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Rams’ consistent O- line vows to rebound from Chicago woes

December 13, 2018
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FILE - In this Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, file photo, Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (77), offensive guard Rodger Saffold (76) and center John Sullivan, left, listen in the huddle during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Los Angeles. Saffold believes the offensive line can recapture its dominant play earlier in the season by focusing on fundamentals and consistency.(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo, File)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — For nearly two full seasons, the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive line has been the epitome of consistent excellence and the bedrock of a wildly prolific offense.

When the line failed to reach its own lofty standards last weekend, the Rams (11-2) were reminded just how much they rely on those five blockers to allow Jared Goff and Todd Gurley to do their thing.

The line’s shortcomings can be measured most easily, if imperfectly, in the numbers of those skill-position stars in the Rams’ 15-6 loss to Chicago. Gurley rushed for just 28 yards, while Goff was sacked three times and threw four interceptions while under constant pressure from Khalil Mack and the Bears.

More broadly, the Rams’ past three opponents have generated significantly more effective pass rushing against Goff than in Los Angeles’ first 10 games. While coach Sean McVay scrambled to accept the blame for his prolific offense’s rare misfire in Chicago, players across the offense — particularly on the line — also admit they need to be better if the Rams hope to be a real Super Bowl contender.

“From the way that we felt after the game, I don’t think it was as bad as we think,” left guard Rodger Saffold said. “But of course, it came down to just fundamentals. When you’re in the heat of the game, especially emotionally, sometimes you do extra in order to try to make things happen, and you put yourselves in bad situations.”

The Rams watched every mistake Wednesday during a detailed film session, reminding the linemen that even a unit as finely tuned as the Rams’ offensive line must keep improving.

“We learned a lot coming out of that game,” said Aaron Kromer, the Rams’ offensive line coach and run game coordinator. “I think what you learned is when adversity hits at times, to go back to your fundamentals and techniques and not try to do something that’s out of the ordinary. Anytime you get in a big game, it always comes back to staying calm and understanding exactly what you want to get done.”

With Michael Bennett, Fletcher Cox and the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) visiting the Coliseum on Sunday night, the Rams’ linemen know they’ve got to fix their mistakes quickly.

McVay was quick to point out that his play selection is a major factor in the line’s success or failure.

“Anytime that you get some pressure, it’s always a little bit more difficult to operate,” McVay said. “I would say that it’s a combination of some different things. I wouldn’t say it’s been a fall-off (by the offensive line) or anything like that. There’s been specific instances and plays that might stand out that (are) typically uncharacteristic of what we’ve put on tape. But like anything else, we learn from it.”

Not many offensive lines in recent history have been more effective or more consistent than the Rams’ group.

Los Angeles had the same five starters for 15 games last season before McVay played his second stringers in the regular-season finale. After Austin Blythe replaced Jamon Brown at right guard this season, the Rams again have had the same five starters in all 13 games.

That consistency has been a key to the Rams’ success, and the linemen are determined to make sure it doesn’t lead to complacency. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is a team captain, while Saffold, center John Sullivan and right tackle Rob Havenstein also are veteran leaders of the entire roster.

“There’s no sense of sitting here feeling bad for yourselves,” Saffold said. “Just go out there and play.”

A potential downside of the Rams’ consistency and durability popped up in Chicago when both Sullivan and Saffold briefly left the game with injuries. Sullivan returned after being checked for a concussion, while Saffold missed five plays with an ankle injury.

Los Angeles has had only two backup offensive linemen on its roster for most of the season, fewer than most teams. Rookie tackle Joseph Noteboom and backup center Brian Allen got some rare playing time, but the developments also reminded the Rams how lucky they’ve been with injuries.

So the Rams on Wednesday re-signed lineman Jamil Demby, a sixth-round pick who was waived Sept. 8 when Aaron Donald ended his holdout. Demby had been on the Detroit Lions’ practice squad for the past three months.

That help won’t be immediate, however: Although the Rams already know Demby well, Kromer said the rookie has still “got a ways to go as far as being game-ready.”

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