The biggest story surrounding the Los Angeles Rams has been and will continue to be the status of Todd Gurley. However, with two veteran departures, the offensive line raised a couple of questions coming into the season. In only their second year in the NFL, Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom are starting on an offensive line that ranked among the league’s best last season. Having to replace stalwarts like John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold was never going to be an easy task, especially for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. However, the LA Rams can begin to rest assured knowing both Allen and Noteboom have begun to settle in nicely within the front five.
LA Rams’ Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom Finding Their Stride as First-Year Starters
When watching this Rams front, the first thing that jumps off the screen is the command that Allen has. The center is the extension of the quarterback. It’s his job to call out blitzes, set the protection, call out any audibles and make sure the entire line is on the same page. Most first-year starters struggle under the weight of so much responsibility, but Allen has embraced his new role.
At no moment did this shine through more, than during Sunday night’s win over the Cleveland Browns. With regular starting guard, Austin Blythe, out with injury, Allen made it a point to make sure his replacement, Jamil Demby, was in stride with the rest of the offense. On every audible call, blitz identification, and blocking change, Allen glanced to his right to make sure his fellow second-year starter was keyed in.
Giving Jared Goff the Time
It’s more than just Allen’s ability to communicate that tends to leap off a screen when focusing on trench work. While Allen is a great pass blocker in his own right, with ferocity, and a motor that never finds itself on empty, it’s Noteboom who flashes displays of dominance. While his ability to hold his line and keep most defenders from passing by him, it’s his second-level vision that jumps out. Noteboom doesn’t just want to block the defender in front of him, he wants to block all the defenders.
If you lined up all 11 guys in his gap, chances are high that he would run through them like teeth through wafers. He is that good, and effective at blocking. In addition to manhandling his own defender, he is, literally, expanding his reach. There were several times throughout the Browns game Noteboom not only prevented his man from reaching Goff but assisted Andrew Whitworth in slowing down Myles Garrett. Garrett finished the game with just one sack, his first game this season without multiple sacks.
Jared Goff has hit the ground six times this season, putting him in a six-way tie for 16th most sacked quarterbacks through three games. However, given that this is still a young line with plenty of improvement ahead, continuing to keep Goff one of the safest quarterbacks in the league, is a major win. While some of the struggles the Rams have suffered so far on offense are a result of line play, hardly any trouble has come in the passing game.
Improving on the Ground
The glaring weakness that the first-year starters possess is their ability to block on run plays. On more than 60 percent of their called run plays, Todd Gurley found a defender in his face before, or as he received the handoff. On just under 50 percent of called run plays, Brian Allen found himself being pushed several yards back, or into an oncoming Gurley right at the line of scrimmage. I cannot emphasize just how hard it is to push a human over 300 pounds, for three yards, while they are simultaneously trying to push you back three yards. It’s what made the Dallas Cowboys such a prolific line, their ability to create massive holes for an already talented Ezekiel Elliott, to run through.
The Browns recognized this flaw and exploited it. Knowing they had Allen beat, they forced the run game to the outside where they had extra cornerbacks and safeties lying in wait. Finishing the game with five rushes amassing a total of only 94 yards, it’s safe to say the run game needs some work. While it may be Gurley who bears a lot of the criticism from the general public, it’s the young line that will need to improve if they hope to see their star running back breaking off chunk plays and long touchdowns.
There’s a reason why the Rams loaded up on offensive linemen in the 2018 draft. It’s the reason why they were willing to let both John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold walk away from a team that had just been to the Super Bowl. Head coach Sean McVay has faith in his young linemen. Brian Allen and Joseph Noteboom may be young and will experience some growing pains. However, they are well on the path to becoming stalwarts in their own right.
This tandem of offensive linemen is not just surviving their early-season tests but thriving. This weekend they will have another huge test with the incoming Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the Bucs as a team may be underachieving, linebacker Shaquil Barrett has been a one-man wrecking crew. Already tallying four sacks, and countless pressures, containing him will be a challenge. However containing him would be another step towards returning to one of the best lines in the league, and not just for one season, but many to come.