The addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer has given the Cardinals confidence in the offensive line going into their game against the Rams.
There was a tinge of reluctance in right tackle Bobby Massie's expression as he heard the plan to combat the Rams' fierce pass rush on Sunday.
When coach Bruce Arians faced talented Tennessee defensive ends Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter earlier in his coaching career, he went with conventional wisdom, keeping in tight ends and running backs to help protect the quarterback. That led to a different problem.
"We didn't have a damn guy open," Arians said. "We got sacked like eight times. Next time we played the whole game in empty (backfield) and beat them. He still got hit, but we had guys to throw to and got it out of our hand fast. I quit doing all that stuff a
long time ago."
As Massie heard this evolution of thinking, he knew what it meant for him.
"That's a two-way sword," Massie said. "It's good that he has that faith in us, but from our perspective, now we're 1-on-1 with a defender. But that's what we get paid to do. It's part of our job."
The offensive line has been earning its money this year, especially when compared to a season ago. The Cardinals allowed 41 sacks last season, 33 of them by the line, according to Pro Football Focus. Halfway through this season, they've given up 13, with only seven attributed to offensive linemen.
They will be challenged in this matchup. While the Rams don't have as much talent as the Cardinals on their roster, a consistent pass rush can mask many shortcomings. It was a perplexingly slow start to the season for St. Louis in that regard, as it managed just one sack over the first five games and started 1-4.
Since then the pressure has turned up – 13 sacks in a three-week span, including eight of Colin Kaepernick on Sunday -- and it has helped result in upset victories over the Seahawks and 49ers.
Defensive end Robert Quinn was second in the NFL with 19 sacks last year, and after failing to notch one in the first five games, has five and two forced fumbles in the past three weeks. Even though fellow standout defensive end Chris Long won't play with an ankle injury, the Rams still have other threats.
First-round pick Aaron Donald has three sacks at defensive tackle and is a disruptive force. Defensive ends Will Hayes and Eugene
Sims have two apiece.
"If we're going to win this game, our guys have to play well up front," offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "Bottom line. Period. If they don't, it's going to be a long day."
The Cardinals are 1-3 against the Rams in the past two seasons, and much of that can be tied to the pressure. In the losses, St. Louis has totaled 15 sacks for 86 yards. In the win, they got to quarterback Carson Palmer just once.
Quinn has seven sacks in five career games against the Cards, but now must face a decorated left tackle after feasting on subpar players in past years. Jared Veldheer has been as advertised since signing a 5-year, $35 million deal this offseason, giving up one sack all year and not even a quarterback hit in the past three games.
"I'd think about 10 times better," said Arians, when asked about the comfort level with Veldheer compared to last year. "Jared is playing extremely solid right now. This is an all-day chore to block (Quinn)."
Arians does not want Palmer to think about the pass rush. If he does, it could force him to hurry throws or lock in on his first target instead of going through progressions. Arians said the faith has to be there in the offensive line.
"I just want to block them with the design of the play," Arians said. "Sometimes we hold on to it a little bit longer, others are quick throws. You have to be able to block them as long as it needs be to have a completion."
During the offseason, the Cardinals put a major emphasis on upgrading both sides of the line. On defense, the team is allowing the third-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL and passed a major test by holding Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray under 100 yards in last week's win.
The offensive line has been much-improved, and will get a similar challenge of their own against the Rams.
"They've blocked everybody we've played all year," Palmer said. "It just doesn't get any easier. Every week you have to bring your 'A' game offensive line-wise, especially in this division. You have to bring your 'A' game and we all expect those guys will."
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