Giants. The team’s 84 pressures allowed in five weeks is tied for the 10th most since 2006.
Matthew Stafford was pressured on 45.6 percent of his dropbacks, per @TruMediaSports early PM numbers. That's a season-high, and second only in the McVay/Stafford era to a Week 18 loss in 2021.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) October 10, 2022
It’s no wonder that the Rams can’t run a functional offense. It’s hard to function in that type of environment. Their 9.1 percent adjusted sack rate also ranks in the bottom ten at number nine. Matthew Stafford has never faced his pure number of pressures in his career. The closest came in 2015 when the Detroit Lions offensive line allowed 81 pressures.
As it stands, Stafford has been pressured of 34.6 percent of his dropbacks which is the seventh most in the NFL. However, if you take away weeks two and three against the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals, Stafford has been pressured on 40.5 percent of dropbacks.
That number isn’t improving as the Rams offensive line somehow gets less healthy week-by-week. Over the last two weeks, Stafford has been pressured on 41.7 percent of his dropbacks according to Pro Football Focus.
The Rams offensive line is hurt. That’s not an excuse, it’s reality. The Rams have lost Brian Allen, Coleman Shelton, David Edwards, Tremayne Anchrum, and Logan Bruss to injuries. That amounts to their starting center, starting right guard and backup center, left guard, backup right guard, and third-string right guard.
You can say that the Rams don’t have depth, but with what the Rams have been forced to deal with, that goes beyond depth. The Rams showed their depth in Week 2 and 3 in which Shelton and Alaric Jackson filled in on the offensive line. We’re now past that.
In five weeks, the Rams have started games with five different offensive line combinations. They haven’t started consecutive games with the same group of five. That will likely be the case again next week as Edwards is again in concussion protocol.
Unfortunately, this is the Rams situation and they have to deal with it. While we can complain about the problem, that doesn’t offer a lot of solution. In 2019, the Rams traded for Austin Corbett which turned things around. However, teams typically don’t just trade offensive linemen as good ones are hard to come by and depth at that spot is extremely valuable. The Rams arguably struck lightning when they traded for Corbett.
That doesn’t mean all is lost either though. Here are some things that the Rams can do to fix their current problem.
Get Players Healthy
The Week 7 bye week couldn’t come at a better time. It’s going to allow the Rams to not only get healthy, but take a step back and assess how they can work with this problem. The Rams can look at themselves in the mirror and find their identity.
The most important thing here is that they can get healthy.
Whenever you’re starting your third-string center, it’s not going to look good. Allen coming back after the bye will provide a large boost at a spot that the Rams have been extremely vulnerable. It will allow Edwards to get healthy and hopefully get back to playing like the solid player that he is. Coleman Shelton likely won’t be back until the New Orleans Saints game in Week 11, but he’ll be eligible to come back a few weeks before then. Alaric Jackson has played well in his spot at guard for what it’s worth.
While the Rams are dealing with injuries, none of them have been catastrophic. Allen should be back after the bye and the same goes for Shelton. As the Rams get healthier, that will significantly help things, especially on the interior.
The Cardinals and Falcons don’t have defensive lines to write home about, but we saw that the offensive line is capable of holding up in those games. The issue is, the Rams haven’t been able to roll out the same offensive line group since then.
Offensive line play is a lot about chemistry and understanding the player that you’re playing next to. Right now, the Rams have zero continuity.
Find the Right Veteran
Jeremiah Kolone is a solid player to have on the practice squad and fill in for a game or part of a game. He’s not a long-term solution that you want to have as your starting center for several weeks.
His 30.9 pass-blocking grade against the Cowboys was the second-lowest on the team. He also allowed five pressures. Having an inexperienced player at center also effects the two guards playing next to him.
Jackson had his worst game last week since taking over at guard and Edwards also wasn’t playing well before he left the game. Both players are playing next to Kolone.
Over the last two weeks, the offensive line has struggled significantly when it comes blocking interior stunts and twists. Kolone hasn’t been able to call out protections like Shelton or Allen normally would. Therefore, this responsibility has fallen primarily on Stafford. Because of this, there have been communication breakdowns on where pass rushers are coming from and who’s blocking which pass rusher.
While Matt Skura didn’t have a great 2021 with the Giants, he allowed just 10 pressures all of 2020 in 334 pass-blocking snaps with the Baltimore Ravens. The Rams need a veteran presence on the offensive line and Skura would provide that.
Ravens C Matt Skura and RG Ben Powers completely wipe out the Nose on this rep of Duo. 2nd & 1 and they're moving him 5 yards. pic.twitter.com/j66fCLLIGI— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) January 6, 2021
Skura was activated from the practice squad last week. With another week in the system, he’s someone that the Rams should roll with. He has experience making protection calls at the line and is a veteran presence in the middle of the offensive line that this team desperately needs.
Additionally, if Edwards can’t go against the Carolina Panthers and is out past the bye week, it’s been pretty clear that Bobby Evans isn’t the answer. Evans is allowing a pressure once every 8.37 opportunities. That’s the worst mark on the offensive line this season. His 26.2 pass-blocking grade is only ahead of Kolone.
Oday Aboushi tore his ACL last October and was playing at the same level as Corbett last season with the Los Angeles Chargers. Aboushi is arguably better in pass protection.
Oday Aboushi is one of the more underrated FA OGs available. Before tearing his ACL he put together high-level tape for LAC + was quietly good in '20 for DET.— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) March 10, 2022
A few clips from '21 vs. Payne/Ioannidis
- Displacement in the run game
- Patience, length & independent hands pic.twitter.com/rDDQQ4L4Hq
While he’s primarily a right guard, he does have left guard experience early in his career. The Rams could plug him in, if not at least for just a game or two to fill in for Edwards.
These are solutions already on the Rams roster that don’t include a trade. They’re veteran players who have proven that they can play at a starting caliber level. An offensive line takes time to gel. It may not look perfect with Skura and Aboushi, but these are two players who the Rams should be using as depth.
Dial Up More Quick Game and Play Action
The Rams aren’t the only team with a poor offensive line this season. Yes, Stafford’s 84 pressures lead the NFL. However, the Miami Dolphins have the worst-graded offensive line in the NFL via PFF and the Cincinnati Bengals are also in the bottom-5.
These teams are very good at running quick game.
In Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 17 of Joe Burrow’s 53 targets were 10 or more yards down the field. Three of his four interceptions also came in this area. Fast forward to last week against the Baltimore Ravens and only six of Burrow’s throws went more than 10 yards.
When the Bengals are getting protection, they’ve had no issue taking shots down the field. This was the case against the Dolphins in Week 4. However, after losing to the Steelers and Cowboys in the first two weeks, they’ve adjusted to more quick game.
Burrow is averaging just 2.61 seconds to throw. While some of this is on the offensive line, it also shows that the Bengals are using quick game, especially when you pair that with Burrow’s passing chart.
The Dolphins are the same way with Mike McDaniel and Tua Tagovailoa. Tua was averaging just 2.66 seconds to throw which is the eighth fastest in the NFL. Despite having the worst pass-blocking offensive line according to Pro Football Focus, their 5.9 percent adjusted sack rate ranks 11th.
Teams don’t have time to get to Tua. While he may not have the strongest arm, he’s a very good processor. This allows him to get the ball out quickly. Tua’s pressure rate this season is just 26.2 percent. Last week, Skylar Thompson was pressured on 60 percent of his dropbacks.
The Rams traded for Stafford partly because he was quicker at processing than Jared Goff. A quick passing game is something they should be using. Stafford’s current time to throw is 2.76 seconds which ranks 16th.
Additionally, McDaniel is running play-action at a very high rate. Tua’s 41.8 percent play-action rate ranks second in the NFL. Daniel Jones and Marcus Mariota are also above 40 percent and neither quarterback has a great offensive line.
Meanwhile, Stafford is running play-action on 20.7 percent of his dropbacks which ranks 26th in the NFL. The Rams ran play action on just 14.9 percent of their passing plays last week which was among the lowest rates in the NFL.
In Week 3 against the Cardinals, the Rams ran play action on 40.7 percent of their dropbacks. At times, the offense looked the best that it has this season in that game. One of the biggest plays against the Cowboys came off of play action. This was the TuTu Atwell deep shot down the field.
Of course, to run play action, you need some threat of a run game. Right now, the Rams don't have that. It doesn’t need to be pretty, but there needs to be a threat to run the ball to get the defensive line and linebackers to bite.
Schematically, this is something that the Rams can do to help their offensive line.
Get the Offensive Line Moving Laterally
There’s a reason that some of the Rams’ biggest runs have come to the outside. This is when the offensive line is able to move laterally and move around in space. This forces the defensive ends to keep contain and keep defenders disciplined.
Currently, the Rams are running slightly more zone than gap, but it’s pretty even. If you look at the Dolphins, they run a zone blocking scheme on run plays 55 percent of the time. The Atlanta Falcons run zone 65 percent of the time. These are two teams with bottom-tier offensive lines.
However, in a zone-blocking scheme, it’s crucial for the running backs to hit the cut-back lane. Right now, that’s something that Cam Akers isn’t doing consistently.
.@RamsNFL The Rams experiment with Cam Akers (@thereal_cam3) is over. You cannot have a running game in the NFL when your starting back does not have the peripheral vision to see a hole this size, and make the cutback. #rams #ramsnation pic.twitter.com/wMvNyZsU8B— Bill Madden (he/him/él) (@maddenifico) October 9, 2022
This is a great example of that lack of vision and it’s something that he’s struggled with even going back to 2020. Everything can work and be blocked well, but it also comes down to the skill position players being able to execute.
The example above against the Cowboys isn’t the only time this season that Akers has missed the cut-back lane. It’s a big reason why he ranks among the worst in rush yards over expected. When the offense and running game is struggling as much as it is, these are opportunities that you can’t miss.
Cam Akers was very raw at FSU. This continued on Sunday. This windback zone sets up perfectly for the cutback, but impatient footwork leads Jaylon Smith right to the hole. pic.twitter.com/xQt4oMrugM— J Moyer (@JMoyerFB) September 17, 2020
McVay has done a good job of scheming this lateral movement in the passing game with tunnel-screens. It’s allowed the offensive line to get outside and utilize their athleticism. The Rams need to do better at this in the run game and that starts with their running backs, particularly Akers.
At the end of the day, everything works together. Yes, the Rams offensive line hasn’t been good. There’s no denying that. Everything starts up front in the NFL. If you aren’t blocking, you don’t stand much of a chance.
We can talk about running backs, wide receivers, and play-calls, etc., but none of it matters until the offensive line gets healthy. That’s not an excuse, it’s reality. Right now, it’s hard to function as offense in the world that they’re currently living in.
Still the Rams skill position players need to execute and help where they can. McVay needs to be more conservative schematically.
There are things that the Rams can do and available solutions that are available that will make things easier. It will help this week going up against a decent, but not great Panthers defense. With the bye week on the horizon, it should give time for McVay and co. to find the answer.