It was regarded as the potential weak link, a mostly inexperienced group facing an aggressive, savvy veteran opponent.
Instead, the Rams’ patched-together offensive line handled the Chicago Bears’ defensive front with aplomb and heads into the Monday night game against the Baltimore Ravens brimming with confidence.
“For what we were able to do and run the ball like that feels good,” guard Austin Corbett said this week.
The Rams are coming off a 17-7 victory over the Bears that featured running back Todd Gurley’s return as the featured part of the offense. Coach Sean McVay finally put the ball in Gurley’s hands, giving him a season-high 25 carries. Gurley also caught three passes in a victory that improved the Rams’ record to 6-4 and kept them in playoff contention.
But Gurley would not have rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Jared Goff would not have remained upright, without the play of a line that featured veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth and four players with little or no NFL game experience at their positions.
Center Austin Blythe moved from right guard to center because of a season-ending knee injury suffered by Brian Allen in a Nov. 10 loss at Pittsburgh.
Corbett, a second-year pro acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns in October, started at left guard, and rookie David Edwards got the nod at right guard. Rookie Bobby Evans started at right tackle in place of veteran Rob Havenstein, who also suffered a knee injury against the Steelers.
“We needed to do what we needed to do,” Blythe said after the game. “That was be physical and run the football and get the run game established to help us out.”
Said Gurley: “They really did their thing.”
The Rams also got outstanding run-blocking from tight ends Tyler Higbee and Johnny Mundt in the backfield and along the line of scrimmage.
The moment was not too big for the young linemen, Goff said.
“All of them are just so non-reactive. Every single play is just so dialed, so focused, so steely-eyed, and just ready to go,” he said. “And obviously Whitworth is who he is, and we know that.”
Whitworth, a 14th-year pro, opined before the game that there would be “growing pains” when young linemen were called upon to step up en masse. But he also said there would be no excuses.
None were required after the victory over the Bears.
“Early in the week, I continued to tell the guys that this game was going to just be about coming out, playing physical, leaning on the other team,” Whitworth said. “We knew we were going to run downhill on them. That was our goal.”
Corbett, a second-round pick by the Browns in the 2018 draft, is benefiting from playing alongside Whitworth. The four-time Pro Bowl selection has started 205 NFL games.
“It’s phenomenal,” Corbett said of the opportunity. “He’s seen a lot of ball. He understands a lot of things. Just to be able to talk to him on the sideline about how I’m seeing things and what he’s seeing and how to approach things, it’s been awesome.”
Evans, a third-round pick who played at Oklahoma, received the most accolades for his play against Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack. The 2016 NFL defensive player of the year did not record a tackle.
“A non-factor,” Goff said, thanks to Evans.
“He did his thing,” Goff said. “He stepped up.”
Evans had no choice.
“I’m a rookie,” he said. “Whatever they throw at me, I’ve got to execute.”
McVay said Monday that Havenstein was doubtful for the game against the Ravens.
That means the group that started against the Bears will probably start against the Ravens, who are 8-2 and have won six games in a row. The Ravens rank 14th in the NFL in total defense. They are giving up 94.3 yards rushing per game, which ranks seventh.
Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks is expected to return to the lineup after sitting out two games while recovering from his second concussion of the season. Fellow receiver Robert Woods’ status is still to be determined after he did not attend the game against the Bears because of what the Rams have described as a personal issue.
Regardless of the play-calling approach McVay takes against the Ravens, the offensive line will need to perform well for the Rams to keep alive a drive for a playoff spot.
It delivered once. The test will be whether it can do it again.
The Rams were off Tuesday. They will practice Wednesday and Thursday, take Friday off and then practice Saturday in preparation for Monday.