Rams Scoring Woes? Don’t Blame the Offensive Line

At least, not according to an intriguing set of offensive line rankings put forward by Neil Hornsby and the fellows at Pro Football Focus. Unlike in purely results-oriented rankings like those at Football Outsiders, PFF rates the pure blocking play of the linemen, regardless of the outcome of the play itself.

photo from Zimbio.com

So, for example, if a QB has six seconds, runs about like a headless chicken and takes a 10-yard sack on second and six, we aren’t about to put that on the line.


And unlike any outcome-based analysis, the Rams trenchmen fared fairly well in PFF’s ratings, coming in at a respectable 19th overall. The rating combines three elements: Run blocking (14th overall in NFL), Pass Protection (15th), and Penalties (27th). The big question then is whether the Rams’ “addition-by-subtraction” moves of dumping their biggest flag magnets Richie Incognito and Alex Barron for a combination of raw rookie (Rodger Saffold), aged veteran (Hank Fraley) and utility knife (Adam Goldberg) can combine to maintain the team’s gains in blocking, while dramatically improving their penalty situation.

For perspective, FanBall’s own offensive line guru, Bryan Douglass, recently published his 4-part ranking and breakdown of every line in the league. (He rates the Rams 22nd overall, barely missing on last year’s projection that they would be the league’s most-improved offensive line in 2009.)

The ability to run the football has been established in St. Louis. If these young tackles can improve at pass blocking, the process of offensive rehabilitation will excite fans through what should be a progressive 2010 season.

— FanBall Owner’s Edge: O-Line Rankings Part II

I asked Bryan to give the RamsHerd readers some in-depth perspective about the progress the Rams have made, and what can help them get to the next level. Thankfully, the big dog was more than happy to comply.

The big moves are also smart moves

We’ve talked about Alex Barron and Richie Incognito a ton… think it sends a CLEAR message where this line is going, and that may be the most positive attribute I want to put on the Rams this season (granted, I have bias… but I love it).

The starting line appears to be rather strong. I adore Jason Brown in the middle (the best free-agent signing since the Vikings picked up Steve Hutchinson) and I believe he will be Sam Bradford’s best friend… and I think Spags knew this. I honestly believe they understood the situation at quarterback (they may have been targeting Bradford all along… wouldn’t doubt it for a second) and the decision to get Brown on the point was crucial in influencing quick improvement. As Brett Favre would say, he’s allsum.

Drafting Smith and Saffold a gamble that should pay off…

In review of Jason Smith’s rookie season I found little reason for criticism. I would have enjoyed more snaps but he was solid, especially for a rookie out of second-tier Big 12 program at Baylor. The move to left tackle will be tough and I would anticipate growing pains, but I also believe the staff in St. Louis (namely offensive line coach Steve Loney… he was in Minnesota when the team drafted Bryant McKinnie btw) is more than capable of bringing him along and slanting him towards success.

I was especially inspired by two other names: Jacob Bell… REALLY improved last season after a frustrating 2008 season, and the decision to draft Rodger Saffold. Going with tackles in these first two seasons at the helm is a bold move. It may not SEEM like a bold move for a team clearly in need of offensive line help, but that’s not something most coaches would do in this league.

You drafted a tackle with the top pick last year, then you turn around and draft the arm that will put him to use with the first pick this year… but you turn right around with the next pick and add another tackle. Most teams would spread the love, go defense, maybe add a receiver (could use it, right?).. but Spags GETS it. He goes Saffold and, if he and Smith turn into the powers I think they will be, you have what could be the best NFL pass-protection tandem in 2-3 years.

Making progress on their “most improved” mark

I only worry about injuries. Saffold (if memory serves) has already had a bit of trouble with durability… Smith was on and off health last season… you need to keep those kids healthy and working. You don’t want to lose this season with them working together. You have proven veteran leadership up the middle and a rusher that puts ’em to use… you are working to get the pass back up to speed. Keeping those tackles healthy will be vital in that effort.

I know I said this last season when we talked and I suggest the Rams were the most improved line in the league. I stand by that… can’t account for injuries but they clearly were improved (and based on this year’s preseason rank, I was close). Forgive but I want to say the same thing this year, though they are not the most improved line in the league. That would be your division foe… but they are clearly on their way to substantial evolution. It’s going to be fun to watch my friend!

And by “division foe,” we’re talking about the hated Niners…

RH: I have to admit, I’m a little in awe of the potential turnaround in San Francisco, with the addition of Iupati and Anthony Davis to pave holes for Gore, and help keep Alex Smith upright.

If I’m a fan in St. Lou, I’m calling 7-8 wins progress. I’d be happy with it until that D gets juiced, Sam gets comfy, and those tackles get acclimated.

But as you noted… crazy division. Seattle is a wreck, Zona is in transition, and San Fran and your Rams are unknowns. It will be, if nothing else, entertaining!