THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay knows it will take a comprehensive effort to limit Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
Realistically, though, that challenge will come down to how right tackle Rob Havenstein performs against the pass rusher in critical moments.
“When it comes down to third-and-long I have all the trust in the world in Rob to be able to do what he can do against DeMarcus,” left guard Rodger Saffold said.
Lawrence has been a force through the Cowboys’ first three games, with 6½ sacks to earn recognition as the NFC defensive player of the month.
His 6½ sacks are 1½ shy of his career-best total for the 2015 season, and much of that has come against right tackles, which puts Havenstein in the spotlight this week.
The Rams spent much of the offseason experimenting with right guard Jamon Brown moving to tackle and Havenstein sliding inside before reversing course midway through training camp.
But McVay believes the change was beneficial for Havenstein by forcing him to play faster as the action between interior linemen develops more quickly. Back at tackle, Havenstein can now meld that with his grasp of the fundamentals.
“I think he has got a great understanding of angles, leverage, good posture in his pass sets,” McVay said. “Been very pleased with Rob and I think he’s only going to continue to improve as he gets more experience.”
Havenstein has also been able to turn to left tackle Andrew Whitworth for advice on how to handle the rigors of the position. Whitworth, in his 12th season, signed a three-year contract with the Rams in March. He has proven to be a mentor and sounding board for Havenstein.
“They are constantly working,” Saffold said. “With that type of veteran leadership at the tackle position it makes things easier for Rob and give him things he can work on in practice, give him some confidence as well.”
With the addition of Whitworth and another free-agent signing, center John Sullivan, and improved play from Havenstein, Brown and Saffold, the Rams have the league’s top-scoring offense entering Week 4.
Jared Goff has five touchdown passes and one interception, and running back Todd Gurley is coming off his first 100-yard rushing performance since late in the 2015 season.
Maintaining balance and staying on schedule might be the most effective way to limit Lawrence.
“When you are in those known passing situations — you see Arizona in the two-minute the other night — they can really tee off on the snap count,” McVay said.
Having seen Lawrence up close during his time as Washington’s offensive coordinator, McVay understands the exact nature of the challenge Havenstein will be facing.
“Just flip on the tape and he’s a scary player,” McVay said. “He can wreck a game if you’re not careful.”
NOTES: Wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin could leave the concussion protocol Friday and McVay expects both to play against the Cowboys. … Safety LaMarcus Joyner (hamstring) did not practice Thursday, while Sullivan (hip) was limited.