Caught in a Bad Romance
"Oh no! We [stink] again!" - Waterboy
The Rams crossed over into a realm of absurdity against the Chiefs. It is one thing to lose a football game, but the 2022 Rams can't even run onto the field in between plays without hurting each other or nearly sending their head coach to the hospital or the dentist's chair. Are the Rams an actual NFL team or they performance artists merely imitating professional athletes for comedic purposes?
Watching the rest of the games this year doesn't hold much interest in terms of seeing if the Rams can go on an unlikely winning streak, but I am curious to see if the Rams will all give each other crotch shots as they run on and off of the field.
Is Sean McVay a bad coach? How did the Rams fall apart so badly this season? Look at the Washington Commanders, who despite playing with a backup QB and having to deal with off the field distractions, are sitting in the 6th playoff spot in the NFC with a 7-5 record. The easy answer is that Washington played an easier schedule this year, while the Rams had a tougher road, but on paper is Washington really that much better than the Rams? The Commanders have a good defense, but not a strong offense. Since these fanposts are about the OL, I want to focus on that area.
In 2021, Washington finished with the 6th best OL in the NFL, per PFF. The Rams were ranked right behind them, in 7th place. In ESPN's metrics, Washington ranked 9th in pass block win rate and 1st in run block win rate. So, overall, they were one of the best OLs in the NFL last season.
Entering this season, Washington was again supposed to have an elite OL. ESPN projected them as the 7th best OL and predicted that they would rank 14th in pass block win rate and 1st in run block win rate. This was despite losing Brandon Scherff in free agency to Jacksonville (by the way, Scherff only has a 58.3 PFF grade this year.)
Like the Rams, the 2022 Washington OL has disappointed and the primary culprit has been injuries. While Washington hasn't been hit as bad as the Rams, they have had significant losses. Chase Roullier, their starting center, had an 83.7 PFF grade last year, but was lost for the year after only 2 games. Sam Cosmi, the RT, started the first 4 games (78.8 PFF), but then had thumb surgery and hasn't played a full game since he's been back.
Tyler Larsen, the replacement center, hasn't been as good (56.4 PFF, 28th out of 39 centers) and there have been blocking issues at the guard spots (Andrew Norwell has a 56.9 PFF grade.) So far this season, Washington ranks 27th in pass block win rate and 19th in run block win rate. In other words, they come out fairly close to the Rams this year (ESPN places more weight on pass blocking than run blocking in ranking overall OL performance.)
Rookie running back, Brian Robinson Jr. had a breakout game against Atlanta, running over and through defenders, but prior to that performance (against one of the worst defenses in the league) he had been held in check. Entering the Atlanta game, Robinson only had 362 rushing yards on the year with a 3.35 yards per carry average. That lackluster average was only barely higher than Cam Akers's 3.26 yard average.
Gross stats don't tell the entire story, because Akers is next to last in the NFL in RYOE per attempt (only Melvin Gordon is worse), while Robinson is healthy in that metric, ranking ahead of guys like Christian McCaffrey, Jamaal Williams, Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook. On tape, Robinson isn't very dynamic and he is hurt by some poor blocks by his OL (Saahdiq Charles at G with a 43.6 PFF and Larsen at center in particular had problems, but even sometimes the LT Leno missed blocks), but I also feel that Robinson shows better vision than Akers.
The Rams lost a 3rd round pick as part of the Von Miller trade. That 3rd rounder could have been used on Brian Robinson Jr. Alternatively, the Rams could have used that 3rd on Logan Bruss, which would have freed up the compensatory 3rd for Dameon Pierce, another rookie RB who has played well.
In terms of passer rating, Taylor Heinicke is one of the worst QBs in the NFL. He's only thrown for 195 yards per game. Nevertheless, he's managed games and found a way to win. As a regular season starter the last 2 seasons, Heinicke is 12-9, a pretty strong mark for a former UDFA backup QB on a relatively average team. You might say he's their version of Case Keenum.
Sleeping on Seattle
The Seahawks are half a game behind Washington in the playoff standings. It has been a surprisingly good year for Seattle without Russell Wilson, but I don't know if anyone will remember it if they don't make the playoffs.
The next CB drafted after the Rams took Cobie Durant was Tariq Woolen. Very fast, but also very raw, Woolen has been surprisingly good as a rookie (70.8 PFF). Fellow rookie CB, Coby Bryant hasn't graded out as well (55.0 PFF, 87th out of 123 CBs), but he is a core part of their CB rotation and plays a heavy number of snaps.
Kenneth Walker has looked good at RB, but the last 2 games he only has 43 yards on 24 carries (1.79 yards per carry.) In the RYOE/Att rankings, he's really good, virtually tied with Saquon Barkley and Jonathan Taylor. Seattle is only 25th in run block win rate, so maybe his stats would be better if he had better blocking.
Sean Mannion is a practice squad QB for Seattle.
I thought that the Hawks reached when they took linebacker Jordyn Brooks in the 1st round. He has a 58.3 PFF grade. Per SIS Datahub stats, Brooks has a total of 19 missed or broken tackles, at a rate of 13.9%. To compare, Bobby Wagner for the Rams only has 3 broken tackles, a 3.3% rate, while Ernest Jones has 7 broken/missed tackles at a 8.1% rate.
Seattle has 2 unlikely "stars" in their defensive secondary. Ryan Neal was an UDFA out of Southern Illinois in 2018. Initially with the Eagles, he bounced around to Seattle as his 3rd NFL team, but nearly quit pro football when Seattle waived him in 2020. He decided to stick it out and began that season on the PS for the Hawks (he cleared waivers, so none of the other 31 teams wanted him.) Over the next 2 years, he got some spot starts as an injury replacement. A high ankle sprain slowed him to start 2022, but Seattle needed him after Jamal Adams got hurt early in the year. Neal has proven to be a versatile player, deployed sometimes in box and other times in coverage. He has an 80.9 PFF grade, ranking 4th out of 88 safeties. A revelation, going from an UDFA who nearly bounced out of the NFL to now a borderline Pro Bowler.
Michael Jackson Sr., was a 5th round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. He never made their regular roster. They had him on PS, then lost him in the middle of his rookie year to another team. He bounced around, eventually landing on Seattle as his 4th NFL team. He spent almost all of 2021 on their PS. This year, Jackson only has a 60.1 PFF grade, but if you go by SIS's point rankings, Jackson is the 5th best CB in the NFL. In fact, SIS gives more points to Jackson (42) than they give to Jalen Ramsey (34) or Tariq Woolen (30).
Defensively, Seattle is only 25th in pass rush win rate and 18th in run stop win rate.
Seattle ranks 7th in pass block win rate, impressive given that they have started 2 rookie tackles this season.
Charles Cross 65.3 PFF (48th out of 76 OTs)
Damien Lewis 70.8 PFF (18th out of 84). ESPN ranks 7th among guards in run block win rate.
Austin Blythe 54.9 PFF (31st out of 39 centers). Blythe is 10th among centers in pass block win rate per ESPN.
Gabe Jackson 57.7 (55 out of 84)
Abraham Lucas 67.3 (41st out of 76 OTs)
Backups: Stone Forsythe, Kyle Fuller, Phil Haynes, Jake Curhan.
Rams Performing Troupe
Leonard Floyd is 10th among edge defenders in pass rush win rate. Donald is 1st for DTs in PRWR.
AJ Arcuri 48.4
Matt Skura 46.4
Coleman Shelton 53.4 (35th out of 39 centers)
Oday Aboushi 62.8 (37th out of 84 OGs)
Rob Havenstein 72.6 (23rd out of 76 OTs)
Backups: Zachary Thomas, Bobby Evans
Good for Hav! He's now above 70. If you go by PFF, he's the highest graded OL among all the Seattle and Rams players. Especially given he's had a revolving door of guards playing next to him, a decent year. Of course, it could come with an asterisk, because in multiple games the Rams have abandoned any attempt at having a regular passing game, relying on screens, QB draws, quick throws, etc. to try to cover up their deficiencies at QB, LT, etc. which has protected Hav by not putting him in as many traditional pass blocking sets. Still, in my opinion Hav has looked strong for most of the year, perhaps the only Rams lineman with the play strength to consistently uproot defenders and move them out of gaps to create lanes for runs.
I don't know if the Rams will win a single game the rest of the year, but I would get a measure of satisfaction if they could upset Seattle and help keep the Hawks out of the playoffs.