The Ballad of Bobby Evans
Bobby Evans had a legendary performance against Tampa. At one point during the game, it felt like he was blowing every single block. He got driven backwards into Stafford, nearly ruining the long TD pass to Cooper Kupp. He surrendered a red zone sack, forcing the Rams to settle for a FG. With the stylistic flair of an Olympic figure skater finishing a masterful performance, he even threw in a false start penalty in the final seconds when the Rams were lining up for a desperation last gasp heave. Eat your heart out Jamil Demby and Cody Wichmann. All hail the new king of miserable offensive guard play, Bobby Evans.
Do you know what else nearly happened at the very end of the Bucs game? Bobby Evans nearly won the game for the Rams. Seriously, this isn't a joke, it almost happened. Perhaps I'm guilty of embellishment, but it isn't a complete fabrication. The tape don't lie. Go back and watch the critical sequence of offensive plays before the Rams punted the ball back to Tom Brady.
On 1st down, the Bucs crowd the line, but the Rams still try to run the ball with Hendo (I know, I know, don't get me started.) Bobby Evans initially is supposed to combo block with Brian Allen, but shows nice awareness when he sees the LB on a run blitz trying to burst through and penetrate into the backfield. Evans adjusts and neutralizes the blitz. Hendo doesn't choose the proper lane. He should try to slam it between Allen and the RG, Chandler Brewer. Instead, Hendo tries to bend it back too far to the right side, running into the back of Havenstein. The Rams had an unbalanced formation with Nsekhe on the right side, so there were a ton of bodies in that area.
On 2nd down, the Rams have double TEs with Skowronek and CK in tight splits. It is a jet sweep to Cooper Kupp. Most of the focus has been on Kupp's decision to slide short of the first down, but blocking was also a key factor in this play.
First of all, the idea of the play is to try to trick the Bucs into thinking it is a zone run to the left side (towards Alaric Jackson). This sort of works, because if you watch the defense, many of the players initially step towards that side before they realize that Kupp has the ball. In particular, Devin White the MLB is influenced in this manner and he is a pivotal unblocked defender in the design. Secondly, Carlton Davis the CB nearly makes a huge blunder. Skowronek crack blocks on the safety Keanu Neal, who is near the LOS. Davis doesn't anticipate jet sweep at first. Thinking he has to stay with Skow in pass coverage, he steps with the WR to the inside. In doing so, he collides with the other CB, Jamel Dean, who is responsible for Kupp. He also gets in Neal's way as the S tries to fight off Skowronek's block. This could have been absolute disaster for the Bucs, because it caused Davis to almost become an extra blocker for the offense. Keystone cops moment. If one Ram won his block, McVay's play should have worked to perfection. First down, game over, victory celebration for the Rams. The bumbling Bucs CBs would have been caught out of position and similarly Devin White is going to be too late to help, because he didn't react earlier, no one for Tampa was in a good spot to get the proper pursuit angle to close down Kupp before he got to the marker.
Higbee is the TE on the play side. Anthony Nelson, the OLB, does a great job winning outside leverage. Higbee is never is able to get into position to even try to seal off the OLB. In fact, Higbee gets pushed backwards a bit, forcing Kupp to take a wider angle. Nelson nearly tackles Kupp, with a desperate Higbee stumbling (and hopefully not grabbing and holding) after them. To turn the corner and avoid the tackle, Kupp has to turn on the jets and accelerate. By this point, the other Bucs have regained their balance and are running towards the action to cut him off.
Facing a 3rd & 5, the Rams still have another play to slam the door on the Bucs. McVay stays conservative, giving it to Hendo again. On this play, Evans and Jackson do a nice job washing Vita Vea down the LOS. By the end of the play, with Evans finishing the block, Vea is on the ground, way out of position. This could have been Bobby Evans's revenge moment, like the end of a movie where the schoolyard bully finally gets his comeuppance from the tormented kid he underestimated all those years. Both Higbee and Cooper Kupp also do very solid work on their blocks. There is a nice cutback lane for the RB, with only one defender left to beat at the point of attack, a cornerback, Jamel Dean.
I think Hendo is running too fast with his initial steps out of his stance as he's receiving the handoff from Stafford. This impacts both his vision and his ability to make his cut. By his 3rd step (nearly simultaneous with getting the ball), a RB on an outside zone run should already have read the blocks and have a good idea as to where to go. Hendo is going so fast and his head is glued to the right side of the line that he takes a full 5 steps before he finally turns his head and looks back over to the left side. By this point, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is about to grab him, Hendo has lost most of his forward momentum as he tries to throttle down to change directions, he's a sitting duck, unable to generate YAC. While the run blocking on this critical play was actually very good, the execution by the RB wasn't as good.
If that nugget didn't blow your mind, how about this one? When the Rams play the Cardinals on Sunday, it is conceivable that the Rams will have the superior offensive line.
Before we get that crazy but true (at least maybe true) idea, let's cover some other topics. We saw first hand against the Bucs the uneven play from their left tackle, Donovan Smith. Drafted near the top of the 2nd round in 2015, Smith has a $13.75 million salary and a 63.3 PFF grade this season. Smith is just one example of why I feel Rams fans have been overly critical of the performance of Noteboom this year.
Boom strained his knee against the Bills in the opening game of the year. That game he also went up against one of the best pass rushers in the league, Von Miller. After that point, he likely wasn't fully healthy.
Look at how Boom stacks up compared with some other notable tackles drafted in his class or in the 2 surrounding classes:
Noteboom 67.0 PFF grade (currently, he ranks 40th out of 78 tackles) Boom was drafted 89th overall in 2018. $13.3 million salary.
Kolton Miller 75.5 PFF. As a rookie, Miller has a 49.6 grade. His 2nd year starting, he was at 65.0. Miller was the 15th overall pick in 2018.
Orlando Brown 66.6 PFF. A disappointment this season. He's playing on a franchise tag, costing $16.6 million. The Chiefs reportedly offered him a 6 year contract (twice as long as Boom's deal) with a salary of over $26 million, but the two sides didn't reach an agreement. Drafted 83rd overall in 2018.
Brandon Parker, on IR in 2022. Had 55.8 PFF grade in 2021 and 48.9 PFF grade in 2020. Drafted 65th overall in 2018, Parker was the very first pick in the 3rd round, while Boom was taken in the lower part of the 3rd. The Raiders kept him on a one year $3.5 million contract for 2022.
Chukwuma Okorafor, 92nd overall 2018. "Chuks" is Boomer's closest peer, because the 2 players were drafted at nearly the same point in that draft. Some draft experts viewed Okorafor as a future franchise LT. Instead, he has played RT for the Steelers. Career high 64.8 PFF grade this season. Has a $9.75 million salary. If 2022 was supposed a "bad" version of Boom, does that mean bad Boomer is better than the best version of Okorafor?
Jonah Williams, 11th overall 2019. 58.6 PFF in 2022. Bengals exercised 5th year option on him. Alabama player, considered by experts to be a super safe draft pick, was expected to be a building block cornerstone for the offense. Matt Miller compared him to Joe Staley. I've written before about the massive struggles the Bengals have had trying to replace Whitworth not just since he joined the Rams, but they failed for years before that trying to groom a successor for him. Williams is in such a funk, it has cast a cloud over his future with the team. This could have implications not just for Williams, but for Joe Burrow's future.
Antonio Garcia, 85th overall in 2017 draft. Never played for the Patriots due to blood clots in his lungs. Suspended for PEDs in 2019, later played in CFL.
Andre Dillard, 22nd overall in 2019. Eagles declined his 5th year option. Made 5 starts in 2019, had 69.6 PFF grade.
Tytus Howard 69.9 PFF, 23rd overall in 2019 draft, plays right tackle for Texans. Had 51.4 PFF grade in 2021. Team picked up his 5th year option for $13.2 million for 2023. Notice that his salary for that 5th year option is about the same as Noteboom's salary.
Jawaan Taylor (35th overall 2019 draft) 58.2 PFF, plays RT for Jags. Had 60.4 PFF grade in 2021.
Cam Robinson, the LT for the Jags, playing opposite of Taylor, was drafted 34th overall in 2017. He has a 67.7 PFF grade, with an $18 million salary, considerably more expensive than Noteboom. Prior to agreeing to a new 3 year contract, the Jags had franchise tagged him. He had a 67.4 PFF grade in 2021 and 61.7 in 2020.
There is one final tackle I'll use to compare with Boom, it is DJ Humphries of the Cards. Humphries was a 1st round pick in 2015. His first season starting he had a 68.3 PFF grade. When he was in his 5th NFL season (the same point as Boom), he had a 64.5 PFF grade. His best NFL season was the year after that, in 2020. This season, he has a 72.3 PFF grade. He has a $17.25 million salary.
Checking in with Rams North
Kevin O'Connell is off to a fine start as a 1st year head coach with the Vikings. Another former Rams staffer, Wes Phillips, is his offensive coordinator.
Late in the 2021 season, the Rams were on the verge of clinching a playoff spot when they faced a desperate Vikings squad trying to claw their way into the playoff field. Despite 3 INTs by Stafford, the Rams won 30-23. Finishing 8-9, the Vikings would miss the playoffs and Mike Zimmer was out (Zimmer's son died recently from what appears to be some type of alcohol related incident.)
In 2021, the Vikings ranked 25th in pass block win rate. The Rams were 1st. The two teams were tied in run block win rate. Things are dramatically different in 2022 with the Vikings ranking 14th in pass block win rate and 9th in run block win rate, while the Rams are 24th in PBWR and 30th in RBWR. The Vikings are 8th in the NFL in scoring, while the Rams are 29th.
The biggest leap forward on the OL for the Vikings has been the stellar play of their young LT, Christian Darrisaw, a 1st round pick in 2021. Darrisaw was taken 2 slots before one of the picks the Rams traded away in the Jalen Ramsey deal. Darrisaw has an 89.1 PFF grade this season, ranking as the 2nd best OT in the NFL. Also contributing has been center Garrett Bradbury. A bust for most of his career, he has a 67.2 grade, ranking 12 best among centers. Ed Ingram, a 2nd round rookie, only has a 56.3 PFF grade, while another former 2nd rounder, Ezra Cleveland, is only okay at 66.2.
I don't know if the Vikings are for real, because while they are 7-1, they barely beat a weak Commanders team. The Rams rank 8th in total defense in 2022, while the Vikings are 25th.
I have a hard time believing that O'Connell is a better coach than McVay (I might change my mind if McVay's only plan for fixing the Rams is having all the players eat bowls of Chunky Soup prior to the 4th quarter) and I don't believe that Kirk Cousins is a better QB than Stafford (I'm also suffering from temporary blindness after seeing a shirtless Adam Schefter dancing, imitating Kirk's victory dance.) The Vikings don't have the superior defense. Why are the Vikings pretty good offensively, while the Rams are terrible?
Prior to the season, ESPN projected the Vikings to have the 25th best OL in the NFL. They were expected to be terrible at pass blocking, projected to finish in 31st place. PFF projected the Vikings to have the 19th best OL.
The 6-3 Seahawks have gotten considerable attention as one of the most surprising teams in the league this year, but the bigger surprise might be the 7-1 Vikings.
Difference between projected and actual PBWR:
The Rams scored 13 points in the loss to the Bucs. In the Super Bowl loss to Tampa, where the Chiefs had a weakened OL, forcing Mahomes to dip and dodge and nearly pull off some miraculous off script throws, the Chiefs only scored 9 points. Tom Brady only had 201 passing yards in that SB.
Alaric Jackson 64.1 PFF
Bobby Evans 33.3 (80th out of 81 guards. Definitive proof Evans isn't the worst guard in the NFL!!!)
Brian Allen 66.6 (15th out of 38 centers) Allen is lucky Evans was so terrible, because we hardly talked about his bad game. Allen nearly ruined the Cooper Kupp TD with a bad snap. On the red zone sack were Evans was beat, Allen should have helped him, but he was too focused on protecting Chandler Brewer.
Chandler Brewer 70.8
Rob Havenstein 68.3 (34th out of 78 OTs)
IR: Logan Bruss, David Edwards, Tremayne Anchrum, Joe Noteboom
Others: Coleman Shelton (49.9) might be able to play vs Cards, Oday Aboushi (56.6), Ty Nsekhe (55.0), Matt Skura.
Leonard Floyd has the 8th best pass rush win rate among edge defenders. Go ahead, you can double check it yourself.
A'Shawn Robinson had several nice plays against Tampa. He has the 3rd best run stop win rate among DTs.
Ramsey was repeatedly beaten in coverage on 3rd down plays against the Bucs. Even on that play where he jams Evans and Evans runs the route short of the marker, all Evans has to do is cut inside of Ramsey instead of standing stationary and he would have been open for the conversion. Other times, Ramsey lost leverage to the inside and gave up completions, or he played too soft and didn't drive on an out route. A key play that got lost in the shuffle, because the Rams had so many other disasters in the 4th quarter, it is a short 3rd down and Ramsey guesses wrong. It appears that he gets baited out of position by Tom Brady and tries to jump to the outside of Scotty Miller, but instead to pass takes Miller upfield for the 1st down conversion. All Ramsey had to do was play the coverage honest and stay glued to Miller and he could have prevented the completion.
The Rams already played the Cards earlier this season, but that game feels like it happened years ago. At that time, the Cards appeared to have one of the better offensive lines in the league. ESPN projected them to be the 6th best OL prior to the season. They were getting Justin Pugh back from injury, there was reason for optimism. Like the Rams, everything has fallen apart for the Cardinals. If you go over to RoTB, one fanpost is titled "I'm done being a fan of the Cardinals" and another one proclaims "The drought in the desert is back."
Key players have gotten hurt. Hollywood Brown went on IR with a foot injury. Budda Baker has a high ankle sprain. Similar to the Rams, injuries have ripped the guts out of their interior offensive line.
Rodney Hudson (5th best pass block win rate among centers) was supposed to be the starting center, but he has a knee problem. He's missed much of the year, it sounds unlikely that he'll play against the Rams and it is unclear when (or even if) he'll be able to return this season. Sean Hawlow (42.8 PFF, 36th out of 38 centers) filled in at center, then the Cards turned to former 1st round Bengals draft pick, Bill Price, who has started 3 games for the Cards. Price has a 38.6 PFF grade, ranking 37th out of 38 centers. There have been multiple snap exchange problems between Price and Kyler Murray. Notice that 2 of the lowest graded qualifying centers in the NFL both play for the Cards.
Will Hernandez has the 8th best pass block win rate among guards. He suffered a pectoral injury early in the most recent game against Seattle. Rookie Lecitus Smith (6th rd pick) had to step in and the team only used him, because veteran Max Garcia (43.4 PFF) already had a shoulder injury. Smith has a 54.2 PFF grade.
Pugh (61.0 PPF) was supposed to be the other starting guard, but he tore his ACL in the 6th game of the season. Cody Ford 38.0 PFF (ranking 78th out of 81 guards) has been starting.
Swing backup OT, Josh Jones (3rd round 2020), filled in at LT one game this year, and is sometimes used as an extra lineman in heavy formations. He has a 71.3 PFF grade. He also has a knee issue.
DJ Humphries at left tackle is ranked by SIS Datahub as the best LT in the NFL. He has the 10th best pass block win rate among OTs and has a 72.3 PFF grade (23rd out of 78 OTs).
Kelvin Beachum at right tackle has a 67.2 PFF grade (38th out of 78 OTs)
The OL injuries for Arizona were more predictable than the ones the Rams suffered. It was one of the key factors in why PFF ranked them only 25th entering the year. The Cards chose to go with older veterans who had durability problems. They gambled and this season it didn't work. As a result, Sunday's game could be another ugly display of substandard blocking by both teams.
The only good news for Arizona is they have a fast, athletic QB. Kyler Murray had 60 rushing yards against Seattle, but also was sacked 5 times. With their line in shambles, it could be another day of Murray running around, trying to do everything himself, trying to escape Donald and company.