Offensive Line Pieces Coming Together

Posted Nov 28, 2012

When the Rams offense lined up for its first series of last week’s game against Arizona, they had a new look on the offensive line.

That the offensive line had a different group of five should be no surprise considering the musical chairs they’ve played along the line this year but this was a little different.

The new starting five on that offensive line is actually the one the Rams had envisioned since the opening week in Detroit. In fact, it was the same starting five reunited for the first time since that game against the Lions on Sept. 9. In between, the Rams used four different line combinations before getting the band back together 11 weeks later.

And, according to coach Jeff Fisher, it was also no coincidence that the end result was the best performance by a Rams offensive line all season.

“Overall, they probably played our best game,” Fisher said. “Now, we had some issues, which you’re going to against that good defense. But, the results and the production from the run game reflects that they did a pretty good job up front.”

With marquee free-agent addition Scott Wells back at center for the first time since suffering a foot injury in that game in Motown and Robert Turner, the man who more than capably filled in for Wells, bumping over to left guard, the Rams had what they believe are their five best linemen assembled as a unit in Arizona.

“Now we expect it to get better and better just as they are playing together,” Fisher said. “But I think the combination of Scott and Rob worked out real well for us because of the complexity of the defense so we have just got to keep working these guys together.” 

Left tackle Rodger Saffold had fully knocked the rust off from his return from a knee injury in the two previous games and the right side of the line remained constant with Harvey Dahl at guard and Barry Richardson at tackle.

By the time the clock struck all zeros, the Rams had pillaged Arizona’s ninth-ranked defense for 173 yards on 34 rushes, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. Likewise, quarterback Sam Bradford was dropped for a sack just twice and was able to complete big plays down the field with an average of 25.6 yards on his eight completions.

Turner credits coaches like offensive line leader Paul Boudreau and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for helping the reunited line have success right away, a task that isn’t easy for a group that relies so heavily on continuity.

“With the group of guys and the coaches we have, they do a great job of being consistent with us and trying to set us up for success amongst the scheme, the things they are teaching,” Turner said. “They are not going to put us in a position to fail. So that’s a credit to them and it just benefits us across the board. No matter who has played this season. They have been consistent with the prep of the way we attack each week.”
That’s not to say there wasn’t something of an adjustment period early in last week’s game. Each lineman brings something different to the table and with Wells gone for 11 weeks; time was about the only cure for any early-game hiccups.

Whereas other linemen might take a little longer to get to the second level and execute blocks, leaving the backs like Steven Jackson to be patient waiting for the holes to open, Wells gets on to the linebackers in expedited fashion.

“They really did a good job,” Jackson said. “The beginning of the game, they did a really great job of opening some running lanes for me. I had to get used to it. When Scott is in there, he is so quick and fast that I had to get a feel for how he blocks. Although we practiced all week together, game speed is a lot different so in that first half, I told them to be patient with me, I’ll get the rhythm of the game and that’s definitely what we did.”

By the second half, there was little doubt that all parts were functioning together as originally anticipated.

Jackson rushed 14 times for 98 yards in the final 30 minute and helped the Rams salt the game away on a fourth-quarter drive that was a prime example of the type of offense the Rams want to be.

“It’s kind of what we had talked about, not only at halftime, but also at the quarter change, that this is how we’re going to have to win this game is the offensive line’s going to have to take it over,” Fisher said. “And they did with some help from ‘Jack.’ That’s how you win games on the road. When you have a lead going into the fourth quarter you have to keep the ball and that’s what they did. They did a nice job with it.”
The Rams went on to piece together a 71-yard drive that stole nearly seven minutes off the clock and finished with a field goal that gave the Rams a two-touchdown lead that proved to be insurmountable.

Perhaps the best news for the Rams is that, barring more injuries, this group can now get on a roll entering the season’s final stages.

Wells, who missed Wednesday's practice with a knee ailment, seemed to adjust quickly to being back in the mix save for a communication error that led to one sack and was consistently getting down the field to make extra blocks in the run game.

Fisher believes having Wells back for a longer period this time will help the group continue to grow.

“He looked fine and the good thing about his game is he felt real good after,” Fisher said. “So, he didn’t have any issues and felt good. We should only get better up front now with him working himself back in and having played a couple games.”
Having both Wells and Turner in the lineup together is an added bonus because the duo is used to making line calls and adjustments. Combined with Bradford, it gives the Rams as much knowledge as possible for all pre-snap reads.

Saffold noticed the difference right away playing next to Turner.

“The greatest thing about having a couple centers in the game is that they actually talk about things and when you’ve got two centers seeing things from different angles, things get communicated a lot better,” Saffold said. “We were communicating, being able to pass things off and we were able to adjust last minute and make plays. It’s definitely a good feeling.”

Moving forward, there are plenty of major challenges for the offensive line, starting this week against San Francisco’s dominant front seven.

In the first meeting, the Rams were able to win the line of scrimmage but they know to duplicate that effort, they’ll have to find something that has eluded them as an entire offense most of this season, something Fisher constantly preaches.

“I think it’s just consistency,” Turner said. “I talk about consistency all the time and it really is. It’s consistency of guys working hard, guys trying to do the little things right. There will be times when things happen but consistency as an offense is where you start grinding on people and wearing them down.”