EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When a team is struggling to get anything going offensively like the St. Louis Rams have the past two weeks, it’s easy to point to the offensive line and cast blame solely on the front five.
Make no mistake, the Rams’ line isn’t opening many holes or keeping quarterback Sam Bradford upright consistently, but the blocking blame can easily be spread amongst the others tasked with doing the job.
That includes tight ends, receivers and de facto fullbacks in the run game, and tight ends and running backs in pass protection. To this point, that group simply hasn’t gotten the job done.
For the Rams to get out of their offensive rut, it’s going to fall on the shoulders of everyone on the field, not just a select one or two players. That means doing the dirty work that might normally go under the radar, especially in the running game.
Tight end Lance Kendricks, who proved a solid blocker a year ago, is still working his way back from a knee injury and said he’s just now starting to feel like he’s back in football shape.
That’s a good sign for the Rams, because they ask a lot of Kendricks as a blocker, not only on the edge at tight end, but coming out of the backfield in a fullback role. It’s something Kendricks himself acknowledges.
“It goes for me, too,” Kendricks said. “I obviously haven’t been the best out there. Everybody is trying to be accountable, and I think the past couple days have kind of been a good testament to everyone just being accountable and communicating and doing their job right. We have been trying to flow through practice without any mistakes.”
When asked about the blocking struggles in the first four weeks, Kendricks points to a common point of contention for any team looking to get issues corrected: communication.
Kendricks said there have been multiple occasions where calls have been miscommunicated and led to players taking the wrong assignments. That has allowed defenders to run free to the ball.
Making matters more difficult last week was San Francisco’s 3-4 look, which puts more athletic defenders on the field in the form of linebackers, and can create additional confusion.
“We’ve really been stressing communication and making sure we’ve got the right calls,” Kendricks said. “Everyone here can block. We’ve got good linemen; we’ve got good tight ends that can block. It’s just a matter of communicating, getting the right call out and being on our technique and stuff like that.”
Blocking is the one area that can be difficult to measure without statistical backing. The folks at Pro Football Focus attempt to grade it with anything in the 0.0 range coming in as average, anything negative coming as below average, and anything above coming as a net positive.
According to their grades, the majority of the Rams' offensive line has been pretty solid in the run game. In fact, they have center Scott Wells as the only starting lineman with a negative score in the category (though it’s awfully low at negative-6.1). Their metrics also grade injured tackle Rodger Saffold below average.
Kendricks has the lowest grade amongst Rams in run blocking, and fellow tight end Jared Cook has also struggled mightily in that area. Even if you don’t subscribe to those grading methods, a quick glance at the All-22 film shows those shortcomings.
Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer says the Rams need improvement on the edges, but that applies across the board.
“We certainly have guys that we feel good about on the edges,” Schottenheimer said. “Lance obviously can be a dominant blocker on the edge. Cookie, obviously because of his length can do that.
“It’s not just the edges that we’ve got to do better. It all works together. We hear coach loud and clear, we know that’s something we have got to improve on, and it will help the whole group.”
Kendricks has enough body of work as a blocker that as he continues to knock rust off he should return closer to his usual self. Cook has rarely been asked to do much run blocking in the past, and it would probably serve the Rams well to follow a similar plan.
The Rams need more from their backs and tight ends in passing situations as well. San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman terrorized the Rams running backs last week with two sacks, two hurries and three quarterback hits, most of the time without a running back laying a hand on him.
Schottenheimer shouldered much of that blame, but it’s clear right now the Rams don’t have a back who has established himself as reliable in pass protection.
“Obviously that was an issue,” Schottenheimer said. “I blame myself. I should have made an adjustment after he got us twice. We knew what they were doing; I should’ve got that adjustment made. It’s a hard matchup for any back, and again, he was doing a good job because there’s multiple moves he uses. Certainly there’s things we can get better at but again, I’ve got to take some of that.”