Much like the 7-2 Vikings, the 7-2 Los Angeles Rams are getting the full benefits of a functional offensive line.
I was talking to Rams Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater on Thursday. He does some analyst work on the Rams and was reaching out to discuss the Vikings ahead of Sunday’s meeting at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Jackie is quite fond of what these two teams have done where it counts most — up front on the offensive lines. And all this big fella has on his resume is 20 NFL seasons, 259 games, seven Pro Bowls, three All-Pros and a first-ballot entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. All with the Rams.
“I can tell you without any hesitation that [Rams left tackle] Andrew Whitworth is like [Vikings left tackle] Riley Reiff in that the Rams see him as the MVP of the team right now,” Slater said. “But the next guy they talk about is [center] John Sullivan.”
Whitworth, 35, and Sullivan, the 32-year-old former Viking, were brought in as free agents. Their advanced NFL ages pushed that line’s average age to one of the highest in the league.
“But guess which line is the only one in the league that hasn’t had a player miss a start?” Slater asked. “The Rams. They take good care of these guys during the week.”
Whitworth and Sullivan have been on the injury report all week. But the designation has been “not injury related.” Sullivan was given Wednesday and Thursday off to rest. Whitworth was rested Wednesday and was limited Thursday.
Overall, the Rams have had only three starters miss a game this year. And they have no starters on injured reserve.
That’s really how you keep winning in this league. That and turnover ratio, where the Rams are tied for third-best at plus-7.
For this week’s play breakdown, let’s look at last week’s 94-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods. While it illustrates Woods’ dangerous speed and quarterback Jared Goff’s No. 1 overall talent, it really illuminates the trust that coach Sean McVay and this organization has in this rebuilt offensive line.
Second-and-6 from the Rams’ 6-yard line, 9:36 left in the third quarter: The host Rams led the decimated Texans by only three points, 9-6, when McVay gambled on this knockout blow. Texans punter Shane Lechler had just tagged a 58-yard punt punt with a 57-yard net to pin the league’s highest-scoring team inside it’s 5-yard line.
The Rams lined up with Woods wide right, rookie Cooper Kupp slot right and Sammy Watkins wide left. Goff’s heels are on the 4-yard line when the ball is snapped.
Watkins runs a sloppy, unconvincing curl to the left while Woods and Kupp blast off the line, selling two go routes.
Goff drops, drops and keeps dropping. He’s four yards deep in the end zone when he plants and steps forward. He wouldn’t be doing that if his left tackle was still Greg Robinson. But with Whitworth locking down the blind side and Sullivan helping seal the front of the pocket, Goff gets and feels no pressure.
Kupp breaks his route to the outside, but Woods keeps sprinting. He blows by Johnathan Joseph on a deep post. Goff launches the ball from three yards deep in the end zone. Woods catches it in stride at the 50. Joseph is three yards behind him. There’s no safety help.
An easy touchdown made possible because McVay had unwavering trust in his offensive line.