Obviously, the St. Louis Rams running game has not been comparable to that of the past decade, which is to be expected whenever a Steven Jackson-caliber player leaves an organization. Many had hoped that the drop-off wouldn’t be so steep, with Daryl Richardson averaging nearly 5.0 yard per carry last season as the relief back. However, through the opening quarter of the season, the St. Louis Rams have a combined 189 yards on the ground, averaging roughly 2.6 yards per rush attempt. Not good…
So, what is wrong with the St. Louis running game? Sometimes the answer isn’t so simple, especially within the complex world of the NFL. However, there are some obvious places to look:
1. Offensive Scheme/Play-Calling
The St. Louis Rams have obviously made some changes to their scheme, switching from the prototypical “pro” formation towards more of a spread offense. The “unofficial gamplan” in this new system was purportedly to use the short passing game as a pseudo-run game, giving the running backs the ball in open space. Some teams have found offensive success with this style of play-calling, like the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, and New Orleans Saints. However, the “key” to success in those offenses has been consistency and execution, converting on 3rd downs and maintaining drives…. the St. Louis Rams have not done that this season. In fact, Sam Bradford and Co. have converted a mere 25.9% of 3rd down conversion attempts, which is 2nd worst in the NFL. As a result, the Rams have regularly fallen behind on the scoreboard and been force to abandon their already-limited run game in an attempt to accumulate points quickly. Consequently, St. Louis is currently tied with the Cleveland Browns for most passing attempts this season (183), and tied for 29th in rushing attempts (73). Can’t establish a running game without actually handing the ball off, and you can’t justifiably hand off the ball when you are down by three touchdowns…
2. Run Blocking
One aspect of the running game that is consistently overshadowed by punditry is the offensive line, and their ability to dominate at the point of attack. It is no coincidence that a team like the Houston Texans sees little-to-no drop off when Ben Tate is subbing for Arian Foster. If the pigs up front are doing their job, any NFL-caliber running back will be able to shine… and that hasn’t happened in St. Louis. The Rams offensive line is currently ranked 27th in run blocking, with the left side of the offensive line barely grading positively through the opening quarter of the season. However, the real issue for the Rams has not been so much the offensive line, but the tertiary blockers failing to make, or maintain, their assignments. Currently, there are 58 tight ends who have played at least 25% of the teams total offensive snaps; Lance Kendricks and Jared Cook are ranked 55th and 56th, respectively, on that list. Moreover, there is not a single running back or wide receiver with a positive run blocking grade. On every “highlight reel” run, you will typically see a handful of key blocks made by both the offensive line and the skill players. So far this season, neither has done their job.
3. The Player
Over the last couple of weeks, the St. Louis Rams fan base has been clamoring for a blockbuster move at running back. On the top of the wish list appear to be Maurice Jones-Drew, Ben Tate, and a magical retrospective trade for Trent Richardson. The natural inclination is to blame the running back for not picking up yards, and with Daryl Richardson only averaging 2.7 yards per carry for a grand total of 114 yards, pointing fingers is an easy out…
Obviously, something needs to change with this St. Louis Rams offense if they plan on being even remotely competitive this season. That starts with the run game, which ranks only slightly ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills, and is one of only two teams without a rushing touchdowns this season (Cleveland being the other). Like it or not, Daryl Richardson is going to be our man in the backfield this season, so some combination of play-calling adjustments, increased number of carries, and creative blocking schemes will need to be formulated to get him back on track to that 5.0 yards per carry figure from last season. There is plenty of blame to go around, between Brian Schottenheimer, the offensive line and receivers, and Daryl Richardson, himself. However, that also means there is enormous room for improvement, should all of those “units” get their acts together!
Tags: St. Louis Rams