Silver Lining: Have The Rams Found A Starting Right Tackle?

Harvey Dahl protects Sam Bradford's flank. Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

There hasn’t been much happy reading as regards the St Louis Rams’ offensive line, unless you’re in the shockingly lucrative business of sports rehab. (Growth opportunities abound in St Louis!) But today, buried in the nuggets of Pro Football Focus’ analysis of last night’s Rams-Seahawks game, there was this: 

    Harvey Dahl of the Rams had his third straight start at right tackle. He has allowed less pressure since making the move from right guard, and didn’t allow any pressure in this game.

Of course pass pressure flows, like water, around solid objects until it finds more porous ones. And there’s little doubt that Harvey Dahl is the most solid entity on the front five at this point in time. But still, this is not only a positive note for today, it’s potentially a very good one for next year.

Dahl is already signed for large dollars and long term as a right guard. But tackles come more expensively than guards, in general, and if Dahl can play well on the edge, it opens up a cheaper hole on the inside — or a position for Jason Smith to potentially audition for, assuming he comes back next season. (Smith could follow the Robert Gallery career path and become a productive player at guard, without having to worry so much about his poor footwork.)

As far as the rest of the line, yeesh. It’s a testament to Steve Loney’s coaching (or complete lack of it) that the rebuilt-on-the-cheap offensive line is actually outperforming the $150 million dollar version when it comes to not getting Bradford completely creamed.

However, just because Bradford is getting hit a bit less doesn’t mean that the line is playing that much better… he’s just throwing the ball away earlier. The Rams made a point last night of calling a lot of quick timing-dependent passes to reduce Sam’s time in the crosshairs.

The Seahawks hurried, hit or sacked Sam nine times in 37 dropbacks, pretty much keeping pace with their season-long trend of mayhem in the backfield. In terms of personnel groupings, the O-line’s performance basically breaks down into these four-week chunks of performance:

Games (Grouping) Hurries, Hits and Sacks Percentage of Dropbacks
Week 1-4
(Starting Five)
74 40.4%
Weeks 6-9
(Starting Five plus Goldberg)
42 24.8%
Weeks 10-13
(Brown, Saffold, Levoir, Bell are lost)
43 32.8%
Week 14
(Dahl and four guys.)
7 24.3%

For comparison’s sake, Drew Brees gets pressure in his face 26% of the time. That first four weeks, though, caused a whole season’s worth of harm to Bradford’s development. No quarterback has been hit as he threw more times than Bradford (12), and ten of those hits came in those first four weeks.

Which is why, when time comes for Stan Kroenke’s axe to get bloody, Loney’s head should be first on the block. Without question.