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Last Minute Thoughts: Rams offensive tackles have critical matchups vs Steelers

Protecting Matthew Stafford from TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith is LA’s top priority

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

This weekend’s Week 7 matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers is not a familiar one. The cross conference battle will tell us a lot about both the Rams and the Steelers and whether both or either are ready to contend for a spot in the postseason.

One of the most important individual matchups in this game will be between LA’s offensive tackles—Alaric Jackson and Rob Havenstein—and Pittsburgh’s elite pass rushers in TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith. Protecting Matthew Stafford and allowing time for the offense to function is paramount, but it’s certainly easier said than done.

Watt is a household name and has been for several years, though Highsmith is also an elite player in his own right. While Highsmith has only two sacks so far on the young season, he is currently tied for 23rd in the NFL with 23 total pressures (PFF tracking data). Watt has 27 total pressures (T-10th) and has registered eight sacks. LA’s Aaron Donald, for the sake of comparison, is seventh in the league with 30 total pressures.

That means Jackson and Havenstein have their work cut out for them.

While Havenstein is steady and reliable, he can sometimes struggle with the top rushers of the NFL (who doesn’t?). According to PFF, Havenstein has allowed 12 pressures in pass blocking and three sacks on Stafford. Jackson has missed time with injury (he’s played 294 snaps versus Havenstein’s 405) but has still allowed 15 total pressures which is currently the 16th highest figure for offensive tackles. He has not yet allowed a sack in 2023.

LA’s recipe for beating the Steelers and moving to 4-3 is simple. Take care of the football, win the turnover battle, and keep Watt and Highsmith from making their trademark splash plays. While the Steelers have the better defense right now, the Rams’ offense is well ahead of where Kenny Pickett and company are for Pittsburgh. If you don’t give them extra possessions or short fields by turning the football over, Stafford alongside Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua should be able to get the job done.

Alaric Jackson and Rob Havenstein have two of the most important individual assignments against the Steelers on Sunday,