The same thing that makes a donut a donut can also make an offensive line into a complete disaster: a hole in the middle.
I went back through some old posts and found one from Week 12, when the Rams’ offense was finally hitting its stride. Zac Stacy had cemented his role as a workhorse back, Tavon was making electric plays, and a new Ram Tough identity appeared to be taking shape. We called it “a turning point.”
Then, in week 13, Scott Wells’ season-ending injury had a donut effect on the Rams’ interior blocking, especially in the run game. I followed up on the stats from that “turning point” article and fleshed out the run blocking numbers for the rest of the season. The results are downright frightening.
In these charts, focus on the black bars for a moment. These tell you the average number of yards, per carry, a Rams RB traveled before meeting a tackler. (The red bars show you how many more yards that RB gained after contact.)
You’ll be forgiven if you need a microscope to find any evidence of those easy yards after Wells’ injury.
There may be other factors at play, such as quality of opponent or the collateral damage of Tavon Austin’s missed time, but from a pure line-play perspective, the drop-off is severe with Tim Barnes at center rather than Wells. (More disconcerting is that presumptive future center Barrett Jones couldn’t unseat Barnes, despite being healthy by this time of the year.)
This may be curious to anyone who has looked at Pro Football Focus’ player ratings. They don’t have Wells particularly highly rated in run blocking, ranking him 30th of 35 starting centers. On a per-snap basis, Wells and Barnes are scored relatively equally in blocking prowess. Clearly, the numbers say something different.
Evan Glantz of Cover32 Rams recently wrote a good piece detailing the Rams veterans that will need to step up their game in 2014. My humble addition to this list: wrap Wells up in bubble tape. Put him in the witness protection program until he’s needed on Sundays. Give him one of these. Whatever it takes.
While we’re all excited about the possibilities of what new additions Greg Robinson and Tre Mason can bring to the run game, they can’t do much to prevent the donut effect if Wells goes down again.