The 2006 season might always stand as a benchmark for Rams running back Steven Jackson.
That was the season he rushed for 1,528 yards and caught 90 passes for 803 yards. He has not exceeded 1,042 yards rushing, 40 receptions or 379 yards receiving over the subsequent two seasons.
Those numbers figured to spike this season as the Rams built their offense around Jackson to an even stronger degree following Torry Holt's release. The problem through two games has less to do with Jackson than with the offense overall. The Rams are averaging 20 percent fewer offensive plays this season than they averaged in 2006, about 13 snaps per game. Jackson has carried or caught the ball on 34.5 percent of the Rams' offensive plays, down from 40.9 percent in 2006.
A few things stood out while watching the Rams against the Redskins in Week 2:
The offensive line struggled. Jackson's 58-yard run on the Rams' 16th offensive play came out of nowhere. My notes for the Rams' 15 previous plays included these observations: "Richie Incognito got beat and that blew up the play. ... Alex Barron blatantly holds Andre Carter and gets away with it, but Phillip Daniels crushes Marc Bulger. ... Jason Brown injures MCL. ... Barron holds Carter from behind and replays show he grabbed Carter by the collar, but no call. ... Jason Smith misses Daniels off the ball. ... Barron whiffs on Carter, who lined up way outside but still beat Barron with an inside move. ... Line has no answer when Rocky McIntosh blitzes. ... Play had no chance, too much pressure."
Donnie Avery was the Rams' third-best receiver. Something isn't right with the first receiver chosen in the 2008 draft. He's dropping passes, losing fumbles, committing penalties and failing to outrun defensive backs. It's enough to make me wonder if the foot injury is behind him. The fumble he lost deep in Redskins territory wasted an otherwise highly impressive drive featuring better play up front and Jackson at his best. Avery needs a breakout game. He is certainly due.
This team drops far too many passes. I counted four against the Redskins, two by Avery and two by tight end Randy McMichael.
Bulger is taking a pounding. The quarterback was quite resilient throughout the game. A hit he took in his own end zone during the desperate final seconds left Bulger holding his left wrist. How long before he gets hurt more seriously?
The defense is almost good enough. The Rams' predictably poor pass rush is holding them back and could make them vulnerable to blowout defeats against teams with more powerful offenses. Overall, though, the Rams have made strides on defense. They can be decent against the run and their secondary appears significantly upgraded so far (with tougher tests looming, however).
One thing surprised me when charting the Rams' personnel use. The team used two tight ends on the first play and then almost never again. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur tried to use two tight ends on a third-and-1 play later in the game, but second tight end Daniel Fells committed a false-start penalty. The play did not count. He used three tight ends on another play. Overall, the Rams used one tight end on 48 of 50 snaps.
The Rams averaged 1.5 yards per carry on six carries from their base offense (2 RB, 1TE). They averaged 8.6 yards per carry on 12 rushes from their "zebra" personnel group featuring one back, three wide receivers and one tight end. Jackson's 58-yard run boosted the average from this group. Fullback Mike Karney made a few effective blocks from the base offense, but the Rams enjoyed most of their success without him.
For download: This Rams personnel report breaks down every offensive play. A second sheet shows production across personnel groups and much more.