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Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Establish run early? On second thought ...

By Mike Sando

Steven Jackson was convinced during training camp that the St. Louis Rams would become much more run-oriented under new coach Jeff Fisher.

That didn't necessarily mean the team would finish the 2012 season with far more rushing plays than usual. What he envisioned represented more of a mindset.

"Going into this season my mentality is, I have to set the tempo initially for each and every game," Jackson said from Rams camp in August. "I believe this time we're going to use the run to set up the pass, the play-action, settle Sam [Bradford] down in the games."

That still might happen, but through five games, the Rams have departed from expected form. They have run the ball only 32.7 percent of the time in first quarters. That is the lowest percentage in the NFL and down from 48.5 percent last season.

So much for establishing the run early. So much for "settling down" Bradford.

What's going on here?

A few potential factors at work:
Brian Schottenheimer, the Rams' first-year offensive coordinator, spoke before the season about running the ball into loaded fronts -- those with more defenders in the box than the offense has available to block them -- for the sake of establishing a physical mentality.

The Rams have 28 carries against loaded fronts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That is tied with the Miami Dolphins for most in the league. They had 54 last season (21st), 61 in 2010 (14th), 86 in 2009 (15th) and 76 in 2008 (19th).

Jackson won't complain if the Rams do become more run-oriented early in games.

"When I shoulder that kind of responsibility, I actually go into the game a little bit edgier," he said during camp.

The Rams have run only 55 first-quarter plays on offense this season. Every team with fewer has had a bye week already. The Rams have not.

St. Louis has 18 rushes for 81 yards (4.5-yard average) on its 55 first-quarter plays. That includes two scrambles. The Rams have averaged 8.6 yards per attempt on 33 first-quarter pass plays, tied for the sixth-highest average in first quarters this season. They have 11 first downs on those 33 passes.