One look at Nick Foles’ stat line from the Rams’ third preseason game is enough to squash concerns about his ability to run the team’s offense. What didn’t show up on his stat sheet was even more impressive.
Foles was 10-of-11 for 128 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in the Rams’ 24-14 loss to the Colts last Saturday night. Unlike his previous preseason performance, Foles showed better pocket presence, more athleticism, and the clock in his head was quicker. He bought himself more time moving inside and outside of the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield, which is a struggle for some quarterbacks.
If a signal-caller’s eyes are on the pressure, that means they’re not on their receivers, which makes it difficult to gain yardage.
Foles’ 44-yard touchdown pass to Chris Givens off play-action and a fake reverse was also on a dime.
In short, it was the best Foles has looked running Frank Cignetti’s offense. Unfortunately, that was the most challenging 10-for-11 for 128 yards that you’ll see from a quarterback.
The Rams’ offensive line is a work in progress, to put it nicely.
The line has been a bit of a mess with less than two weeks to go before the regular season.
Rob Havenstein deserves more time than one preseason to determine whether or not he can start in the NFL. However, Haverstein struggled mightily on Saturday, often failing to protect the edge and getting beat to the inside when he tried to anchor too wide.
He gave up two sacks and had issues with Erik Walden, who is a good player but doesn’t exactly resemble Justin Houston (who comes to St. Louis on Thursday, by the way).
Havenstein wasn’t the only St. Louis offensive lineman that struggled.
Greg Robinson continues to allow pressure to come from Foles’ backside and Demetrius Rhaney whiffed on a block when pulling in the run game. Barrett Jones held up well in pass protection, but the interior line generated little push in the run game.
The Rams are using more zone-run blocking under Frank Cignetti this year. A benefit of this scheme is that it allows the O-line to maximize the number of double teams at the point of attack. Once a team executes a double team, one of the offensive linemen can slip off the double team and get to the second level in order to “get a hat” on a linebacker.
But the Rams’ O-line isn’t winning at the point of attack and thus, they’re not getting to the second level. Linebackers are running free and meeting running backs head-on in gaps. Whether it’s Tre Mason, Todd Gurley, or Jim Brown, running backs can only do so much in a phone booth when that phone booth is jammed with defenders.
It’s only preseason, but there’s a domino effect that will take place in the regular season if the Rams can’t run the ball.
If opponents don’t have to stack the box in efforts to stop the run, they can afford to have an extra defender in coverage. And if opposing safeties don’t have to concern themselves with the run, that means they’re not going to bite on play-action. They can stay in their deep zones and help bracket receivers on the outsides.
Offenses need to stay “on schedule,” which means putting themselves in third-and-short when they can be creative with play calls. It’s no coincidence the teams that are good at converting on third downs also win on first and second.
If the Rams can’t run the ball, they’re going to have a difficult time winning on first and second down. Third and long with shoddy pass protection is a recipe to get your quarterback killed, or your offensive coordinator criticized because he’s forced into using his three-step game (which means plenty of short passes and frustrated fans).
Again, there’s a domino effect.
The Rams defense also has plenty to iron out before the regular season starts, but I have faith that this is a top-10 unit under Gregg Williams.
If the Rams can’t run the ball they’re going to have a difficult time sustaining drives and putting points on the board. That puts more pressure on Foles and the passing game and if three-and-outs start to pile up, it won’t matter how good the defense is, because it’ll be on the field too long.
It’s time for this Rams offensive line to grow up in a hurry. Much depends on that unit.
Foles quelled some concerns on Saturday night, but there’s nothing he can do when he’s constantly lying on his back.
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