While the Los Angeles Rams haven't dealt with any significant injuries on the offensive line, in back-to-back weeks they’ve had at least one offensive linemen leave the game entirely. On Monday Night against the Cincinnati Bengals, Joe Noteboom left the game, but did return. This was one game after leaving and not returning against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Rams have managed to start games with the same offensive line combination. However, finishing with that same offensive line combination is another story. Noteboom managed to return against the Bengals, but Alaric Jackson’s hamstring injury took him out completely.
Last season, the offensive line struggled to build chemistry and cohesion as they started a different unit every week. The Rams haven’t had to deal with that so far in 2023, but needing to replace offensive linemen mid-game is also less than ideal. As seen on Monday Night, it can force the team in a difficult spot and needing to decide whether or not to move a player from one position to another and change two spots, or just replace the one spot with a bench player.
Against the Bengals, the Rams opted to play Zach Thomas at left tackle instead of moving Noteboom to that position and playing Tremayne Anchrum at right guard. McVay’s reasoning in understandable, but the decision is still worth discussing.
However, that one personnel decision isn’t the root of the issue. The primary issue here is the bed that the Rams made for themselves and now are forced to lay in it.
In back-to-back weeks, Noteboom has either left the game completely or left for some period of time as was the case against the Bengals. The fact of the matter is, Noteboom can’t be trusted to stay healthy. The injury-prone label unfairly and too often gets thrown around. However, that’s the only way to describe the situation with Noteboom. The Rams have a player that can’t be relied on from a week-to-week basis and it’s put them in some difficult spots.
The Rams offensive line seemed to be protecting Matthew Stafford admirably in the first half against the San Francisco 49ers. When Noteboom left and was replaced by Anchrum is when that started to change. That’s not a knock on Anchrum either. It’s not as easy ask to come in mid-game and be asked to block one of the better defensive fronts in the NFL.
The offensive line hasn’t been great, but they’ve been serviceable. Things have only gotten bad in games once changes have started to get made. Again, those changes have needed to be made because the players starting can’t stay healthy for 60-minutes on a consistent basis.
On Monday Night, while Stafford was getting pressured in the first half, it didn’t become a major problem until the Rams started making changed to the offensive line. The second half became a problem when Thomas was asked to block on an island against Trey Hendrickson at left tackle. Thomas was only asked to play left tackle because either the Rams don’t trust Noteboom at that spot or they really like him at right guard.
Take grades from Pro Football for what you will, but Noteboom ranks 64th out of 72 guards in the NFL with at least 75 snaps. His pass-blocking grade ranks 66th and he grades average in run-blocking, coming in at 46th. Noteboom’s nine pressures allowed is tied for the sixth-most among guards.
On Monday against the Bengals, Noteboom had a pass-blocking grade of 0.0. If the Rams didn't move Noteboom to left tackle because they really like him at right guard, that’s a problem.
The Rams need to get offensive linemen that can be relied on week-to-week. Unfortunately, that just isn’t Noteboom. This relationship has run its course.
Prior to the beginning of the season, the Rams traded for guard Kevin Dotson from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Through three weeks, Dotson has yet to be active for a game. While it would mess up the continuity, it might be time to give him a chance. During Wednesday’s press conference, McVay spoke on Dotson, saying,
“I’ve seen a guy that’s done a nice job. I think when you look at Ryan Wendell, Nick Jones and Zak Kromer, I think they’ve done a good job of getting him up to speed. There’s a very new vernacular, verbiage. There’s just some different mechanics that he’s got to get comfortable with, but he is a guy that’s done a really good job. I’ve been impressed physically with what he’s done. I like the work that he’s put in and we’ll see if that means that he’ll get an opportunity this week, but he’s a guy that we’re very confident in and at some point, whether it’s this week or down the line, we’re going to be counting on him.”
Dotson fits more with the type of offensive linemen that the Rams are moving towards as they transition to more of a gap-scheme running game. At the very least, Dotson would give the Rams a player who isn’t constantly in and out of the lineup.
The Noteboom situation is arguably one of the biggest blunders in the Les Snead and Sean McVay era. He’s a player that they’ve doubled-down on time-and-time again, but it just hasn’t worked out like they’ve wanted to for a multitude of reasons.
When the Rams traded for Dotson, they gave up a 2024 fourth-round pick while swapping fifth-round selection with the Steelers. Still, it would be nice to see what the team has in the player that they traded for back in August. Noteboom isn’t playing at a level that would warrant not giving Dotson a look.