2023 Game 2 OL Preview

Don't Back Down

It might only be the 2nd game of the 2023 season, but this feels like a big one. Time for the Rams to go all in and sell out for what would likely be the signature win of the year if they could pull it off. The odds of the Rams playing in the actual Super Bowl are slim, so why not treat this game like their own version of the SB? Hated division rival, playing at home, a chance to knock off one of the top teams in the league?

On paper, it might seem like a mismatch, because the Niners have perhaps the best defense in the NFL (1st in total defense in 2022, 1st in scoring defense, 2nd in rush defense, 5th in pass rush win rate, 6th in run stop win rate, 1st in opponent yards per carry at 3.4 yards, tied for 1st in interceptions, 6th in opponent passer rating), big name offensive skill position players with Deebo Samuel, an emerging Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey, and an offensive line that was ranked 7th in the NFL last year. There are two important areas where the Rams surprisingly could hold the edge and those 2 areas working in concert could hold the key to hopes for an upset victory. The Niners have a relatively inexperienced QB in Brock Purdy, who was the last pick in his draft, while the Rams have Matthew Stafford, the 1st pick in his draft, who looks dialed in and ready to cook. The 2nd area where the Rams are potentially better than the Niners is the offensive line.

Initially, you might think the Niners have the better OL, because they have Trent Williams, who is arguably the best LT in the NFL, CMC had 152 rushing yards vs the Steelers at 6.9 yards per tote and Purdy had an efficient day. The tape, however, isn't very kind to SF's OL from that game.

The RT, McKivitz, struggled in his pass blocking sets, doing his best Logan Bruss impersonation, moving like he was wearing cement shoes. Aside from Williams, all of the other 4 linemen had substantial problems handling twists, turning defenders loose to the QB. Both of the guards would lunge and get beaten in pass protection. Both of their OTs adopted the KC Chiefs tactic of being way too far off the LOS to gain an advantage pass blocking, their helmets way behind the waist of the center. CMC had a bad pass block.

The Niners did some good things run blocking, mashing the middle of the Steelers DL. Kyle Juszczyk lined up both as a FB and a TE. All 3 TEs (Kittle, Woerner, Dwelley) were used as blockers. Even their WRs contributed with blocks to help spring runs. Despite dominating the Steelers (who also had some OL issues, especially from Mason Cole the center, who looked terrible and had a 49.2 PFF grade), it wasn't an impressive outing by the SF OL.

PFF grades confirm what the tape showed. Look at how the Rams OL graded compared with their SF counterparts:

Alaric Jackson 62.9

Stave Avila 64.4

Coleman Shelton 71.9

Joe Noteboom 60.7

Rob Havenstein 66.4

Not a single star for the Rams, but also not a single player below a 60 grade.

Trent Williams 70.7

Aaron Banks 51.3

Jake Brendel 57.4

Spencer Burford 28.6

Colton McKivitz 45.0

4 out of their 5 starters graded below 60 and the average of those 4 players was 45.6. True, the Steelers have good defenders on their front and the Rams don't have an EDGE player close to TJ Watt level, but those low grades for the Niners are Rams 2022 OL level bad.

PFF projected the Niners to have the 18th best OL this season, while the Rams were supposed to be 28th, near the very bottom of the NFL. One game is only a tiny portion of the season, but if the Rams OL can perform well against a stacked SF defense, it would be time to legitimately question whether PFF will be completely wrong about the low projection for the Rams.

INDEX scores from last year for the Niners:

Trent Williams 153. He was the top graded tackle by PFF with a 93.0 regular season grade. An Andrew Whitworth level season. He picked up a minor injury vs the Steelers, but should be fine.

Aaron Banks 105.5

Jake Brendel 122.9, surprisingly good, considering that PFF graded him only 20th out of 36 centers. Boosted by a very high SIS point total.

Spencer Burford 83.8, ranked 67th out of 77 guards by PFF.

McKivitz didn't play enough to qualify. Had a 69.4 PFF grade as a backup.

Off the bench they have Matt Pryor who had a poor 2022 season with the Colts, making 9 starts. His 44.9 PFF grade ranked 79th out of 81 tackles. Jon Feliciano was one of the lowest graded centers last year, though his 103.4 INDEX score was respectable. Nick Zakelj is a 6th rd rookie from Fordham. Jaylon Moore was a 5th rd pick in 2021 out of Western Michigan and had a 65.9 PFF grade as a backup.

Rams vs Seahawks

The Rams rolled past the Seahawks in Week 1, so did the OL dominate? Not exactly. The results weren't bad, but the Rams won't get any style points, they had to battle and barely hang on to several pass blocks. The run blocking for Kyren Williams was pretty lousy. Seattle isn't very good at generating a pass rush, something they really struggled with last season.

Joe Noteboom is a pretty bad run blocker, but I thought he did some decent things in pass pro. Kyren Williams had some nice pass blocks. Alaric Jackson nearly gave up strip sacks multiple times, and on one play got spun around to the point that he had to resort to using his rear end to pass block. Avila doesn't always have great technique or quickness, but he's BAD (which stands for Big [Caboose] Dude), making it tough to beat him in pass protection. Seriously, how are you supposed to get around that guy? He's a large human being. Havenstein's awareness vs a 3 man loop was key to buy Stafford enough time on a deep pass to Atwell. Higbee contributed both in run and pass blocking. Even though Shelton had the highest PFF grade, I would have said that Hav was our best lineman vs Seattle. It was a good day for the OL, but I think the unit is capable of playing even better. They will need to if the Rams hope to win against the Niners.

Coleman Shelton vs The World

Sure, it is just one game, but how does Shelton compare with other notable NFL centers?

Tyler Linderbaum 76.1 (both Ronnie Stanley and Linderbaum picked up what are believed to be minor injuries in the 1st game)

Drew Dalman 75.2

Frank Ragnow 75.1. Ragnow has a chronic turf toe injury that he'll likely have to manage for the rest of his career. You have to wonder how good he would be if he hadn't suffered so many injuries.

Corey Linsley 74.2

Jason Kelce 72.1

Coleman Shelton 71.9 (Currently PFF's 6th highest graded center)

Connor Williams 70.7

Ryan Kelly 70.6

David Andrews 69.8

Creed Humphrey 68.9. No, this is real. Shelton graded ahead of Creed!

Erik McCoy 66.8

Lloyd Cushenberry 58.5

Tyler Biadasz 52.4 (Both Biadasz and Myers looked pretty lousy in their games.)

Luke Fortner 48.0 (he graded 49.6 last season)

Josh Myers 44.0

John Michael Schmitz 42.8 (Tough start for JMS against a good Dallas defense)

I didn't feel that Shelton played particularly well last season (58 PFF), but could he be on the verge of an unexpected breakout year?

Steve Avila vs The World

Avila had a very solid start towards achieving the goals we set for him in an earlier fanpost. This is how he looks vs other notable NFL guards:

Zack Martin 91.1

Quinn Meinerz 87.8

Peter Skoronski 81.3

O'Cyrus Torrence 69.7

Steve Avila 64.4 (22 out of 65 guards)

Elgton Jenkins 61.1 (huge contract with GB)

Zion Johnson 60.6 (Chargers 1st rd 2022)

Ben Bredeson 59.8 (2022 3rd rd pick Joshua Ezeudu ended up on the bench as the NYG started Bredeson and Mark Glowinski, who had a 41.7 PFF grade)

Cam Jurgens 59.8 (2nd rd 2022 Eagles)

Brady Christensen 56.7 (Panthers 3rd rd 2021, left guard, 57.3 grade last season)

Cody Mauch 55.6 (Bucs 2nd rd rookie)

Nate Davis 48.6 (Bears big money FA signing)

Matthew Bergeron 46.8 (Falcons 2d rd rookie)

Ed Ingram 46.2 (Vikings 2nd rd 2022, 57.1 last season)

Cesar Ruiz 32.2 (See below)

Around the NFL

In December of 2022, the Browns signed their right tackle, Jack Conklin, to a 4 year contract with a $15 million average salary, about half of the money guaranteed. Conklin has been a good player for them, but it was still a risky move, considering that he has a long injury history. In the 1st game of the 2023 season, he suffered a torn ACL and MCL. Do things ever go right for the Cleveland Browns?

The Saints signed former 1st rd pick, Cesar Ruiz, to a lucrative 4 year contract with an $11 million average salary, about two thirds of it guaranteed. On paper, this looks like a massive overpayment for a player who has never achieved a PFF grade of at least 60, nor an INDEX performance score of at least 120. In his first 2023 game, Ruiz had a 32.2 PFF grade.

The Pats had both of their starting guards (Strange and Onwenu) out due to injury, forcing them to use 4th and 5th round rookies. Predictably, the results were ugly. Sidy Sow had a 28.8 PFF grade and Atonio Mafi scored 38.5.

Chandler Zavala, a 4th rd rookie, filled in at RG for the Panthers in place of Austin Corbett. He graded at 57.9.

Luke Goedeke (65.9 PFF) graded decently starting at RT for the Bucs, protecting Baker Mayfield. After a nightmare rookie campaign, maybe the 2nd round pick can rebound and shake off the draft bust label.