2022 Week 4 OL Review

Scary Stories

Sit down by the campfire and I'll tell you an early Halloween tale. Once there was an NFL team that valued offensive linemen. They drafted some of the best OL prospects in the draft using 1st and 2nd round selections and hit on all of those picks. Then, they rewarded those players with rich second contracts, locking up the core of their line for seasons to come. Their line was so strong that PFF projected them to be the 2nd best OL in the league entering the 2021 season. Despite needing to replace some of their starters for the 2022 season, PFF still predicted that they would be a top 10 unit. Doesn't sound like the Rams, does it? This other franchise is arguably the model of how to properly construct a Pro Bowl packed and star studded offensive line. Four games into the 2022 season, this team with the super expensive OL and all their big name players has statistically measured out to be... one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, even worse than the Rams' OL. Boo! No treats for you, only tricks!

The Indianapolis Colts in 2022 rank 4th in the NFL in terms of salary cap spending towards the offensive line group. They gave out lucrative contracts to guard Quenton Nelson ($20 million average salary), center Ryan Kelly ($12.5 mill ave salary) and right tackle Braden Smith ($17.5 mill ave salary.) Nelson was the 6th overall pick in the 2018 draft, probably the best guard prospect of his generation. Kelly was taken 18th overall in 2016 and was one of the best center prospects in recent drafts. Smith was selected early in the 2nd round in 2018. The only reason the Colts don't have the most expensive OL in the league is they elected to go relatively cheap at the left tackle spot, the most expensive of the 5 OL positions. Anthony Castonzo, their former franchise LT, retired after the 2020 season. The Colts plugged in Eric Fisher in that spot for 2021 and went with Matt Pryor ($5.5 mill one year deal) this season.

The Colts drafted Bernhard Raimann in the 3rd round, intending to develop him at LT. He rotated in with Pryor at LT for some snaps over the first 2 games of this season. At right guard, the Colts planned on starting Danny Pinter (5th round 2020), who had a very good PFF grade in 2021 (74.4).

In 2021, the Colts struggled with some injuries on their OL. They were very good at run blocking (7th in the league in run block win rate), but not as good at pass blocking (20th in the NFL.) Jonathan Taylor had 1,811 rushing yards in 2021 with a 5.5 yards per carry average. A stunning upset in the final game of the regular season kept the Colts out of the playoffs and caused them to dump Carson Wentz in favor of Matt Ryan.

Entering 2022, most experts predicted that the Colts would win their division and be a good team. After being hampered by a poor OL with the Atlanta Falcons, Ryan was supposed to benefit from playing behind a much better OL with the Colts. Things haven't gone according to plan. The Colts are currently 1-2-1, with their only victory being a surprising upset of the Chiefs. Jonathan Taylor has both toe and ankle injuries. The Colts rank 18th in run block win rate, a considerable drop from being 7th last year and they rank 26th in pass block win rate. If you combine those metrics, the Colts are worse than the Rams in OL performance, even though the Rams have one of the cheapest OLs in the league, ranking 30th in terms of salary cap spending. The Colts allocated 20% of their cap towards the OL, while the Rams spend less than half that amount.

Matt Ryan has been sacked 15 times this year, only one sack behind Stafford. Ryan is on pace for a 64 sack season. Even when he was being battered in Atlanta, Ryan was never sacked more than 48 times in a season with the Falcons. Taylor is averaging only 2.76 yards per carry over his last 2 games and 4.0 ypc on the season.

Danny Pinter played so poorly at RG (PFF grades him as one of the worst guards in the NFL) that he got benched in favor of Will Fries, a 7th round pick in 2021, who hasn't looked any better. Smith has only graded as a middle of the pack OT and Kelly as only a middle of the pack center. Pryor is a below average tackle. The best of the bunch is Nelson, but he only has a 68.1 PFF grade. Raimann injured his ankle, so he hasn't been able to play lately.

If you are an "old school" thinker like me, the Colts are the perfect example of a team that buillt an OL "the right way". They made the OL a priority and invested the draft picks and spending necessary to construct an elite OL. Yet, through 4 games of this season, the results have been so disappointing that their OL arguably isn't any better than the OL for the Rams. Ponder that thought.

Rams numbers

Joe Noteboom 63.8 (40th out of 70 OTs)

David Edwards 57.9 (43rd out of 71 OGs)

Coleman Shelton 49.9 (31 out of 36 Centers)

Alaric Jackson 66.5 (20th out of 71 OGs)

Rob Havenstein 70.8 (24th out of 70 OTs)

Reserves and Injured: Brian Allen (67.6), Bobby Evans (29.8), Jeremiah Kolone (38.6)

Not all of the sacks against the Niners had to do with the OL. On the first sack, Blanton collides with Skowronek and the defender was clean to the QB. Some type of TE and WR miscue. In his TV interview at half, McVay said that 2 of the sacks in the first half were due to blown assignments by the RB. If any of you know which plays he's talking about, let me know in the comments section. I'd be interested in watching them again to see what happened in more detail. I don't know for sure, but I wonder if one of the snaps was the sack in the final minute of the half when the Niners sent a slot CB blitz. Higbee the TE chips Bosa, but he's late seeing and reacting to the CB and can't get him. Hendo on the other side of Stafford appears to initially look to the left, but then turns the other way and gives Hav chip help. I wonder if Hendo was supposed to see the CB coming and cross in front of the QB to help block that defender.

Shelton showed guts trying to play after he initially got hurt, but honestly I wonder if he even should have been allowed to reenter the game by the Rams staff. His injury looked like it contributed to one of the sacks when he wasn't able to pick up a looping Bosa. I focused on watching Jackson for much of the game. On the very first snap, Jackson climbed to the 2nd level, but he has so little quickness that the LB just ran around him and tackled the RB. Soon after that on another 2nd level block the LB easily swam over him. There was a QB sneak where Jackson was slow off the snap and beaten at the point of attack. He got overpowered on a draw running play, because he's not quick enough in joust situations. On the positive side, I thought Jackson had some excellent pass protection reps. Even when he initially got into some trouble (his hands are slow, so sometimes the defender will beat his punch and gain an advantage) he was able to use his body mass (he's a big dude) and good length to settle down the rush and hold his ground. Overall, I thought it was a mixed bag with Jackson having both positive and negative reps. He was better than the disaster going on over on the left side of the line, but it wasn't anything to get me super excited.

I feel that Noteboom has done a decent job at LT. Clearly, he's not Whitworth and it has been a huge step back for the Rams at LT. Still, look at his PFF grade and compare it to the 1st round pick the Cowboys are playing as their LT.

Where would we be without Havenstein? The Rams are 19th in pass block win rate and 20th in run block win rate. Not good, but also not at the very bottom. If the Rams didn't have Hav, I'd speculate that the Rams would be in contention for being one of the very worst OLs in the NFL.

Dallas game preview

Death, taxes, and the Dallas Cowboys having one of the best OLs in the NFL. For years, it seemed like Dallas dominated the OL rankings, glued to the top spot. Then, key players got older, they got injured, they retired and things haven't been the same. Dallas is 8th in run block win rate, which is good, but they are 30th in pass block win rate, which is very bad.

Tyler Smith 62.3 (1st round rookie, 24th overall selection) He was supposed to be the LG, but the serious hamstring injury to Tyron Smith forced Dallas to slide Tyler back out to LT. Tyler Smith ranks 10th among OTs in pass block win rate.

Connor McGovern 45.5 (3rd round 2019), backed up by Jason Peters 60.8 (former Eagle) and Matt Farniok 40.6 (7th rd 2021). McGovern had a high ankle sprain early in the season, but he returned to action last week and played against Washington. When he was out, Peters and Farniok were used at LG. I don't know who will start, but it is possible that Dallas will use a rotation and split the snaps. Peters was signed in early September and wasn't with the team during camp.

Tyler Biadasz 54.7 (4th rd 2020). He had a controversial penalty last game on a false start while he was making a MIKE identification. PFF doesn't like Biadasz. He's not a great athlete and can get overpowered. What I've always liked about him is his awareness and there's a play from the Giants game that illustrates this. Dallas calls a play action pass in the 4th quarter. The game is tied. Immediately off the snap, Biadasz helps Martin the RG, but quickly recognizes that the other DT is ripping under the LG, so he switches over perfectly to help stuff that move. As that's happening the LB is looping around the other side of Martin, but the RG does a great job recognizing it and leaving the DT to block the LB. Of course, this now leaves Martin's DT unblocked, which could have been a big problem, but Biadasz knows what is happening and switches back over from helping the LG to pick up the DT left by Martin. Perfect timing by Biadasz, making 3 different blocks in quick succession based on the changing chaos going on around him. The outstanding coordination by Martin and Biadasz results in acres of space in the front of the pocket for the QB and it becomes a long completion to Lamb. Textbook. Alec Lindstrom, one of the centers we talked about on TST during the draft, is a rookie on the PS for Dallas.

Zack Martin 72.0 (10th best guard in the NFL). Martin had a 93.9 regular season grade in 2021, 91.3 in 2020 and 88.1 in 2019. A grade in the low 70's is a big dropoff from "normal Zack Martin", but with Tyron Smith out, Martin is the last remaining superstar on their OL. Martin has the 8th best pass block win rate among guards.

Terence Steele 73.2. Steele was a disaster as a rookie. Early this season, fans called for him to get benched after he had 3 penalties on the same drive. Maybe he's about to prove the critics wrong and develop into a reliable starter. Steele was an UDFA, but had potential. I can't remember how I had him graded, I'd have to look it up.

Matt Waletzko is a 5th round rookie who has been dealing with a shoulder injury, so he probably won't play. Josh Ball (4th round 2021) was a developmental tackle who potentially could become a LT, but he performed poorly during the preseason.

You aren't going to see former Ram long snapper, Jake McQuaide play in the game (yes, I know that's the only reason you were interested in the upcoming game), because he got injured and is done for the rest of the season. Keep that in mind when the Cowboys have to punt or attempt FGs.

Ezekiel Elliott is only averaging 3.8 yards per carry this season. Dalton Schultz (TE) was franchise tagged by Dallas. He missed their 3rd game due to a knee injury and only has 80 receiving yards on the season. He didn't have any catches last week.

Dallas is 27th in scoring offense (17.8 per game) while the Rams are 29th (17.5 per game). Dallas is 23rd in passing offense, the Rams are 20th. Dallas is 19th in rushing offense, the Rams are 30th. Dallas is 26th in total offense, the Rams are 28th. Dallas is 30th in 3rd down conversions, the Rams are actually really good in that department, they are 7th. We are talking about 2 teams that on paper look really bad offensively. It could be an ugly, punt filled contest.

Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence are well known threats on defense, but an unsung player is 2021 3rd round pick, Osa Odighizuwa. He has the 8th best pass rush win rate among DTs and a 74.1 PFF grade.

As a team, Dallas ranks 1st in the NFL in pass rush win rate (the Rams are 12th), but Dallas is only 20th in run stop win rate (the Rams are 2nd). So, while the Rams might struggle to block for Stafford, they might be able to find some success by running the football.

Slow Down Zone

The Rams are currently 26th in red zone efficiency. Last season, they ranked 16th. I touched on this topic after the Rams acquired Stafford, noting how Sean McVay for whatever reason, even dating back to his days in Washington, typically didn't produce strong red zone offenses. I reviewed some stats in that fanpost, wondering how Stafford would do as a red zone passer with the Rams.

Stafford this season is 20th in the NFL in red zone completion rate among QBs with at least 10 pass attempts in the RZ (by the way, Jalen Hurts is one of the worst QBs in this category in the NFL with a 37.5% completion rate.)

Stafford in RZ (2021 and 2022): 52.9% completions, 3.87 yards per attempt, 0.265 TDs per attempt, 0.74% INT rate.

The best line among these stats is the very low INT rate. Of course this number can sometimes be impacted by fluky things. There have been at least 2 INTs in the end zone this year that looked like they could have been straightforward picks, but the defenders dropped the ball, otherwise Stafford's number wouldn't look quite so good. Still, he's thrown considerably fewer picks in the RZ compared to his time playing in Detroit.

Stafford's just under 53% completion rate would be 16th best compared with the 2022 QBs. Just middle of the pack. I don't think this is all on Stafford. One of the problems the Rams have never truly fixed is they don't have an elite big body RZ threat that makes it easier for the QB. Allen Robinson was supposed to help, but he can't seem to connect with Stafford. One of the plays in the Niners game I thought was actually a nice pass by Stafford, but Robinson was being covered closely and wasn't able to jump up and make the catch.

Goff in RZ (2017 to 2020) 60.8% completions, 4.00 ypa, 0.271 TDs per attempt, 1.03% INT rate.

I wouldn't read too much into the completion rate, because sometimes Goff would throw safe and high percentage screen passes in the RZ, but what is striking to me is that the TD per attempt number is actually slightly higher with Goff than it is with Stafford.

In 2022, Goff has completed 61.9% of his RZ attempts for 8 TDs and zero INTs. Stafford is completing only 45.83% of his RZ passes with 4 TDs and zero INTs.

The red zone offense for the Rams is broken. Add it to the growing list of things the Rams must fix on offense.

Revisiting my 5 goals for Stafford

Prior to the season, I wrote a fanpost offering 5 goals for Stafford. How do things look after about a quarter of the season? Not so hot.

1. Win another Super Bowl. I guess this is the only goal that truly matters. We'll see what happens, but confidence among Rams fans isn't very high at the moment. If we went back to about game 10 or 11 of last year and compared how fans felt, I wonder if the fans were more or less confident at that point in the season compared with right now (I'm talking about around the time Stafford had those pick sixes against the Titans, then the Rams got trashed by the Niners heading into the bye week.)

2. Protect Stafford (have a sack rate less than 4.5%.) I guess this is really an OL goal more than a QB goal. I knew that the goal wasn't going to be easy given the retirement of Whitworth, but I didn't think it was an unreasonable one, given that Stafford was sacked 30 times last year. Goff's sack rate was 4% in 2020 and 3.4% in 2019. My initial goal on this topic back in 2021 was for Stafford to have the lowest sack rate of his career (which is 3.5%), so by setting the bar at 4.5% for 2022 instead of 3.5% I thought I was cutting the Rams OL some slack, acknowledging that they weren't going to be elite at pass blocking. Little did I know that 2022 would start out like a dumpster fire for the Rams when it came to not giving up sacks.

Stafford's sack rate is currently 9.6%, by far the highest of his career (7.7% in 2017 is the next highest mark.) With 16 sacks in 4 games, Stafford is on pace for an astounding 68 sacks, well over twice last year's number. In terms of achieving the goal, I'm giving the Rams an "F" grade so far. Sure, Stafford individually needs to play better, but I don't know how you can expect a QB to get sacked so frequently and perform well. Stafford's sack rate is about the same that David Carr faced in 2004 with the Texans (probably his best season as a starter in the NFL.) Amazingly, Carr had 2 years with the Texans that were far worse from a sack percentage, with sack rates of about 14%.

3. Keep Stafford healthy. Fortunately, all that punishment hasn't resulted in Stafford missing any time due to injury. Remember that year Favre was with the Jets and they thought they were going to the SB, then his arm was all messed up and he couldn't throw the ball right, then the team completely collapsed? That's not how we want the Rams season to turn out. Oh, by the way, what's Favre been up to these days? SMH

4. Throw fewer INTs. Stafford is on pace for 26 INTs. Ugh.

5. Be more efficient by diversifying the passing game beyond just Cooper Kupp. I noted that in 2021, when Stafford was not targeting Kupp, he completed 63.2% of his throws for 7.17 yards per target. In comparison, the duo of Goff and Wolford in 2020 when not targeting Kupp completed 68.5% of those passes for 7.33 ypt.

So far in 2022, Stafford's completion rate when not targeting Kupp is at 66.7% (better than 2021), but the yards per target has gone way down, only at 6.39 ypt. Let me translate that. Goff in 2021 with Detroit completed 67.2% of his passes for 6.57 yards per target with a 91.5 QB rating, playing with a largely incompetent group of WRs and an OL that ranked 22nd in pass block win rate. In other words, 2022 Stafford when throwing to anyone not named Kupp has been worse than the 2021 version of Goff. That's a problem for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

Some fans were predicting that Stafford would put up monster yardage and TD numbers this season. I chose to go in a different direction, because I felt that passing efficiency would correlate more with winning games than whether he had 5,200 passing yards or 45 passing TDs.

A couple fans took issue with me comparing Stafford to Derek Carr in that fanpost. How do the 2 QBs compare so far this season?

Carr 2022: 83.2 passer rating, 55.2 QBR, 259.5 yards per game, 62.3 PFF grade

Stafford 2022: 81.4 passer rating, 49.6 QBR, 253.8 yards per game, 64.9 PFF grade

The Raiders are 24th in pass block win rate, lower than the Rams. The arrival of Davante Adams and Josh McDaniels was supposed to propel Derek Carr to a higher level of success, but the Raiders are only 1-3. The Raiders and Rams face each other on a Thursday night game in December.

Let's hit the reset button and create a new goal for the Rams offense: be better in weeks 5 through 8 than they were in the first 4 games. Short of giving all the Rams participation trophies and orange slices, I don't know what else to do at this point.

Elsewhere in the NFL

1. Josh Myers is 2nd among all centers in the NFL in pass block win rate, virtually tied for the top spot. Creed Humphrey doesn't place in the top 10 in this category.

2. I really like the former Iowa center, Tyler Linderbaum. I think he's going to be really good. He had a foot injury during camp and so far has a 60.3 PFF grade, ranking 20th among 36 centers. One reason they grade him low is because he's been called for several penalties. Linderbaum has the 7th best pass block win rate among centers.

3. Austin Corbett has a 77.4 PFF grade, the 3rd best guard in the NFL. Not bad for a player who once was considered to be a draft bust. The Rams play the Panthers the week after the Dallas game.

4. My man, Dameon Pierce, had a big day against the Chargers with 131 rushing yards. He's now averaging 5.2 ypc on the season. He did this even though on many of the runs the blocking by the OL for the Texans was very poor. Most his yards came on 75 yard TD scamper that was an off tackle toss play, the key block coming from the FB, not by an offensive lineman.

There was a screen pass in the game where Pierce could have gotten a big gain, but there were 3 OL ahead of him and all 3 of them ran past the same defender, none of them blocking him, then that defender tackled the RB. Seriously, I'm not making that up, that's what happened on the play.

My favorite run by Pierce came on a play where a LB on a run blitz penetrated through the A gap, which wasn't picked up by a blocker, and at the same moment the RG was beaten badly by his guy. Pierce cut sharply to the right to avoid the LB, then cut immediately back to the left to dodge the DT, then burst up the middle for a 10 yard gain, turning what easily could have been a TFL into a first down. That's a talented RB cleaning up messy blocking in front of him.

I'd be nervous playing Pierce in fantasy football, because it is unpredictable whether he can get yards any given week behind such a poor OL. The Texans rank 29th in the NFL in run block win rate. I hope that someday Pierce will get the opportunity to play behind a good OL, because I think he could put up even better stats.

5. There is another player the Rams could have taken at the Bruss slot who I think looks pretty good. Daniel Bellinger for the Giants has a 72.7 PFF grade, the 8th best TE in the NFL. He blocks well, he had a nice catch the other day, I just like his all around game. He might never have big receiving numbers, but I think he's a good player.

Speaking of the Giants, Andrew Thomas has a 92.1 PFF grade, the highest ranked OT in the NFL. After an uneven start to his career, he seems to have arrived. Maybe the Giants hit the jackpot with that pick.

6. Watching plays from the KC and Bucs game, CEH had a nice game (92 rush yards) powered by some very physical and powerful run blocking by Creed Humphrey. What that game also illustrated, however, is that I'm still of the opinion that Creed is much better at gap concept and inside run plays and not as good on the wide zone runs. When he could move in a forward direction or turn and face up Vita Vea, Creed did an excellent job. When Creed had to flow laterally it wasn't as easy. On one play, Vea overpowers him, Creed can't get his hips around to make the seal, and Vea discards him, then tackles the RB.

If the Rams had actually drafted Creed Humphrey, I'm not sure his PFF grade would be as high playing for the Rams as it is playing for the Chiefs. The 2 teams don't run the same offensive system. He'd still be a very good player and an improvement over what we have currently for interior OL, but I'm just saying you can't look at his PFF number and assume that it would directly translate over to the Rams. If McVay had Creed try to run laterally to block outside zone plays over and over during a game, I think he'd lose several of those reps or get holding penalties and it would impact his grade. The Rams play KC late in November.