NFC West: Ryan Torain

The NFL trend toward a state of (pass) happiness has not swept over the NFC West.

Go ahead and blame the quarterbacks, but realize, too, that the St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have sought run-oriented identities through their current head coaches.

The Rams' decision to draft defensive tackle Michael Brockers in the first round, understandable based on need alone, makes even more sense in a divisional context. The NFC West schedule delivers the Rams six games against Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore and Beanie Wells -- three physical backs coming off 1,000-yard seasons. The 49ers also added 260-pound Brandon Jacobs to their backfield.

The Rams ranked 31st in rushing yards allowed last season. They allowed 5.7 yards per carry on runs up the middle, including 3.2 before contact. Those figures were worst in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Brockers is 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds. Scouts Inc. rated Insider him as exceptional or above average in every area except pass-rush ability, where his grade was average. Brockers' grades were exceptional for run defense and durability.

"He's what you want in a defensive tackle, especially in our division with the downhill runs and things like that," Rams general manager Les Snead told reporters Thursday night. "One person I know that’s smiling right now is (middle linebacker) James Laurinaitis."
Inside the 2011 NFC West Gridiron Challenge after Week 8:
  • Leader: Da Ramzz, for the first time this season, by two points. Da Ramzz has scored at least 130 points in seven of the eight weeks. Very solid. Previous leader mboles52 is only seven points back after leading four weeks in a row.
  • High score of the week: Coleyfudge, with 170 points. Getting 31 points from the Buffalo Bills' defense certainly helped.
  • Lowest score on first page of leaderboard: Try Not to Suck, with 88 points. This was a calculated gamble or an oversight. Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Sebastian Janikowski and the Green Bay defense stayed on his roster despite having bye weeks. Try Not to Suck remains tied for 31st and in the 98.4 percentile anyway. Not bad.
  • My team: tied for 208th out of 1,619 entries, 88.9 percentile. Up from 280th and 83.0 percentile. Cam Newton, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Steve Smith scored 99 of my 131 points in Week 8.
  • My wife's team: tied for 679th place, 59.7 percentile. Down from 584th and 64.8. She's been under the weather, but that's no excuse. Mark Ingram was her running back. Olindo Mare was her kicker.
  • Dan Graziano's team: tied for 340th, 80.7 percentile. Up from 408th and 75.1. Lots of NFC East flavor on our NFC East blogger's roster. Michael Vick, Tony Romo, Ryan Torain.
  • Note of the week: Buying back Aaron Rodgers at $7.9 million hurt, particularly after getting only 14 points from Joe Flacco as a bye week replacement. I picked up Matt Cassel on the relative cheap and will go with Frank Gore and Matt Forte as my running backs. The St. Louis Rams were a cheap pickup on defense and a gamble, but with the Cardinals' quarterback situation unsettled, it could work out OK.

Graziano is keeping on the pressure. Can't see him leaving Torain in his lineup against San Francisco's defense.

Wrap-up: Redskins 17, Rams 10

October, 2, 2011
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' home loss to the Washington Redskins in Week 4:

What it means: This would have seemed unfathomable not long ago, but the 2011 Rams have often appeared as bad or worse than the 2009 team that finished with a 1-15 record. They are 0-4 and reeling heading into their bye week, with a trip to Green Bay waiting for them on the other side. It's tough to blame the Rams' problems solely on injuries. In other words, they are not Danny Amendola and a cornerback away from contending. The Rams will need to dominate their division schedule late in the season to dig their way out.

What I liked: The Rams did not fall behind immediately, as they had against Baltimore a week earlier. This game was closer than that one. The Rams' pass defense prevented Rex Grossman from enjoying the spectacular success Joe Flacco enjoyed when he repeatedly hit deep passes for touchdowns. Cornerback Justin King, beaten deep by the Ravens, picked off a pass in the second half when the Rams needed a boost. Sam Bradford's 15-yard scoring pass to Steven Jackson in the fourth quarter made this a one-score game with 5:45 remaining. James Laurinaitis followed with another interception for the Rams, setting up in Washington territory in the final minutes.

What I didn't like: Rarely did the Rams pose a threat on offense until it was nearly too late. Bradford found himself under pressure again, too often unable to find anyone open. He continued taking far too many sacks. And when he did find receivers down the field, they too often couldn't make plays for him. Steven Jackson's return to a more prominent role made little impact. Jackson had trouble getting anything going on the ground when the Rams needed production early in the game. The defense wasn't all that bad on the touchdown reception Santana Moss made to open the scoring. Moss made a good play on the ball. The Rams don't have anyone making those types of above-average-but-not-great plays. Meanwhile, the Rams' disappointing run defense continued to have problems, enabling Ryan Torain's fourth career 100-yard rushing performance. The Rams' defense would be in much better position if the offense would score a few points on occasion.

Told you so: The Rams shrugged off concerns about their talent at receiver. It was going to be more about Josh McDaniels' system than raw talent at wideout. But with so many returning receivers coming off injuries, the Rams could have done more to protect themselves. It's not like having a healthy Amendola would strike fear in opposing defenses. The Rams need more offensive firepower.

What's next: The Rams have a bye in Week 5 before visiting Green Bay in Week 6.

Tim Hightower's fumbling in perspective

October, 31, 2010
Tim Hightower's fumbling issues this season wouldn't matter so much if, say, most other running backs lost the ball just as frequently.

The reality, however, is that Hightower has put the ball on the ground more times per carry than any NFL running back with at least 50 attempts this season. Hightower also averages more yards per attempt than any of those backs, one reason the Arizona Cardinals have been reluctant to take him off the field.

The chart ranks players with at least 50 rushing attempts by most fumbles per carry. The information reflects only fumbles during rushing attempts. The San Francisco 49ers' Frank Gore ranks tied for 11th on the list with three such fumbles. He also has one fumble following a reception.

Hightower and Ahmad Bradshaw, from the New York Giants, are the only NFL running backs to lose at least three fumbles this season.

Travis asks via Facebook whether Julius Jones or Justin Forsett could be on their way out of Seattle after the Seahawks acquired LenDale White and Leon Washington.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks will probably want to see how their running backs perform during training camp and the exhibition season before determining how many they need and which ones will play. White would be my early choice to start. Washington's ability to return from a broken leg is another key variable. The team thinks Washington has a chance to be ready for training camp, but coach Pete Carroll said the Seahawks will not rush him.

Jones' status does appear somewhat tenuous. His $2.45 million salary is highest on the team among running backs. That number is far from prohibitive, however. White and Washington have $1.759 million salaries. Forsett's salary is $475,000.

It is conceivable that Seattle could keep Washington, White, Jones and Forsett. I haven't seen two fullbacks demanding roster spots. Seattle will use two tight ends a fair amount.

Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates runs a version of Mike Shanahan's offense, so I went back through some of the Denver Broncos' opening-week rosters to see how many running backs they typically kept, and how many of those were fullbacks.

Shanahan's teams kept one or two fullbacks and three or four running backs on their opening-week rosters from 2004 through 2008, his final five seasons with the Broncos. Of the fullbacks, Kyle Johnson was the only traditional blocking specialist. Others, such as Peyton Hillis and Cecil Sapp, showed they could carry the ball as well. Seattle doesn't have fullbacks in that mold (insert Leonard Weaver reference here).

Reuben Droughns was considered a fullback at one point, but he became a 1,000-yard rusher, so I counted him as a running back. Also, running back Mike Bell played some at fullback. Again, the Seahawks do not have those types of combination backs.

The 2008 Broncos kept Hillis and four running backs: Selvin Young, Andre Hall, Michael Pittman and Ryan Torain. As noted, though, Hillis doubled at running back.

Bates was on those Shanahan staffs beginning in 2006.

For Seattle, competition is the important theme in the short term.