Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Season's Greetings

Word of Muth: Season's Greetings
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

Well, the three teams I selected to cover before the season all turned out to be lemons. The Lions, the 49ers, and the Falcons -- none of them have any real playoff hopes, and this is a column that needs tape to grind every week. So each of the next three weeks, we'll take a look at a different (likely) playoff team before they (hopefully) reach the postseason.

The Los Angeles Rams had the best record in the NFL going into Sunday's night game against the Bears, so they seemed like a good bet to be hanging around into at least the second round of the playoffs. They also have a league-best (and record-threatening!) 5.53 adjusted line yards, and were in the top 10 in adjusted sack rate as well. So they seemed like they would be a fun offensive line to watch.

Well, despite the impressive resume going into the game, it was not a very fun performance to watch if you enjoy good offensive line play. The Chicago Bears defense controlled the action from the very first play of the game, and the Rams couldn't seem to find any kind of rhythm on offense throughout the contest. It was a long night at the office for the entire unit.

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Khalil Mack is one of the very best players in the NFL. I'm not sure if there is really a good way to block him. But what I do know is that this isn't going to get it done. I don't know what the plan here was for right tackle Rob Havenstein (79), but I can't imagine it looked like this in his own head. He takes an initial pass set that looks like something you typically see on an NFL field, but after a kick and a half he just goes into complete freelance mode. He basically just chases after Mack, and it's never good to try to engage a better athlete by abandoning all semblance of technique. He might be trying to spring a jump set on Mack, but your feet should never cross over like that on any set. It just leaves you susceptible to counter moves.

Again, I understand that Khalil Mack is a war daddy, and you might need to switch things up on him from time to time, but you cannot just start doing weird stuff and hope it works. The way Havenstein turns his hips and runs makes it look like he's a linebacker dropping to take away the hook zone in the 1994 NFC Central. Just a bad rep to put on tape.

via Gfycat

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It seemed like Mack might have also caused some of the Rams to make some errors in assignment as well as technique. This is a single-back gap scheme, and Andrew Whitworth (77) misses a run-through on the back side because he's too locked into Mack. The back-side tackle's assignment on this play is to step inside and make sure no one is coming through the B-gap, then pivot back outside to get a hand on the defensive end. I've heard this called a punch-and-peel block, a step/hinge block, a pivot block, everyone calls it something different, but literally every team that runs power or any gap scheme has the back-side tackle do the same thing.

Against this look, with no linebacker really lined up anywhere near your gap, you will end up blocking the defensive end 98 percent of the time. But this is one of those two-percenters where a safety timed his blitz perfectly and came from depth to get in on the tackle. I'm guessing Whitworth just never saw him creeping up.

Even if Whitworth had picked up the safety, I don't think this play was going for huge yards anyway, because tight end Tyler Higbee (89) doesn't get much of a block. Still, look at that kick-out block by pulling left guard Rodger Saffold (76). Goodness gracious, does that get me fired up. This was actually the first play of the game too. What a way to announce to a defense that you are going to be playing with bad intentions tonight. The Bears played with worse intentions apparently, but that's still an awesome block.

via Gfycat

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The first GIF was a physical error. The second was a mental error. This one is bad enough that I can't say for sure what it was. Havenstein gives us a rare double turnstile here. My guess is that he's supposed to block the slanting defensive end and leave the defensive back for Todd Gurley, but he whiffs so badly that he tries to just go with it and get a hand on the defensive back anyway (it did not work). If that is what happened to Havenstein, I think his feet were once again the source of the problem. That's an awfully big second step he takes, and he finds himself cross-legged again. Cross-legged will get you beat just like it did here, and the Rams are lucky this wasn't another pick from Jared Goff.

via Gfycat

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This was Mack's only sack of the game, but he obviously had a big impact throughout the night. If you're a regular reader of this column you know how often I preach that there's no excuse to get beat around the edge as an offensive tackle if your help is sliding to you. You also have probably read me saying that the sliding guard can't fly away from the defensive tackle and leave the center high and dry. Well, this is what can happen when both the left tackle and left guard take my advice a little too much.

Saffold is probably a little too heavy on the defensive tackle (Eddie Goldman, 91), notice how he changes direction to come back and stab at the defender before getting back out. That makes him just a hair slow. Whitworth isn't awful, but he oversets Mack enough that so he doesn't get enough of him on the counter. Saffold is a touch late getting out to help, then Mack does a really impressive job finishing this rush through two pretty good football players. Nothing Whitworth or Saffold did was terrible, but against a player like Mack you don't have to be terrible to give up a sack. You can be OK and still get beat.

That said, if Goff had felt the rush at all, he could've taken a step or two up and to the right to avoid the sack entirely. It wasn't the only time Goff's lack of pocket feel hurt the Rams.

via Gfycat

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Again, Whitworth isn't great or even good here. But he's OK. He's getting bull-rushed, but he's anchoring enough where he shouldn't be much of an issue for the quarterback to deal with -- particularly with how well the rest of the pocket is holding up.

Goff has all the room in the world here to step up and find some space to make a throw. Instead he drifts right into his left tackle's back and throws a terrible pick. Again, Whitworth needs to be better, but this is a really bad play from Goff.

There were some more lowlights, but I think you get the point. The good news for Rams fans is that while the net results were one-sided, I didn't think any of the individual matchups were so dominant that L.A. has to dread seeing Chicago again in the playoffs. A lot of the Rams' stumbles we self-inflicted. Part of that was playing a really good defense that took advantage of every little mistake, but the Rams can certainly clean up a lot on their end.


7 comments, Last at 17 Dec 2018, 12:02am

1 Re: Word of Muth: Season's Greetings

Also, if the next meeting is in L.A., I'd expect the next matchup to be rather less one-sided.

Also, Ben, if you're freelancing the rest of the year, it might be interesting to do a Seahawks game, and compare it to a Seahawks game from last year, to see if something jumps out that might be attributable to a change in o-line coaches. Just my continuing effort to tell FO contributors how to spend their time, so I can get more free stuff!

7 Re: Word of Muth: Season's Greetings

I’m going to throw out a vote for the Colts o-line. They’ve given up 37(!) fewer sacks this year then last year through 14 games.

They’ve also had some 200+ yard rushing games this year and put 178 up on the #3 rushing defense today.