The Los Angeles Rams offensive line has performed at an elite level this season, a sometimes-unsung group in the team’s 5-0 start. And that’s why they can find humor in at least one play that went somewhat astray.
Saffold, a ninth-year pro, started to chuckle when he recalled a particular moment during a Week 3 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Rams were in the red zone and the line held their blocks for what felt like an eternity (in reality, it was 6 seconds).
That’s when Blythe, a first-year starter, turned and screamed at quarterback Jared Goff, “Throw it! Throw it!” And so Goff threw the ball out the back of the end zone.
Blythe blushed when he recalled the play. He was blocking two defensive linemen, but as they continued to push, he couldn’t hold the block any longer.
His yells were "in the heat of the moment," Blythe said. “If I was rationally thinking, I wouldn’t have said anything.”
Yelling at the quarterback, some linemen said, is not typically encouraged. Goff, however, was lucky Blythe did, because as the third-year quarterback searched the end zone for an open receiver, he was inches away from being sacked.
“It was hilarious,” Saffold said, as he thought about Blythe’s scream. “We laugh about it now, but I think Jared has a lot of trust in us."
That's because they have kept Goff upright and allowed him to post eye-popping numbers.
And Goff leads the NFL in several categories.
Through five weeks, he has the best passer rating, 119.7, and he even posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in a Week 4 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Goff leads the league in passing yards with 1,727 and is averaging 345 passing yards per game.
“The offensive line is playing tremendously,” said Goff, who has passed for 12 touchdowns, with 4 interceptions. “Opening up stuff for Todd and keeping me clean and allowing me to get the ball out."
The Rams line was the only group in the NFL last season to start the same five players for 15 games. This season, right guard Jamon Brown was suspended for the first two games and Blythe, a reliable backup in 2017, stepped in. Through two weeks, Blythe graded outstanding and coaches decided to leave the line intact rather than change something that had clearly been working.
“The O-line is fantastic,” said Todd Gurley II, who leads the NFL with 9 touchdowns. “... whether we run or pass the ball, or whether I'm in there or not, everybody's in there doing their job.”
The Rams have had elite pass protection this season, according to ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate using NFL Next Gen Stats. A pass block win is when a pass blocker sustains his block for the first 2.5 seconds following the snap, about the average NFL time for a quarterback to throw.
When a blocker is beaten within the first 2.5 seconds, the pass-rusher is given the win. Pass block wins are determined by an objective model based on player tracking data.
The Rams rank first in the league with a pass block win rate of 73 percent. The next closest team is the Green Bay Packers at 59 percent.
“It just comes down to the whole offense,” said Havenstein, a fourth-year pro who signed a four-year, $32.5 million extension before the season. “We do such a good job of scheming things, making things look similar that are different, that we can have that extra half second, that extra second of kind of figuring out what we’re doing.”
All three of the Rams' interior linemen rank in the top 12 among guards and centers. Saffold is at 91 percent, center John Sullivan at 89 percent and Blythe at 87 percent.
“They're playing the best in the league right now and I don't think it's really close,” Goff said. “I mean even just hits, pressures -- not even sacks. Just all that stuff is incredible and they're doing such a great job."
To further demonstrate that the line has excelled, look no further than how often they hold their blocks through 3 seconds -- considered an overwhelming amount of time for a quarterback to throw the ball.
Whitworth, a 13-year pro, holds his block through 3 seconds 89 percent of the time, Saffold 87 percent and Havenstein 86 percent.
“It just means a lot to us to nail the game plan, to do things efficiently and to really be on the same exact page every week of exactly how we want to make things happen,” Whitworth said. “We take pride in just the offense as a whole and really all of us being able to click.”