The St. Louis Rams started the season with questions about their offensive line. They made it a point to go out and get a franchise left tackle in Jake Long this offseason. The pass-first mentality at the beginning of the season left them vulnerable to blitzes, and forced Sam Bradford to get rid of the ball before his receivers could create separation.
The mindset changed after the emergence of Zac Stacy and the run game in Week 8 when he rushed 26 times for 134 yards. With that change, the line became more aggressive and the Rams began imposing their will, rushing for 155 yards per game over the team’s last eight games. The Rams have also rushed for 10 TDs over that span. The increased rush attempts have prevented teams from pinning their ears back to go after the QB.
The offensive line has been shuffled after injuries to Rodger Saffold and Harvey Dahl forced them out for several weeks. Now the team is dealing with season-ending injuries to Scott Wells and Long.
Ultimately, Saffold’s versatility has been valuable beyond measure to this team. Injured early in the season after beginning the year at RT, he was shifted to RG in place of Dahl when Joe Barksdale cemented himself at RT. Saffold was extremely successful at RG, where his athleticism and strength made him a monster for DTs to deal with. Last week, he was shifted to LT after Long’s injury and didn’t miss a beat.
Barksdale has been one of the most consistent performers on the line since being inserted into the starting lineup. His play allowed the Rams to move Saffold as needed. Sunday’s matchup will feature three players who began the year as backups on the line. Those three players are RT Barksdale, G Shelley Smith, and C Tim Barnes. They are now going to be tasked with opening holes for Stacy and protecting Clemens against the best defense in the league.
Rams HC Jeff Fisher credits offensive line coach Paul Boudreau for the preparation shown by everyone on the line, including all of the former backups that have stepped up in a huge way. The Rams are three TDs away from their first 40-TD season in a decade, and Stacy is 42 yards away from being the third Rams rookie to rush for 1000 yards.
While Stacy has been doing a lot of the work pinballing through defenses, the interior of the line has been masterful in giving him just enough space to find the holes. This has been St. Louis’s most productive offensive season since 2003 in regards to total touchdowns.