The Los Angeles Rams’ hopes of returning to the Super Bowl hinge primarily on how a remodeled offensive line performs in 2019.
Their ability to protect Jared Goff in an NFC West division stacked with defensive line talent will play a massive role in deciding whether Los Angeles can avenge last season’s Super Bowl LIII defeat to the New England Patriots.
Los Angeles held off the Carolina Panthers in Week 1 for a winning start to the new campaign but may have mixed feelings about their group in the trenches after the season opener.
The Rams, according to Johnny Kinsley, allowed only nine pressures against the Panthers. That number was reflected by the tape, which showed a line that, for the most part, excelled at keeping its quarterback clean.
Jared Goff was regularly provided with an excellent pocket to throw from. He did not always take advantage of it, however.
On this throw to Robert Woods, Goff is able to work from a perfect pocket. The right side of the line deals exceptionally well with a stunt, but their work is in vain as Goff badly misses the receiver.
Later, on a critical third down, the Rams again do a superb job of keeping Goff clean. Though only faced with a three-man rush, tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein show their experience in handling the outside rushers. Whitworth forces exciting rookie Brian Burns behind the quarterback while Allen wins his one-on-one matchup to prevent any interior penetration.
This time Goff takes full advantage of the protection and converts to move the sticks.
Despite consistently giving Goff time to throw, there were signs of vulnerability shown by the offensive line that should give future opponents confidence that they can get to LA’s quarterback.
The first indications of fallibility came on this four-man rush from Carolina. Austin Blythe was the guilty party as he was beaten with the rip move by Gerald McCoy, who forced Goff into a rushed throw to no man’s land.
Carolina then had great success rushing only three. Kawann Short blows by Allen with a swim move, and Blythe is late in getting across to help. Noteboom also fails to assist Whitworth promptly while Burns makes light work of Havenstein, leading Goff to toss the ball into the dirt.
Blythe had further trouble picking up a new assignment, and it almost led to an interception. Mario Addison came across from right defensive end to the opposite A-gap and got a clean run at Goff, who heaved the ball narrowly out of Luke Kuechly‘s reach.
The Rams face the New Orleans Saints in Week 2, and such protection breakdowns will have Cameron Jordan and company salivating. Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, and Chandler Jones will have seen plenty they liked looking ahead to divisional matchups later in the season.
Any team going up against the Rams will, however, need to remain wary of a running game that looked just as impressive as the 2018 vintage.
For all the concern surrounding Todd Gurley‘s knee, the Rams running back rushed for 6.9 yards per attempt in the season opener. Malcolm Brown had 53 yards and two touchdowns, with Los Angeles’ efforts on the ground aided in no small part by those upfront.
Per Football Outsiders, the Rams’ OL ranked second in Adjusted Line Yards, which takes all running back yards and assigns responsibility to the line, in Week 1.
The unit’s most important contributions came in the second half. Gurley was sprung for several significant gains, helping the Rams protect their lead and take time off the clock.
Those runs were a direct consequence of the Rams’ investment in interior linemen with top-tier athletic profiles.
Here Allen and Noteboom double Short and get to the second level as Whitworth, Blythe, and Havenstein seal defenders away from the ball. Gurley, as a result, has a wide lane to run through and gashes the Panthers to get inside the 20.
Another massive hole was opened up for Gurley in the fourth quarter, Blythe providing the pivotal block.
The line does an excellent job as a collective unit in getting the Carolina defense flowing to its right. It is Blythe, though, who makes the critical contribution, impeding Kuechly enough to allow Gurley to access the second level.
Gurley’s health will remain a talking point in 2019. Even still, if the Rams block in this same manner throughout the year, he, Brown and Darrell Henderson should be able to thrive.
Overall, the Rams have to be happy with how their new-look offensive line performed in its opening regular-season test.
Goff had the benefit of excellent protection for the majority of the contest and was sacked only once.
When the Rams needed to kill the clock and keep the chains moving through the running game, the men in the trenches provided the platform for Gurley to do so.
However, those division rivals looking to unseat the Rams out west will have been encouraged by how Carolina was able to cause Goff problems with pressure up the middle.
The Rams’ line certainly gets a passing grade for its first examination of the new season. There is, as head coach Sean McVay will undoubtedly recognize, definite room for improvement which must be made if Los Angeles is to be a serious contender again in 2019.