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Monday, September 9, 2013
Rams' line set good pace in pass protection

By Nick Wagoner

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Not since the days when Tom Mack lined up at left guard and bulldozed through opposing defensive lines had the St. Louis Rams had an offensive line string together three or more consecutive games without allowing a sack.

The Mack-led line of 1973 was the last Rams unit to accomplish the feat. The 2013 Rams matched the feat Sunday, going back to the final two games of the previous season

“That’s three consecutive games now where we haven’t given up a sack and I don’t think that’s happened in this franchise since somewhere in the mid-70s,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “Not that there’s much carryover from last year but at least we got off to the right start. You credit the offensive line, the quarterback and everybody involved.”

Avoiding sacks is indeed the responsibility of the entire offense but as quarterback Sam Bradford was quick to point out after the win against the Cardinals, it all starts with the front five.

For the Rams, it’s been a long time since they could go a series without allowing a sack let alone full games. That they finished 2012 strong in that area was a step in the right direction. That they carried it into the opener, especially against a blitz-happy Arizona team, is an even better sign given the type of offense the Rams are becoming.

Bradford dropped back to pass 38 times against the Cardinals and Arizona brought blitzes from all over the field. According to STATSPass, Arizona called 17 blitzes. Fisher said Bradford was hit just six times in the game.

“I thought they looked good,” Fisher said. “I thought they hung in there. They did a lot of different things up front. They kept the pocket clean for the most part. That was pretty good.”

While the Rams run blocking left plenty to be desired, the pass protection was good for a group that had never played in a regular season game together. Bradford escaped pressure a couple of times but for the most part, he had time to stand in the pocket and deliver. He was 11-of-17 for 113 yards against the blitz on the day.

The offseason addition of left tackle Jake Long, the move of Rodger Saffold from the left to right side and plugging Chris Williams in at left guard left the Rams with a line that looks capable on paper but with questions about how it would all come together in week one.

Veteran offensive line coach Paul Boudreau had his group ready to go despite playing some musical linemen during the preseason.

“I can't say enough about those guys up front,” Bradford said. “They played outstanding today, and I think it shows that we've taken leaps and bounds from where we were last year. I thought the communication between myself and the line -- I thought [center] Scott [Wells] did a great job of getting things solved.

“They threw some looks at us, especially on third down, that we hadn't seen in the preseason and those guys didn't flinch at all. They kept doing their jobs, kept me protected, and allowed us to make some plays towards the end of the game."

The offensive line is the most veteran-laden starting group on the team’s roster. That it came together and played well in the opener shouldn’t be a surprise. The question that lingers over the group is health. There were plenty of people holding their breath when the team’s medical personnel were tending to Saffold and Long on Sunday.

If they can continue to avoid those brief scares turning into lasting injuries, the streak could continue.