The Rams built a doghouse large enough to accommodate a 6-foot-5, 332-pound human, and offensive lineman Greg Robinson pretty much spent the day in it Sunday.
It was clear early last week that the Rams would bench the struggling left tackle, whose inconsistent play and penchant for penalties — Robinson was flagged 12 times in the first nine games; no other offensive player incurred more than three penalties — tested the patience of Rams coaches.
Not only did a healthy Robinson not start in the Rams’ 49-21 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but also he did not dress for the game. He was inactive as a string of 38 consecutive starts ended for the former Auburn standout, who was the second overall pick in the 2014 draft.
“We made a decision during the week to give Greg Robinson a break, a week off, because he needed it,” Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said. “There was just a lot going on, too many mental errors and too many penalties.
“But I would expect Greg to return to the lineup. Just one of those things. I’ve dealt with them before with young players. He just needed a moment, he needed a break, so we’ll get him back and get him going.”
The Rams moved versatile left guard Rodger Saffold to left tackle and started reserve lineman Jamon Brown, who was slowed in recent weeks because of a hand injury, at left guard. Center Tim Barnes, right guard Cody Wichmann and right tackle Rob Havenstein remained at their positions.
Saffold suffered a hand injury on the Rams’ final first-half possession and did not return. He was replaced by Andrew Donnal, a reserve guard who has played sparingly this season. When asked if he could recall the last time he played tackle, Donnal said, “Maybe [organized team activities] or high school.”
The overall performance of the line didn’t deviate much from the 10 games it played with Robinson. There were some positives — rookie quarterback Jared Goff did find enough time to complete 12 of 20 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns in the first half — but those were outweighed by the negatives.
Goff was sacked three times for a loss of 36 yards and coughed up the ball on one of those sacks — a second-quarter fumble at the Rams’ 10-yard line after getting hit hard by Sheldon Rankins. That led to a Saints touchdown and a 21-14 lead with 7 minutes, 46 seconds left in the first half.
The Saints also had eight quarterback hits and one interception, and Rams running back Todd Gurley had another low-to-no-impact day, carrying the ball 13 times for just 50 yards.
“Today, obviously, wasn’t a good showing,” Havenstein said. “There were some good things, but there weren’t enough good things. We allowed too much pressure, too many sacks. … I thought [Goff’s] poise was excellent. As an offensive line, we have to give him more time to create, and we didn’t do it today.”
Havenstein bore the brunt of the blame.
“I had a bad game, and this is gonna stick with me for a long time,” he said. “I allowed too much pressure. I made too many technique errors. I have to do a better job.”
The line held up fairly well under heavy pressure in the first half, fending off numerous Saints blitzes and providing Goff with some operating room.
And Donnal, a second-year pro out of Iowa who played in only five games in 2015 and has played mostly on special teams this season, held his own for much of the third quarter.
But Goff was under heavy pressure for much of a second half in which the Rams managed just 60 yards and three first downs, and he was slow to get up after being sacked by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe for a 10-yard loss at the Rams’ five-yard line with 5:38 left.
“There was a lot of pressure, but whether they rush three or four guys or more, it’s our job as a line to hamper it,” Havenstein said. “We have to do a better job.”
The schedule provides no respite. The Rams (4-7) travel to New England to play the Patriots next Sunday, and they can only hope that Robinson, who was not available to the media Sunday because he was inactive, provides a boost.
“Yeah, it’s surprising,” Brown said of Robinson’s precipitous fall from the starting lineup. “I’m sure coach has his reasons. We just have to trust the process and hope that everything is going to work itself out.”