Revamped Line Holds Up

Posted Nov 28, 2011

As injuries attacked the offensive line, particularly the tackle position, time and again over the past month, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and his staff found themselves forced to search for the right five players to put on the field yesterday against Arizona.

To make that decision, Spagnuolo, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and line coach Steve Loney sat down and got back to basics in what they were looking for.

“I do think this is the right way to go: sit down and ‘Who are the best five players?’” Spagnuolo said. “Let’s see if we can’t get them slotted in their positions and go from there. That’s where we began and that’s what led us to it.”

What it led them to was a revamped line consisting of Adam Goldberg at left tackle, Jacob Bell at left guard, Tony Wragge at center, Jason Brown at right guard and Harvey Dahl at right tackle.

Of that group, only Bell and Wragge stayed in their original positions with Goldberg moving from right to left, Dahl kicking outside to tackle from guard and Brown stepping in at guard instead of his usual center spot.

“The thought process was to get the best five guys out there we thought,” Spagnuolo said. “Jason is a guard/center; he was one of the best five so we put him in there. So somebody had to go to tackle. The greatest thing about this group at the beginning of last week it was all ‘Whatever you need to do, coach. I’ll move here, I’ll do this, I’ll do that.’ Adam had to switch from right to left. I thought Harvey did a pretty good job and Adam did an admirable job there. It’s a tough task out there as a left tackle and he only let up the one sack. But overall, I thought they did pretty good under the circumstances.”

All things considered, the patchwork line which had all of three practices together did hold its own against a talented Arizona defense bent on getting after quarterback Sam Bradford and shutting down the running of back Steven Jackson.

The Cardinals sacked Bradford just twice despite throwing some exotic blitzes and looks at the Rams’ line.
“When you shuffle the offensive line, it’s hard in this league,” Spagnuolo said. “You don’t want the quarterback to get hit or get sacked at all but there were only two sacks in the game. And they did bring some pressures and there were some really good pickups.”

Spagnuolo said Monday he’s unsure if the line will stay the same but there are a few factors to consider in making that decision.

Citing a situation with the secondary last year in which he changed nickel backs on multiple occasions, Spagnuolo said he thought he tinkered too much and learned an important lesson about the value of continuity.

Most likely that lesson will lead to a similar look for the line this week. 

“You’d like to settle in,” Spagnuolo said. “We don’t want to do too much moving around. We’ll think about it. We haven’t made that final decision but I think you have to be careful with that.”

DIFFICULT DECISIONS: On a number of occasions in Sunday’s game, Spagnuolo faced some tough choices that he explained immediately after the contest.

The first was the decision to run down the clock, take a shot at the end zone and then kick a field goal at the end of the first half.

That came after a false start penalty and a sack pushed them back 14 yards after having first and goal at the 3.

“At that particular point, my decision to let it come down initially, was to let it come down and kick the field goal,” Spagnuolo said. “I just felt like it was going to be a tight football game and points, we had to have points. I didn’t want to take a chance of losing them, so I was trying to be smart there. We were a little bit in disarray, and then as the offensive coaches talked to me they said, ‘Let’s take one shot.’ And so I thought maybe that was a good thing to do and then we kicked it. So that’s why I did what I did at the end there. Certainly, we’ve got to find a way when we’re at the 3-yard line to get it in the end zone. Certainly, would’ve made a big difference.”

In the second half, Spagnuolo opted not to challenge a couple of close calls. One was a fumble by tight end Lance Kendricks in which it appears the Arizona defenders feet might have been out of bounds. The other was the spot of the ball after Cardinals quarterback John Skelton took off on a scramble on a third-and-13 and reached for the first down before he stepped out of bounds.

“The spot of the ball I looked at, I didn’t think it was…I thought it was going to be one of those not enough to challenge,” Spagnuolo said. “I didn’t want to waste a timeout. The other one, there was a little bit of talk about it, but then we thought upstairs it was legit. So we go off of that. I know on that tight game timeouts are pretty important. So we’re not just going to throw it, to throw it. We’re just using our judgment.”

The final difficult choice came late in the game with the Rams facing a fourth-and-1 at their 36 and 3:22 to play. They still had all of their timeouts and the two minute warning and Spagnuolo opted to punt it away rather than go for the first down with his team trailing 23-20. 

“We had three timeouts,” Spagnuolo said. “That was really the decision. I thought we could…if we could hold them, didn’t let them get a first down, we we’re going to get the ball back. It’s a three point game.”

IN THE HOOD: Cornerback Rod Hood had spent the better part of his time in St. Louis patiently awaiting his opportunity to step on the field and help the Rams defense.

“You have some ups and down times as a player, but our secondary was playing real good, our defense was playing real good,” Hood said. “I think Coach just wanted to stick with those guys. You can’t have too many moving parts if you can avoid it. When God was ready for me to be out there, I was going to be out there. Today was the day.”

After getting some work on special teams last week, Hood got his chance against the Cardinals and even started the game as Arizona came out in a three-receiver set.

Hood wasted no time getting back in the groove, though as he intercepted Skelton and returned it 27 yards with just under eight minutes to go in the first quarter.
The interception was the 15th of Hood’s career.

“Really overall, I thought he played pretty solid,” Spagnuolo said. “One thing Rod had to his advantage was he knew those guys. He’s been down there. You could see that in the game. He’s played a lot of games in this league. I appreciate the fact that he hung in there all these weeks where his pride and competitiveness say he wants to go in there and play. He was very patient. I thought he helped us yesterday.”
INJURY REPORT: The Rams seemed to come out of Sunday’s game without any serious injuries though a few players will be watched closely this week before their status for this week is determined.

Bradford aggravated his ankle injury a little bit. Spagnuolo expects him to be ready to practice Wednesday.

“I think we’re going to be OK there,” Spagnuolo said. “But we’ll just kind of wait to see tomorrow and get to rehab and see where we are on Wednesday.”

Safety Darian Stewart has lingering concussion symptoms that will force him to undergo the normal evaluation process this week before he can be cleared to play.

Linebacker Chris Chamberlain and fullback Brit Miller had sore hamstrings but were able to finish the game. That kept Chamberlain and Miller off special teams, including the punt return that was returned for a touchdown.

Special teamer Dominique Curry played through a shoulder injury. His status this week will be evaluated as the week goes on.

Punter Donnie Jones turned his left (punting) ankle. He’s also expected to be OK.

Defensive tackle Justin Bannan (shoulder), tackle Mark LeVoir (pectoral) and linebacker Josh Hull (hamstring) will not practice on Wednesday. Their status for the week is in doubt.

On the bright side, receiver Danario Alexander figures to be back in the mix as Spagnuolo said he’s expected to practice Wednesday.