To start the season, the St. Louis Rams were ranked dead last in rushing yards, combining a severe lack of attempts with some inept play-calling, run blocking, and actual running from the oft-injured
trio duo of running backs. After Week 4, Jeff Fisher essentially hit the “reset” button on the season, shifting away from their glorified spread offense and soft zone defense, and back to what has almost always worked in the NFL; smash-mouth football. Even with the spectacular throwing stats from Sam Bradford prior to his injury and the bounty of sacks amassed by the dominating Rams’ defensive line, there is no doubt that the conversion to Zac Stacy at running back has completely changing the overall mentality in St. Louis.
In Stacy’s first game as a starter, in Week 5 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he took 14 carries for 78 yards, averaging 5.6 yards per attempt and easily setting the season-high for St. Louis Rams running backs. That week, he finished 7th in the league in rushing yards, and was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 6th overall running back in the league.
However, one good rushing performance against, at the time, the lowest ranking rush defense in the NFL is certainly nothing to hang your hat on. The following week, Stacy manned up against the pre-beatdown Houston Texans, who were crowned “the top defense in the NFL” heading into Week 6. The rookie halfback took 18 carries for 82 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. More impressively, Stacy managed 54 yards after first contract, and forced six missed tackles, including the first “miss” of the season for J.J. Watt. As a result, the 5th-rounder graded out in the Top 5 running backs, and was slotted No. 2 in terms of “run only” grades.
Between the “booing fans” and Matt Schaub going down, it wasn’t difficult for people to continue to overlook Zac Stacy’s performance through two games of the season. In the devastatingly awful Week 7, where the St. Louis Rams watched their franchise quarterback suffer a season-ending knee injury, there was little attention to be spent on anyone else. However, even in the midst of that chaos, Stacy still managed 87 yard from scrimmage, and was graded as the 9th-best running back for the week. In case you have lost count, that is three-consecutive Top 10 grades…
With Sam Bradford out for the year and the Rams set to take on the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football, few gave St. Louis a “puncher’s chance” in the fight. Instead of weltering under the bright lights and falling prey to the Seahawks’ much-vaunted defense, the Rams put the offensive game on the massive shoulders of Zac Stacy. In his first prime time appearance, the rookie took 26 carries for 134 yards, forcing 5 missed tackles and averaged a genuine 5.2 yards per rushing attempt. Sadly, an low-ankle sprain forced Stacy out of the game late, which inevitably led to the failed final scoring attempt. However, Stacy finished Week 8 as the second-leading rusher in the NFL, and again graded out as a Top 10 rusher for the week.
Four games. Four Top 10 rushing performances. Entering Week 9, with Kellen Clemens still captaining the offense from under-center, the Tennessee Titans would obviously just have to stack the box and force the Rams to gain yards through the air against their two top-tier corners. Wrong! Continuing his theme of beating his previous week’s performance, Zac Stacy rumbled for 131 yards on the ground, and added on another 51 yards receiving on six catches, totaling 182 yards from scrimmage. He also scored the Rams first two rushing touchdowns of the season, becoming the first Rams’ back to score twice on the ground since Oct. 30, 2011. He finished 6th overall in the league in rushing yards, and graded out… you guessed it, in the Top 10 rushers for the week.
Despite essentially missing four weeks of the season waiting for the Rams’ coaching staff to give him a chance, here is where Zac Stacy ranks among the top running backs in the league:
|Zac Stacy||Nearest Rookie|
|Rushing Attempts||21st||8th (Lacy)|
|Rushing Yards||15th||8th (Lacy)|
|Yards Per Rush (75 min.)||5th||T-10th (Bernard)|
|Yards After Contact||10th||5th (Lacy)|
|Average YAC (75 min.)||3rd||4th (Bernard)|
|Forced Missed Tackles||T-7th||5th (Lacy)|
|“Run” Grade (via PPF)||T-5th||T-5th (Lacy)|
In terms of rookies, Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard are the most obvious contenders, followed by the hot-and-cold Geno Smith, Andre Ellington, playing in the Carson Palmer-led Arizona “air show,” and a mediocre group of receivers (Terrance Williams, Aaron Dobson, Keenan Allen). So, looking at the three “most viable” candidates, who has been the most dominant since Zac Stacy took the field in Week 5?
|Zac Stacy||Eddie Lacy||Giovani Bernard|
To knock one candidate out of the race, Zac Stacy has already surpassed Giovani Bernard in most statistical categories this season. Moreover, it is unlikely the NFL would hand the award to a backup, change-of-pace back over a workhorse starter. So, it is likely a battle between Zac Stacy and Eddie Lacy for the “front runner” in the race for Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, Aaron Rodgers’ injury could make it tough sledding for Lacy the rest of the season, with teams likely to throw eight- or nine-man fronts at Green Bay and dare them to win by throwing the football. With that in mind, the St. Louis Rams could be looking at “winning” the draft lottery with their second OROY in the last four seasons. Guess we’ll have to wait and see…