LOS ANGELES -- We know about Jared Goff, the blossoming superstar QB who threw for 465 yards and tied a franchise record with five touchdown passes in the Rams' 38-31 win over the Vikings on Thursday night in the Coliseum. We also know about Cooper Kupp, the playmaking wideout who caught nine passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns; Brandin Cooks, the perimeter speedster who had seven receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown; Robert Woods, the ever-dependable receiver who finished with five catches for 101 yards and a score; and Todd Gurley, the MVP-candidate running back who gained 83 yards on 10 carries and added 73 more and a touchdown on four receptions.
Now it's time for us to familiarize ourselves with Andrew Whitworth, Rodger Saffold III, John Sullivan, Austin Blythe and Rob Havenstein, who comprise arguably the best offensive line in football. They may not be household names, but five fingers can form a powerful fist, as the Rams have proven during their 4-0 start.
"They should get credit for almost everything we're doing," Woods said. "Our run game comes off of them, our pass game comes off of them, they allow Jared to have time to stand tall in the pocket. They make his job easier. A lot of guys are given credit, but they're the foundation."
Individually, they heard their names called only twice all evening: by the PA announcer during player introductions and by a football-savvy fan who called out "*Whit! Whit! Whit!" *as Whitworth made the postgame walk to the locker room. The mammoth left tackle paused long enough to salute the fan, then kept moving, which is the nature of most offensive linemen. They're uncomfortable hearing their names called because that usually means "they got us for holding," says Havenstein, the right tackle.
This is a group that deserves recognition, though. Because while it's easy to be blinded by the play-calling brilliance of coach Sean McVay or the individual talents of the skill players, who have combined to score 33, 34, 35 and now 38 points in consecutive games, none of that is possible without the the guys up front. They have allowed ingenuity and ability to blend into beautiful artwork, like McVay scheming to get a receiver or Gurley covered by linebacker Anthony Barr, then converting that into three touchdown passes. At times, the Rams score the way we breathe -- naturally and effortlessly, occasionally using deception, other times blunt force. But while we marvel at the end result, the linemen revel in the process.
"Every week we come in and say, 'Here are the plays that are in. Here's how we execute them. Here's the defenses this team plays,' " said Whitworth. "And what we really do that I think is special is, all 11 that are in the game understand every defensive look and what plays will work against those looks. To me, that's next-level stuff. You're not just sitting there trying to figure out how to block the 3-technique or figure out what his move is. You're figuring out, Why does he go inside in this defense? Or, Why does the safety go here in this situation? Or, Why are they rotating? You've got all 11 guys who understand like a coach not only what they're trying to do, but why they're trying to do it. Our staff isn't coaching offensive football. They're teaching it. They're teaching guys how to see the game as a coach, how to be their eyes on the field and see the game unfold. It's amazing how it plays exactly how we do it every week."
Football teams are often looked at as units or position groups, but the Rams bristle at that description. The offense simply doesn't work if every player doesn't understand how his actions affect those around him. That puts a premium on intelligence and communication, beginning with Sullivan, the center.
"His ability to see the whole field from the center position is invaluable," Kupp said. "He helps us receivers in terms of where we need to go in our run protections and who we need to block, as well. There's usually a disconnect or two, but it's all of us working together because of that communication and chemistry. Those guys up front are pivotal. I can't image there being a line that does so much mentally in terms of understanding our run game, understanding our pass game, being able to make checks and calls and helping Jared with that."
Like any good quarterback, Goff is quick to take care of his blockers just as they take care of him. So when reporters kept asking him about himself and his performance Thursday, he turned the spotlight to the guys in front of him.
"That's something that we can talk about a little bit more is how well the offensive line is playing," he said. "They're playing the best in the league right now and I don't think it's really close. The last three or four games, I don't what the numbers are (Goff has been sacked just five times this season), but I've hit the ground maybe three or four times. I mean even just hits, pressures -- not even sacks. Just all of that stuff is incredible and they're doing such a great job."
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