EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As passing numbers rise to record levels around the league through the first two weeks, the corresponding rushing numbers have been taking the obvious dip.
That’s certainly true in St. Louis, where quarterback Sam Bradford is off to his best statistical start but the Rams’ running game has yet to rev to a level beyond mediocrity.
There are plenty of factors that have contributed to the Rams posting just 136 rushing yards (25th in the NFL) in the first two weeks but there are a couple that stick out to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer: the youth of the team’s backs and the early penchant for falling behind.
“In the running game, I think there’s plenty of room for improvement,” Schottenheimer said. “I think it just comes down -- we’ve got young backs. We put ourselves in some positions where we haven’t had favorable numbers, whether it was the scoreboard or just some heavy boxes and stuff trying to run against.”
In many ways, the running game in the league simply isn’t what it used to be. Teams are spreading things out and throwing more and, in many cases, using the short passing game as an extension of the run.
There’s been evidence of that approach in St. Louis where Schottenheimer said the Rams have looked closely at using the short passing game as a substitute for the run game in certain situations.
“I think [those are] certainly things you talk about, even during the week game plan wise,” Schottenheimer said. “Can a quick slant or something make me six or seven yards, where a great run makes me four or five yards?”
When the Rams have tried to get the running game going, they have yet to find much success. In the first two games, the Rams averaged 3.24 yards per carry, 23rd in the league and Bradford’s 23-yard scramble against the Falcons is the team’s longest run so far this season.
The Rams also have yet to register a rushing touchdown or convert a third-down with a handoff on four attempts.
While Daryl Richardson emerged early in camp as the team’s starting back, he has yet to fully establish himself as the type of back the Rams can hand it to and expect big numbers over the course of a game.
Fellow backs Isaiah Pead, Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy haven’t had many opportunities in the opening games though Pead was on the field quite a bit against Atlanta when the Rams went to their up-tempo, no-huddle look.
Richardson has also been nursing a foot injury that has caused him to miss some practice time. Again this week he looks to be ready to play but Pead could again factor when the Rams decide to push the pace a bit.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious every day I walk in here,” Pead said. “But I can’t call the shots, I can’t put myself in so I can only work hard every day and wait for that time.”
Last week, the Rams played an Atlanta team that was for all intents and purposes one-dimensional but still found a way to get the job done in the passing game. The Rams would prefer not to eschew the run all together, especially knowing how important it can be to salt games away with it when you have a late lead.
Instead, look for the Rams to keep finding ways to get the run game going. Now that Bradford and the passing game have shown an ability to pile up yards, the Rams should get more favorable looks to run against. It’s just up to the team’s young backs to take advantage of those opportunities.
Two weeks in a row we’ve seen the Rams throwing to catch up from a deficit but what happens when they are looking to protect a lead?
“I know the thing we want to do is be balanced,” Schottenheimer said. “That’s a big part of it. Games come down to the fourth quarter and sometimes you’re going to have to try to throw it like we did last week and try to come from behind. Other times, you’re going to have to run the football in four-minute and try to put people away… nothing replaces the ability to run the football when the opponent knows you’re going to have to run it.”