If you missed the first installment of the position breakdowns this morning, Ramblin’ Fan covered the quarterbacks and running backs for the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins. Next, we are going to look at the most important unit on the field, the offensive linemen, as well as the skill players on the outside. The play of both the wide receivers and line will be immeasurably important for these two teams, who each have struggled to consistently producing points in close games. Both teams are in the bottom tier in terms of points score, but have also “been in” nearly every game until the end, averaging a mere 9.4 points per loss this season. This makes the play of these two units that much more important. So, here is how the two stack up at line and receiver…
A good measure of the performance of the offensive line may be a comparison of the their performances in two most recent games for the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins. For the Rams, those include matching up against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, while the Dolphins have also played the Cardinals, as well as the Cincinnati Bengals. The last two games have for each team have come against relatively equal opponents in terms of record, but more important, can more accurate gauge the performance of the current offensive line, in its current form, as opposed to how it looked at the beginning of the season. For example, a comparison of the first game of the season would not accurately measure the St. Louis Rams, because their are currently only two starters from that game manning their same position, with C Scott Wells, LG Rodger Saffold, and LG Rok Watkins all sustaining injury.
In terms of pass blocking in those two games, the Rams and Dolphins matched up in both games against pretty dominant pass rushing teams with the Cincinnati Bengals (T-1st), Arizona Cardinals (4th), and Seattle Seahawks (T-7th) all ranking in the Top 10 in sacks. In the last two games, both teams have fared pretty well in keeping their quarterback upright. However, there is still a clear difference in the performance, with Tannehill being sacked 6 times for 49 yards, while Bradford was only sacked 3 times for 22 yards.
While their opponents were relatively equal in terms of pass rushers, although one could easily argue that the Seahawks have a more dominant front four than the Bengals, there is no argument to who played against a better run stuffing team. Arizona Cardinals aside, since both the Dolphin and Rams played against them, the difference would be between the Bengals and Seahawks. The Seahawks rushing defense is 4th in rushing yards allowed, 4th in yards per carry allowed, and T-7th in rushing touchdowns allowed. Conversely, The Bengals are 21st in rushing yards allowed, 22nd in yards per carry allowed, and T-28th in rushing touchdowns allowed. As a result one would expect the Dolphins offense line to have more success, which would lead to more success from the running backs. However, over those two games, Reggie Bush had 115 yards on 36 carries, for 3.19 yards per carry, while Steven Jackson rushed for 131 yards on 36 carries, for 3.63 yards per carry.
It may be difficult to image that the St. Louis Rams currently have a better offensive line than the Miami Dolphins, especially with Jake Long on their roster. However, talent does not always equate to performance on the field, and right now, the Rams are playing as solid as any unit in the NFL.
Advantage: St. Louis Rams, 2-1
No real breakdown is needed for this particular category at this particular point in the season. The St. Louis Rams are as placid in the passing game as any team in the NFL, and just lost their best receiver, Danny Amendola, for 4-8 weeks with a separated SC joint. The Rams can only speculate to whether or not someone will step up and fill the void left in Amendola’s absence, but there are limited numbers to work with to support the Rams receiving core.
Taking the St. Louis Rams top receiver out of the picture, the rest of the team has caught 53 passes for 629 yards. Brian Hartline, by himself, has caught 29 balls for 514 yards, or 81.7% of the Rams receiving total. However, outside of Brian Hartline, the Miami Dolphins have not really had too many other receivers contribute to the passing offense. Davone Bess is their second leading receiver, with 22 catches for 246 yards, but has yet to find the endzone this season. Even as their second man out wide, 54% of his receptions and 59% of his yards came in a two game stretch that featured the Dolphins back-to-back overtime appearances and the 431 yard, two touchdown games that essentially thrust Ryan Tannehill out of the proverbial doghouse. Bess averaged 3 receptions and 45.6 yards per game in the other three contests, which is decent, but nothing outstanding. Outside of Bess, Tannehill has used tight end Anthony Fasano, but, beyond that, has not really moved the ball around to anyone besides the running backs out of the backfield
Alternatively, the Rams will likely impose a reception-by-committee mindset, which has somewhat been the case for most of the year. Bradford has connected with 12 different players for completions, and 5 different players for touchdowns. He has has hit 5 different players for receptions of 20+ yards, including 50+ yarders in two consecutive games to Chris Givens. Austin Pettis has only been back for 2 games, which, combined with the activation of Brian Quick, pushed Steve Smith to the inactives list. They will all be at his disposal on Sunday against the Dolphins 29th ranked passing defense.
Still, the Dolphins have two receivers that have produced yards in actual games, not just shown the potential. Until the Rams receiving core can consistently help Bradford in the passing game, they will continue to be the focus of analysts that disregard St. Louis as a contender in the division and, certainly, will not have an advantage over any of their opponents.
Advantage: Miami Dolphins, 2-2