Rams' offensive line the 'root of their issues'

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Jared Goff is not under any false impressions. The Los Angeles Rams quarterback knows the offense hasn't played up to expectations following a Super Bowl season and that the unit's inefficiencies have played a role in a three-game losing streak.

So what needs improvement?

"There's a lot," said Goff, who signed a four-year extension worth $110 million guaranteed before the season. "Just mainly consistency. Consistency, because we've seen the sparks, we've seen us have really good drives, we've seen us look like we should quite a bit this year.

"But we need to do that on a consistent basis and do it drive in and drive out."

The Rams returned each of their skill-position playmakers this season, including Goff, Todd Gurley and a talented trio of receivers from an offense that ranked second in scoring last season.

That past success -- and coach Sean McVay's offensive acumen -- makes the offense's early-season issues surprising. McVay has said the unit is still in search of an identity.

"We've got some continuity at some spots, but we're also figuring out what's the best way to handle different things, accentuate our players' skill sets," McVay said. "Whether that be the interior of the line, our backs, things like that."

The only offensive position group that underwent a significant change from last season is the offensive line, and according to ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen, that is where the Rams' inefficiencies begin.

"Teams are taking away the run game and pass game doing a couple different things," Bowen said. "But it starts up front and I think that is really the root of their issues right now."

Last season, the Rams started the same five linemen through the regular season and playoffs, and that group was the best in the NFL, with a top-ranked pass block win rate, according to ESPN metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats.

But after the season, left guard Rodger Saffold signed a four-year, $44 million free-agent contract with the Tennessee Titans and the Rams declined an option on veteran center John Sullivan's contract.

Rams coaches expressed confidence that Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen, selected in the third and fourth rounds of the 2018 draft, respectively, could take over at left guard and center, but the transition has appeared far from seamless -- for both the first-year starters, as well as veteran tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein and right guard Austin Blythe.

"The frustrating part with that, or any line that's new together and has young guys, you're going to have ups and downs," said Whitworth, a 14-year NFL veteran. "You look across the offense, all of us are really in that same rod of making just little mistakes that we just aren't accustomed to making, and that's not on the young players -- it's on everybody."

Penalties are up, the line's pass block win rate is down and so is the production of the entire offense, which ranks tied for 11th in scoring at 25.5 points per game.

And more change is on the way. The Rams will start rookie David Edwards, a fifth-round pick from Wisconsin, at left guard on Sunday against the Falcons after Noteboom suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6.

"Right now, where they're struggling is especially on the interior of the offensive line, guard-center-guard, and even right tackle," Bowen said. "It's not the same offensive line as last year in terms of production and the surge they're creating off the football."

Whitworth and Havenstein each have committed six penalties, a sharp increase from 2018. Allen has four.

But it's the unit's pass block win rate -- which has plummeted from 74.3% last season to 51%, 24th in the NFL -- that seems most significant.

The line isn't the only area of the offense that could stand to improve. As a playcaller, McVay hasn't found a balance between calling run and pass plays -- the Rams have attempted 246 passes to only 137 runs -- and he hasn't been able to help his offense find a consistent rhythm.

"We're killing ourselves with early-down efficiency," McVay said. "... In those manageable down-and-distances, that's where you want to live in."

The Rams have converted only 36% of the time on third down, which ranks 18th in the league.

Goff has passed for 1,727 yards and seven touchdowns, with seven interceptions, and the fourth-year quarterback has committed a turnover in a career-high six straight games. That's the longest streak by a Rams quarterback since Sam Bradford in 2011, when he had a turnover in 10 consecutive starts. His 78 passing yards on Sunday against the 49ers were the fewest of his career.

Overall, the Rams rank fourth in the NFL in turnovers with 12.

Goff said that despite losing three straight for the first time under McVay, the team will stick to its process as it sorts through the issues.

"There's a different feeling in your stomach and a different feeling coming in on Monday after a loss rather than a win, but it's the same thing," Goff said. "You approach it the same way: You look at the film, you learn from it, you get better, you hopefully get the stuff fixed."