LA Rams: Can O-line handle increasing pressure to perform?
Right now, the LA Rams offensive line is facing one of the most difficult challenges in professional sports. No, it’s not the difficult rigors of the upcoming training camp. It’s not even the fierce opposition of a determined offensive line. Rather this offensive line faces another comparison to the Rams 2018 offensive line. In that season, the Rams offensive line was ranked sixth in the NFL, due in large part to the underwhelming performance of offensive center John Sullivan. Still, the offensive line helped to carry the team all the way to Super Bowl LIII. That was one helluva performance.
One of the most difficult tasks in any form of the entertainment industry is to follow behind the performance that was literally lights out. Whitney Houston’s National Anthem, anytime Aretha Franklin sang R.E.S.P.E.C.T. on stage, Martina McBride belting out ‘Independence Day’ at the Grand Ole Opry, Queen with their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, Johnny Cash actually performing and recording at Folsom Prison, I could go on and on. But at each performance, someone had to be ‘next’, and you can bet that didn’t go well.
Battered players, broken dreams
The ‘next’ for the LA Rams was the 2019 performance of a badly outgunned, battered, and bruised offensive line. In 2019, the Rams offensive line fell off a cliff, landing as the 31st-ranked offensive line in the NFL. Injuries decimated the ranks, with all five starters getting either bench time due to injury, or getting post-season surgery to clean up nagging ailments. Some players even faced both. That plunge from greatness to anonymity did not sit well with the players but was not easily forgotten by the fans.
Los Angeles Rams
The result was an almost unheard-of rebound by the offensive line back to the 3rd-best ranking among NFL offensive line units. Invariably though, comments or discussions from many cite the offensive line as a unit in need of a major overhaul. Forgetting that the same offensive line surrendered the seventh-fewest sacks in the NFL in 2020, as well as opened the running lanes to allow the Rams running backs to post the 14th-best yards-per-carry in the league, and the 10th best rushing yards per game in the league. Why so proud of modest numbers? The Rams rushers were Darrell Henderson, rookie Cam Akers, and Malcolm Brown.
In the offseason, the offensive line has moved Austin Corbett from right guard to center, and installed offensive lineman Bobby Evans at right guard. How will that all pan out? It’s tough to say yet, but there is certainly reason to expect that the coaching staff knows what they are doing out of the gates.
The LA Rams offensive line, as encouraging as second-year running back Cam Akers was to them, will block for whoever lines up in the backfield. With the expectation of left tackle Andrew Whitworth’s imminent retirement, you can bet that everyone who lines up is fully aware that they need to give this their best effort. Cam Akers is truly a special human being, and a talented running back.
That kind of player is one of a kind. But the LA Rams must press on.
The focus for this offensive line had to be maxed out even before the injury to Cam Akers. This is a proud group of professionals, and that was made very clear as they rallied in 2020 to put on one of the gutsiest performances I’d witnessed in a long time. It’s almost unheard of to elevate a performance from worst to the middle of the road, let alone from 31st to 3rd in one season. Perhaps that is why some still view the offensive line as underwhelming? They are in disbelief?
A 39-year-old Whitworth returned to play in the NFL Playoffs just eight weeks after blowing out his knee and undergoing surgery. Not just walking. Not just jogging. Starting in the NFL at offensive tackle. That’s Gutsy with a capital G. And that is who led this offensive line unit back from the brink to among the best in the NFL once more.
While some may believe that the pressure has risen on this offensive line, I don’t agree. The pressure increased when veteran Matthew Stafford arrived. But whether the guy running the ball is Cam Akers, Otis Anderson Jr., or even Sean McVay, the task is the same. I have faith in this offensive line to handle their business as well as they did in 2020.
But that 2018 squad that helped carry this team to the Super Bowl? That is a tough act to follow. If you stare into their brilliance too long, you will be blinded to the stars on the offensive line this year.