by Ben Muth
Welcome to another edition of Word of Muth. On tap this week are the St. Louis Rams from their game against the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday. If I'm being completely honest, when Sam Bradford went down and Greg Robinson got beat out by Davin Joseph, there was some serious consideration put into dropping the Rams from the rotation this year. The fear was that they would struggle to stay competitive in games and thus turn into a one dimensional pass-happy offense with a crappy quarterback. Add that to the fact that the main reason the Rams' offensive line was going to be interesting -- that they had just drafted one of the most heavily hyped collegiate linemen of the past decade -- was now moot. But I decided to stick with them and I'm glad I did. I think there are some interesting and exciting players up front for the Rams whether Robinson plays or not.
That being said, Jeff Fisher going with Davin Joseph at right guard over the No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson was a legitimate shock coming out of the preseason and one that I still don't get. I think Davin Joseph is the kind of guard who you should always be looking to replace. He won't kill your offense (he's not terrible), but if you can't find cheaper and younger alternatives in the draft or free agency your front office isn't doing a very good job. Yes, it's early, but the fact that Robinson can't beat him out is an early red flag for a team that has seen its fair share of early-round misses in recent years.
The biggest concern with Davin Joseph is that his change of direction in pass protection just isn't very good. He does a lot of things from a technique standpoint well enough. He plays with a good base, he uses his hands, he doesn't lunge at guys, but at the end of the day he is always susceptible to counter moves due to an overall lack of lateral agility. Take this play from early in the fourth quarter.
Joseph starts out fine. The defender gets his hands in Joseph's chest, but there's some good back-and-forth on the hand-battle front. Once the defensive tackle decides to change direction, however, Joseph loses immediately. Joseph just keeps stumbling inside and can't get back out to knock the rusher off course. This lack of quickness also shows up when he tries to pass off games and twists with other linemen, something of which Dallas defensive ends took repeated advantage.
At left tackle, Jake Long was all right. He was good in the running game and passable in the passing game. The thing is though, if you just watch Long's initial set, you would think he's still one of the top left tackles in all the NFL. It seems like he should still be a top-flight blind-side protector, but the consistent performance just isn't there. The biggest issue is that Long isn't able to anchor when rushers transition from speed to power. I don't think it's a strength issue, because Long is still a bit of an ass-kicker in the run game. I think it more has to do with Long's technique, and in particular how he has a bad tendency to drift unnecessarily.
By drift, I mean that Long will take a very sound pass set off the snap but then rather than throttle down and wait for the defensive end to come to him, he'll continue to fade back towards the quarterback, eating up his own cushion in the process. Take a look at this play from the second quarter.
Long is in great shape after his first two kick-steps. All he has to do is wait for the defensive end to come to him. Instead, though, Long continues to drift straight back with what is almost a straight backpedal. There's no reason to for him to do this, and it just puts him closer to the quarterback (never a good thing) and allows the defensive end to gather a bigger head of steam before lowering his head for the bull rush. At the end of the play, Long ends up right in Austin Davis' lap.
Contrast Long's set with that of right tackle Joseph Barksdale (who was very good in pass pro all day). Barksdale also gets a great initial set, but once he's in position he just kind of stops and waits to throw his punch. Now Barksdale's punch is really good here (right on the defender's inside number with great extension), but even if it wasn't he'd still be in better shape simply because he has much more room to give.
At some point this year I'm probably going to do an entire article about passing off twists, but since I've already made the GIF, feel free to enjoy Rodger Saffold at left guard doing a great job of passing off this game as a preview. He takes a good first step, changes direction quickly and with a good base, and flattens the penetrating rusher across the center's face so Scott Wells can make the block even though he didn't see or feel the game coming. Saffold than has the balance and quickness to get back outside and pick up the looper. A really nice job from a player who had a nice game overall.
As I said earlier, it wasn't all bad for Long on Sunday. I thought he generated consistent movement in the running game. The thing that Long does well as a drive blocker is shoot his hands. People talk about pad level and footwork all the time in the running game and tend to leave talking points about linemen's hands to the passing game. But good hands make all the difference in the world in the running game too.
That is absolutely textbook by Long. He keeps his elbows tight to his body, cocks them back, and delivers a simultaneous double uppercut to the defender's breastplate. Look at how he rocks the defender's head back and jolts the defender outside -- that's bringing the thunder. At center, Scott Wells does a nice job of blocking the shaded nose as well, but this play is made by how much Jake Long widens the hole. I can't overemphasize how great his hands are here. It really is beautiful to watch.