It has been a season of ups and downs for Rams left tackle Alex Barron. He was benched at the half during a lackluster performance at San Francisco in Week 4. He bounced back the following week with probably his best game as a professional, playing lights out against Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, holding the prolific pass rusher sackless and away from his quarterback all afternoon.
It's that inconsistency that has haunted Barron all through his career. Barron has the foot quickness and speed to the edge to successfully block great pass rushers like Jared Allen and Dwight Freeney. But too often, he will still get sloppy with his technique. He'll either get himself off balance by getting too much of an upper body lean or by trying to block without moving his feet. While he does show good foot quickness, his footwork and technique can get lazy.
And you can't have a lazy moment against a player like Freeney. Freeney's explosive first step can stun a tackle like Barron, making him reach without moving his feet. This will get the tackle off balance and in a bad position.
Then, the option is Freeney's: does he beat his guy with speed, or use his shoulder to gain positioning and bull into the quarterback? It's all set up by that first move.
Rams TE Randy McMichael has yet to provide much offensively this season, but he has been blocking his tail off and doing a good job at it. St. Louis would like to get him more active in the pass offense. That, however, is not going to be possible if Barron is struggling with Freeney and requiring extra help.
Another thing to watch is a possible rotation at LT. While first-round pick Jason Smith (No. 2 overall) is healthy, it looks like the Rams will still Adam Goldberg start at right tackle. Goldberg and Smith rotated against Jacksonville. Coach Steve Spagnuolo said another rotation between the two is likely again this week. But Spagnuolo also hinted that a left-tackle rotation with Smith and Alex Barron is a distinct possibility too.
The Colts coaching staff is very familiar with OG Jacob Bell from his four seasons (2004-2007) as a starter with the Tennessee Titans. He left the Titans for the free agent market in 2008 and as a result the Rams signed Bell to a six-year, $36 million contract. Unfortunately, Bell responded with a lackluster year on the interior that left many questioning the signing.
What happened? Injuries played a factor, but the biggest thing was a problem most in this country would probably like to have — Bell was losing too much weight. Rams fans were asking themselves, "Hey, who's that tight end playing left guard?"
How did Bell respond? He hired a personal chef. The Orlanda Sentinel has the details: "Bell melted down to a relatively scrawny 280 pounds during last season, when he was part of a unit that couldn't protect quarterback Marc Bulger, surrendering 45 sacks. Given a mandate to bulk up during the offseason, Bell hit on the idea of hiring a chef, not to mention loading up on double portions, four times a day not counting a couple of power shakes."
The good people over at Turf Show Times.com break down Bell's struggles last season using numbers from KC Joyner's Scientific Football. "According to the statistical research from KC Joyner's Scientific Football, Bell had some troubling numbers. Point of Attack (POA) represents a lineman's run blocks. Last year, playing injured and underweight, Rams LG Jacob Bell had a POA win percentage of 70.7%, a league-worst among regular starters. Run at Bell's blocks averaged just 3.9 yards per attempt (compare that to Incognito's 4.6 YPA or Alan Faneca's 5.4 YPA."
While he's adding instead of shedding pounds this season, Bell is still not an overpowering player in the run game. In fact, most up-the-middle runs will be in the direction of RG Richie Incognito and C Jason Brown. He is probably the best pure athlete on the line and shows decent awareness, so using his quickness and athleticism to pull and get to the second level is something St. Louis likes to do. He is decent in pass protection and has good redirection skills and blitz pick-up awareness. But, he can be overpowered by pure strength from time to time and pushed back into the quarterback.
One of Bell's blocking assignments this week will be Fili Moala. Moala, the second-round pick of the Colts in this April's draft, is still an enigma to most Colts fans. He was expected to be an immediate impact player, but has struggled to get defensive line coach John Teerlinck's system down and was inactive for Indianapolis' first five games. Coach Caldwell explained what was going on a couple weeks ago:
I think that is part of it. Schematically, it's probably a bit different from what they (his college, University of Southern California) have done, but not to the point, because he's a smart guy, where he has paralysis by analysis, or anything of that nature. I think when you try to put it all together and all the things that are required of you (it's difficult). (Defensive Line Coach) John (Teerlinck) is working with him on all those phases. He is in there early in the morning with John. He's studying. John has a group that comes in, particularly younger guys that need a little more work, and meets with him in the morning, just to get a little extra film work done. Fili has been there.
Coaches and fans alike are eager to see what Moala provides in live action. Indianapolis released Ed Johnson following the Titans game citing weight and effort issues. That immediately moved Moala up the depth chart. As a result, he should see plenty of snaps as part of an interior line rotation this week.
Moala "has the bulk and strength to be a terrific run stuffer, playing with good leverages," draft expert Raul Colon said about Moala before the draft. "Commanding double teams, Moala pushes the pile with his raw power. Despite his size, Moala moves surprisingly well laterally and gets off the ball quickly. He is able to shed blockers with ease and is a very good tackler who leaves his mark on most hits. Mack has been very durable and has improved every year; he is a very active inside player. He is not a great overall athlete. He has not demonstrated the ability to create plays on his own and lacks pass rushing technique."
Look for Moala to see most of his time in rushing situations, where the hope is he'll be able to use his power and activeness to beat Bell in one on one situations. How Bell holds up at the point of attack will dictate Rams blocking schemes on Moala and if they'll need to double him on certain downs or not.
Rams right guard Richie Incognito has quite a reputation in the NFC West:
After Incognito was whistled for four penalties, including two personal fouls, in a 2007 game against Arizona, Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said the NFL "is going to have to do something about (Incognito), because one day he's going to really injure somebody's career. The guy was trying to hurt some of our guys." Last year, Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill noted that there are "just a few in the league who take cheap shots, go low at you when they're not supposed to go low, like when you're not looking. . . . He's one of them.
Incognito went into the offseason last year with a personal goal of correcting his temper. "I know when I'm going out there Sundays I'm being watched," he told the Post-Dispatch. "I'm a marked man." Incognito, 26, said in the spring that he dedicated the offseason to trying to scrape away that reputation. "Just growing, being a more mature football player and eliminating the penalties," he said. "That's really the emphasis for me."Two personal foul calls, however, in the Rams season opener demonstrated that the volatile Incognito still has a ways to go in that department. What's going on here? According to the Post-Dispatch, "he has committed 27 penalties in 36 NFL games, moving the Rams back 254 yards. Seven were personal fouls, most of them post-whistle violations, and several have come at inopportune times, costing the Rams dearly. Anger isn't the culprit, Incognito insists. Sometimes, as he explained, the 'juices get flowing' and 'I lose my cool.'"
The 340-pound Incognito can be a mauler in the run game; he's quick off the snap, has a good initial pop on contact and will create movement as a straight ahead blocker. He has the power to push defenders wide, creating nice seams. That's why the Rams prefer to run Stephen Jackson behind Incognito: it's all power. And that combination of being blocked by Incognito and trying to tackle Jackson will wear down an interior defensive line.
This will be the Rams game plan early: ball control and a steady dose of Stephen Jackson between the tackles. The key for Colts DTs Antonio Johnson or Eric Foster against a wide body like Incognito is to take advantage of his lack of range. So while Johnson has the size and power to probably hold up better at the point of attack against Incognito.
Foster probably has the speed and first step to beat Incognito from time to time off the snap. Now, if Incognito is able to get his hands on and drive Foster that will be problematic, because Foster does not have the power or strength to shed in those situations. It will be interesting to see how the Colts line up and rotate the interior.
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