You can almost appreciate the irony if you weren’t caught up in the frustrations of the season.
The Rams and Eagles are doomed by a similar offseason misstep, though probably not the one that comes to mind at first.
It’s true, neither team has benefited from the Sam Bradford-for-Nick Foles swap. Rams fans now realize why Chip Kelly was so eager to part with a quarterback that helped lead his team to the playoffs in 2013, while Eagles fans know what it’s like to be in backup quarterback hell because Bradford can’t stay healthy.
But beyond the issues at quarterback, the Rams and Eagles find themselves linked by the notion that simple, quick fixes along the offensive line would eventually net positive results.
Both teams are now suffering for their miscalculations.
Kelly clearly believed that he could plug anyone into his system and it would still fire on all cylinders.
That’s why he was so quick to drop veterans Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans this offseason and replace them with inexperienced guards Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner.
After all, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, right?
In St. Louis, the plan was to invest in youth along the offensive line and allow those players to grow together as one. Sure, there would be growing pains early on, but under the guidance of offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, the group would develop enough chemistry and cohesion to form a formidable unit by midseason.
Both plans have backfired.
Neither team can run the ball because opposing defenses are dominating the interior of their offensive lines. Defensive tackles are penetrating through the A-gaps on inside zone plays, which has wrecked the timing and rhythm of the teams’ running games (see what Linval Joseph did to the Rams in Minnesota and what Geno Atkins just did in Cincinnati).
Without being able to get an initial push or execute a successful double team, the interior linemen for the Rams and Eagles are allowing linebackers to run free to their assigned gaps. The zone-blocking scheme works great when you execute it. But just like anything in football, missed assignments lead to negative plays, which leads to offenses getting behind schedule, which means more punts and fewer points.
On outside zone plays, defensive linemen are flowing down the line instead of penetrating up field. If the running back tries to cut back, defenders can meet them head on if they stay in the cut-back lane. If the running back tries to stay up field, he eventually runs out of real estate because defenders are flowing with him down the line, linebackers are effectively holding the edge, and safeties are flowing over the top in case of missed tackles.
Todd Gurley and DeMarco Murray aren’t the problem.
They can only do so much when forced to make defenders miss in the backfield or break tackles at the line of scrimmage. It’s not as if both players have lost the ability to produce special runs: They just don’t stand a chance right now because of the failures up front.
Injuries ruined the Rams’ plan for the offensive line but this is why people questioned whether or not the team was aggressive enough in free agency. Allowing Joe Barksdale to leave because they didn’t want to overpay him was sensible. But signing only one veteran offensive lineman (Garrett Reynolds) turned out to be imprudent.
Injuries inevitably happen. Do you have enough experienced, quality depth to compensate for those injuries?
Granted, the failures up front aren’t the only reasons why these two teams have struggled offensively. Quarterback play has been a huge issue for both teams. Even when protection is fine for Foles, he’s struggled with timing, anticipation, and feel within the pocket. When Bradford was healthy, he showed the same penchant for making the safe play instead of taking the shot downfield to pick up yards in chunks.
It all starts up front. The statement is cliche, but true.
There’s a chain reaction that’s stemmed from both teams failing to run the ball. If Kelly still has his job in Philadelphia following the season, perhaps investing in a pair of quality guards and adjusting his run-blocking schemes to adapt to the pro game will offer a quick fix.
In St. Louis, however, the problems run deeper.
As my partner Chris Duncan recently pointed out, losing Rodger Saffold hurt the Rams more than we’ve discussed. But Greg Robinson is a much bigger project than the Rams estimated, the center position is once again a major concern, and the jury is still out on Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown, who have understandably had their ups and downs in their rookie season.
There are no quick fixes for the Rams. If they don’t get their problems along the offensive line ironed out, the results will be the same as this season.