A Fine Line on Offense : Rams Protecting Everett Better, but Running Game Still Flounders
Ram defensive end Robert Young, tied for the NFL leaders in sacks, stood within earshot as offensive tackle Irv Eatman explained why he thought sacks are “an overrated statistic.”
“Let’s face it,” said Eatman, who hasn’t given up a sack this season, “it’s just one play in the course of a game.
“If a guy gets a couple, you could say ‘Oh, he had a great game’ when he actually didn’t do a damn thing the rest of the time. That’s just the way it is. It’s a big highlight, and it’s how offensive lines are measured.”
So how do the Rams stack up in Eatman’s Overrated Stat Department?
Pretty well. The offensive line has allowed two sacks of Jim Everett this season--the second lowest total in the league behind Indianapolis (one in three games).
“It doesn’t surprise me because it’s something we’ve been working hard on since training camp,” left guard Tom Newberry said. “It has been a big focus for us to protect Jim. A lot of the credit has to go to Jim, too. He has done a good job of getting rid of the ball when he had to, and not taking the loss of yards.”
But an offensive line’s effectiveness is measured by more than just pass protection. And the Rams’ running attack hasn’t exactly been blowing through secondaries this season.
The Rams rank 27th in the league in rushing offense, ahead of only winless Tampa Bay. They average 63.8 yards per game, about 51 yards less than the league average.
Sunday’s 28-13 victory over Houston exposed the offense’s strengths and weaknesses.
Strength: The line held the Oilers’ blitzing 46 defense without a sack and gave Everett ample time to throw. As a result, Everett had his best game of the season, completing 19 of 28 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns.
Weakness: The Rams rushed for only 58 yards in 32 carries, an average of 1.8 yards. Fourteen of those yards came on a quarterback draw by Everett.
A week earlier, the Rams rushed for 45 yards in 12 carries in a 20-10 loss to the Giants. Their best rushing performance to date--103 yards in 32 carries in a 27-0 victory over Pittsburgh.
Still, the offensive line can’t absorb all the blame for a stumbling rushing attack.
Nagging injuries have forced running backs Cleveland Gary (bruised thigh), Jerome Bettis (sternum) and Tim Lester (knee) to miss practices. David Lang has been out all season with a knee injury.
“Running the ball is like a concert,” running backs coach Chick Harris said. “The line and running backs have to be working together. That’s why it’s so important to have everyone healthy and in practice.
“They can see the blocking patterns over and over from the sideline. If you’re sitting out there, you can get assignment checks mentally. But it’s not the same as practicing. It’s all timing.”
Timing that can’t be developed in a game, especially when the Rams have faced some of the league’s best rushing defenses. The Giants are third in the league at 64.3 yards a game. Pittsburgh is fourth at 68.3. Houston ranks 11th at 89.3.
“You have to chop a whole lot of wood to get through those defenses,” Harris said. “But it’s going to come, though. If we get healthy and can practice every day, and find the points wrong with our game, we should get better.”
Houston’s defense made it difficult for the Rams to establish any running attack. The Oilers stacked as many as eight players on the line of scrimmage, plugging any holes the offensive line might have opened.
“It’s like running into fixed bayonets,” Ram Coach Chuck Knox said.
“We had opportunities to break some runs,” he said. “And there were some breakdowns in blocking in various places.
“But still, you won’t get many yards rushing against Houston because they stack eight guys on the line. But on the other hand, you’re going to get 300-yard passing games.”
The line picked up most of Houston’s 15 blitzes Sunday, a fact that pleased offensive line coach Jim Erkenbeck.
“They’ve been doing a good job,” Erkenbeck said. “Sacks allowed is a team deal, something that reflects on the backs, the quarterback and the line. Receivers have a lot to do with it too.
“At this point, we’re well ahead of where we were last year at this time. I don’t know about it statistically, but as far as progression of our protection, we’re way ahead of last year.”
Neither Erkenbeck nor Newberry thought the line played its best game against the Oilers. At least not after reviewing game films on Monday.
“They pressured Jim a few times,” Newberry said. “After watching the film, we saw some things we need to improve on. We were letting guys come free late and get their hands on Jim. We can’t let that happen.”