Offensive linemen are the unsung heroes of football. They don’t get flashy stats like touchdowns, yards, or interceptions but, nevertheless, teams depend on them to protect their quarterbacks and open lanes for runners. Without linemen, there is no offense. With that in mind, the Los Angeles Rams are placing high expectations on newbie starters, Center Brian Allen and Left Guard Joseph Noteboom, this year.
The Rams will need them to establish themselves as competent players very early in the season if the Rams are to repeat the dominance of 2018. This is because the offense will be leaned on more to win games, the emergence of depth issues on the offensive line, and finally how much Sean McVay’s scheme leans on the offensive line. Put simply, Allen and Noteboom could make or break this team in 2019.
Allen And Noteboom Could Make Or Break Rams In 2019
Los Angeles’ offense will be more important in 2019 than ever before in the McVay era due to the expectation that the defense will continue to erode in 2019. Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ history and issues with the roster point to this outcome.
Phillips’ modern history shows a yearly decline in effectiveness once he starts with a team. Since 2011, Phillips has been the defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, and now Los Angeles Rams. In each stint, the first year has been his best with every other year being worse than the previous. In other words, Phillips has not been able to bring his defenses to be better than they were the previous year in each of his most recent three teams, including the Rams.
In 2017, the Rams defense was ranked 19th in yards and 12th in points allowed. Last year, the Rams slipped to 19th in yards and 20th in points allowed. If the trend continues as the evidence suggests, the Rams defense will be in for a tough 2019 season.
Putting analytics aside, the defensive roster is arguably worse in 2019 than in 2018. For instance, leading cornerback Aqib Talib will be one year older, playing at 33 years old. Of course, Talib hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down in his old age when on the field but his body is starting to break down. Last year, he missed eight games. Once injuries start appearing for older players in the NFL, they tend to snowball so there is a solid chance that Talib could miss more time in 2019, leaving the Rams without a number-one cornerback and sliding everyone else up a spot.
Additionally, the Rams have lost defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Suh’s replacement will likely be rookie Greg Gaines, who is probably going to be a downgrade this year as he gets his initial bearings.
Also, safety Lamarcus Joyner has been replaced by Eric Weddle. While Weddle seems like a good replacement based on name alone, it should not be discounted that he is getting older at 34 years old and will be 35 before the playoffs start.
Overall, the 2019 Rams are expected to give up more points and yards in 2019 than in either of the previous two seasons. Since other teams will be moving the ball more against the Rams defense, the offense will have more pressure to reciprocate. Of course, the Rams have the tools at the skill positions and the scheme to use them.
At a fundamental level, Sean McVay’s scheme has been pretty simple over the last two years. He likes to run the ball left, right, center, and often. Once he is able to get some solid positive yardage with these plays, the defense will start to anticipate runs. Once McVay has the other team thinking this, that is when he busts out play-action passes and play-action screens. Since the defense is focusing on the running back, the fake handoff fools them for a split second, which gives receivers separation downfield and an easy completion for big yardage.
Unless McVay has rebuilt this offense from the ground up (which is highly unlikely due to the continuity of the roster), he will continue to lean on running the ball early to set up play-action.
If defenses can stop the run early, it makes passing the ball much tougher because it becomes predictable. Usually, this is because running teams find themselves in third-and-long situations if they struggle to run, where they usually have to pass to give themselves any real shot of converting a first down.
In 2018, the Rams had an offensive line that allowed Todd Gurley (and C.J. Anderson later) to gash defenses. If the Rams struggle to run in 2019, the new linemen will be the first to be put under the microscope.
More specifically, if Brian Allen and Joe Noteboom struggle to run block for Gurley, Malcolm Brown, and Darrell Henderson, they will find it harder to run toward the left side of the field. If they struggle to run to the left, then they will have to run to the right. This makes the running game become more predictable and easier to stop. Predictable running games lead to more punts and interceptions.
Imagine that Noteboom and Allen are able to hold their own with run blocking. This does not necessarily mean that they are good pass blockers.
Of course, if they had to struggle with one or the other, the Rams’ scheme would prefer to struggle here since play-action can mitigate pass rushes to some extent. This is because the rusher has to decide whether to go after the quarterback or the running back once he is in the offensive backfield since either could have the ball. That being said, play-action fakes take longer to execute due to the additional actual act of faking the ball and sometimes having to wait for receivers to get deep downfield.
Put simply, if Noteboom and Allen’s pass blocking whiffs, Jared Goff could be pressured or sacked before getting a chance to throw the ball away or to a check-down player, which could lead to bigger sacks and more interceptions. Also, it is worth noting that as Brian Allen is slated to be the new center, his failures to block would be even more detrimental due to the closer proximity between the defensive lineman and the quarterback.
In the end, McVay’s scheme is extremely dependent on offensive linemen. If the newbies on the line struggle (as many do), the scheme will not work due to the inability to make the defense guess.
Both Noteboom and Allen sat behind Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan in 2018. The Rams had great depth considering the fact that they had a third and fourth-round pick waiting in the wings. However, this year, they will be the starters with Sullivan and Saffold gone. This means that the depth pieces behind Noteboom and Allen are almost guaranteed downgrades by default. Meaning, if Noteboom, Allen, or 37-year-old Andrew Whitworth go down with injuries, the depth is almost guaranteed to be much worse than it was in 2018. If they are as bad as logic suggests, the Rams could be in huge trouble in the way described above.
The Big Ugly Truth
Overall, the Rams organization will be leaning on McVay’s scheme due to the expected defensive erosion in 2019 and since his scheme leans on running which leans on blocking, the success of the Rams in 2019 will likely fall into the hands of Brian Allen and Joe Noteboom and their ability to play like veterans as first-year starters. If they struggle or get hurt, they will be seen as the catalyst that broke the Rams as they were the only change on the foundation of McVay’s critical scheme. Put simply, if Noteboom and Allen play well, the Rams will be fine. If not, the Rams will be taking a slide in 2019.