St. Louis Rams: Daryl Richardson

The free-agent market is scheduled to begin March 11 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 8. We'll countdown to that with a position-by-position look at what the Rams have in place, who is set to hit the market, what they might need and who might fit the bill.

In place: The team's two most productive running backs in 2013 were rookies Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham. Clearly, both remain under the team's control for 2014 and look poised to return to their roles with Stacy as the starter and primary ball carrier and Cunningham occasionally spelling him.

Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead also remain under contract as does Chase Reynolds, whose main job is to contribute on a variety of special teams.

Pending free agents: None

What’s needed: The Rams appear to be fine with Stacy as the starter and coach Jeff Fisher has expressed confidence in Cunningham's potential as the backup. Pead has been a major disappointment since the Rams used a second-round pick on him two years ago and Richardson's stock dropped last year soon after he claimed the starting job.

Pead devoted himself to special teams late in the season and did well there but until he shows that he can contribute as a running back, his price tag is too high for special teams only. Richardson probably deserves another chance as he suffered a toe injury in the opener and never seemed to get healthy as he fell further down the depth chart.

While the Rams appear mostly set at the position, it wouldn't hurt to find a speedy change of pace back to complement Stacy's bruising style. Cunningham could be that guy but it might make sense to add a true speed burner to the mix. Stacy also had his share of injury issues last year, though none were serious enough to keep force him to miss games.

Possible fits: The name you're almost certain to hear connected to the Rams the most is Tennessee's Chris Johnson, should the Titans opt to release him. Johnson has obvious ties to Fisher and would actually represent the speedy type of back that could be a complement to Stacy though his cost and desired role might make the match less likely.

Verdict: Spending money on a veteran running back just doesn't seem to fit with the Rams' philosophy. They already have five backs under control and they've proved capable of adding backs late in the draft or even undrafted rookies who can contribute. I suspect the Rams will add a back at some point this offseason but free agency is probably not the route the Rams travel to find one.
ST. LOUIS -- It's safe to say the 2013 season didn't turn out the way St. Louis Rams running back Daryl Richardson envisioned.

After winning a "competition" for the starting running back job with little challenge from any of the other backs in training camp, Richardson entered the season as the player handed the challenge of replacing Steven Jackson, the team's all time leading rusher.

That was pretty much the high point of the season for Richardson, who suffered a toe injury in the season opener and never got rolling before ceding the job to rookie Zac Stacy after just four weeks. When all was said and done, Stacy stated a strong case to retain the starting job heading into 2014 and Richardson spent the final eight games of the season on the inactive list.

Richardson dealt with a hamstring injury toward the end of the season and it was fair to wonder if he ever fully recovered from his foot injury. Considering Stacy's emergence as well as the work of Benny Cunningham as his backup and the special teams production of Isaiah Pead and Chase Reynolds, it's fair to wonder about Richardson's future with the team.

Rams general manager Les Snead said last week he still envisions a place for Richardson on the roster next season.

"Oh yeah, I think definitely," Snead said. "We've all seen what he can do. Some injuries derailed him a little bit and then heck, let's take Isaiah: (he) gets a chance goes on special teams and he's one of the top special teamers. As you bring in more players, there's more competition."

It remains to be seen whether the Rams add to their stable of running back options in the offseason though it doesn't seem to be a particularly pressing need given the amount of guys already on the roster. Pead has been a major disappointment in his first two years after coming in as a second-round pick in 2012 but Stacy and Cunningham seem to be settled into their spots, something coach Jeff Fisher alluded to near the end of the season.

The Rams made something of a puzzling choice to go with five running backs all season though they regularly seemed to have at least one banged up at all times. Still, that decision cost them a promising young defensive end in Gerald Rivers when they had to adjust for the injury to returner/receiver Tavon Austin.

Theoretically, the Rams could again carry five running backs but they may have to make a choice between Richardson and Pead. Richardson finished the year with 215 yards on 69 carries, an anemic 3.12 yards per attempt.

Richardson is limited in terms of his ability to make defenders miss though he flashed good speed as a rookie. It's hard to say how much injuries slowed him in 2013 but it's clear there was at least some negative effect.

For Richardson to hang tight in his spot behind Stacy and Cunningham or even emerge back in the running back mix, he may have to follow the Pead route and prove he can contribute in other ways first.

"I do know this, when he was inactive he didn't like that," Snead said. "You do like the fact he didn't like that. He's always said hey I want to start covering kicks and doing things like that. He's trying to find his way back on the 46-man. We've all seen what he can do and you've definitely got to roll with him."
ST. LOUIS --A quarter of the way through the 2013 season, the St. Louis Rams were on pace to be one of the worst rushing teams in the history of the NFL.

After parting ways with veteran Steven Jackson, who posted 1,000-yard seasons like clockwork, in the offseason the Rams insisted they would be able to replace Jackson's production with a variety of options. Daryl Richardson figured to get the first shot with Isaiah Pead waiting in the wings. That plan left the Rams at 1-3, averaging less than 50 yards per game on the ground through the first four weeks.

[+] EnlargeZac Stacy
Michael Thomas/Getty ImagesZac Stacy emerged this season as St. Louis' top option out of the backfield.
A dreadful 19 carries for 18 yards as a team against San Francisco in Week 4 left Rams coach Jeff Fisher and his staff looking to get back to their run game roots. At the center of that plan was finding a back capable of carrying the load. Rookie Zac Stacy had one carry in the first four weeks after falling behind because of some injury problems in training camp and the preseason.

Stacy took over as the starter in Week 5 against Jacksonville and never looked back.

"I was given the opportunity and I pretty much just took advantage of it every week," Stacy said. "There’s really no secret sauce to what I’m doing. It all started up front with the offensive line and just being a pro about yourself. Staying an extra hour watching tape, staying an extra hour working on your footwork and craft and stuff like that. That’s one thing I’ve taken from guys like Chris Long, James Laurinaitis. One thing they told me is just be a true pro about yourself. Eat right, take care of your body. Little things like that."

After nearly a decade of relying on Jackson as the workhorse of the offense and running game, the Rams attempted to go to more of a committee approach but Stacy's emergence took them back to the method that had worked in the run game. Stacy handled the bulk of the work from that point forward, finishing with 973 yards on 250 carries and 26 catches for 141 more yards and eight total touchdowns.

For the most part, Stacy was a strong, reliable centerpiece for an offense that was at its best when Stacy was at his best. But that doesn't mean Stacy didn't have his share of struggles in his rookie season.

As teams loaded the box to try to stop the run more and more, Stacy ran into some difficult games. Seattle and Arizona shut Stacy down completely, holding him to 40 yards on 29 carries. He finished the season with an average of just 3.89 yards per carry. He also battled small injuries that never cost him a game but kept him out of games for stretches of time.

Likewise, Stacy's pass protection got better during the season but can use work in that area as well. That's just one example of the details Stacy plans to attack in his first NFL offseason.

"Just doing all the little things," Stacy said. "Getting a better grasp of the playbook from that standpoint. Obviously getting faster, stronger. It’s a long season that I’ve learned from a rookie standpoint. You have got to be able to take care of your body as well. Keep doing all the little things right, from the weight room standpoint, flexibility, all of that stuff."

By the end of the season, Benny Cunningham was the primary backup with Pead next in line and Richardson inactive as he battled injuries all season.

The Rams seem to have plenty of options for the running game, making it unlikely they'll need to spend much in the way of money or draft capital on another back though a speedy complement might be an option. Stacy might not have answered the running game question in full but he appears to have done enough to earn another shot at starting in 2014.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the third consecutive week, St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin is questionable for Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks because of an ankle injury. But there appears to be a bit more hope than there's been the past two weeks.

Austin was a limited participant in practice Friday, ending a run of nearly three straight weeks in which he'd gone without participating in any practices. In each of the past two weeks Austin has missed those workouts then missed the ensuing game. Austin getting some work on Friday at least leaves the door open that he could return for the season finale.

Technically, the questionable designation makes a player participating a 50/50 proposition. Austin is likely to be a game-time decision for Sunday.

Here's the rest of the Rams' Friday injury report:

Doubtful: RB Daryl Richardson (thigh)
Questionable: Austin (ankle), S T.J. McDonald (illness)
Probable: DE Chris Long (thigh)

McDonald and Richardson did not practice Friday. Long was a full participant.

Tavon Austin remains out

December, 26, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin again did not practice Thursday as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.

Austin
Austin suffered the injury Dec. 8 against Arizona and has not played or practiced since, missing games against New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Rams coach Jeff Fisher has expressed optimism the past couple of weeks that Austin might be able to return in time to get back on the field, but time is running out for that to happen.

The Rams have one more practice Friday before traveling to Seattle for the season finale. If Austin doesn't at least get some work in at practice, it seems likely his season will end without another appearance.

Elsewhere on the injury report, the Rams were without safety T.J. McDonald because of an illness and running back Daryl Richardson did not practice because of a thigh ailment.

Defensive end Chris Long returned to practice as a full participant after sitting out Wednesday with a thigh injury.

Tavon Austin questionable again

December, 20, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In today's edition of the Tavon Austin injury watch, we can confidently report that, well, there's not much to report.

Austin sat out Friday's practice, just like he did Wednesday and Thursday, as he continues to nurse his ankle back to health. He didn't practice before sitting out last week's game against New Orleans, either. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Austin will be questionable for Sunday's game against Tampa Bay.

Austin
Fisher said Monday that he hoped Austin would be able to practice at some point this week. Clearly, that didn't happen, which makes Austin's status more tenuous for this week. It seems unlikely he'd play without practicing, but it's possible he could improve in the next couple of days, test the ankle before the game and play against the Bucs.

Here's the Rams' complete Friday injury report:

Questionable: Austin (ankle), running back Daryl Richardson (thigh)

Probable: Offensive lineman Mike Person (illness), linebacker Will Witherspoon (illness), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (back)

Tavon Austin still not practicing

December, 19, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Earlier this week, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said he hoped receiver Tavon Austin would practice at some point this week as he continues to battle an ankle injury.

Austin
Austin will have one more chance to do that Friday after he sitting out practice for the second consecutive day Thursday. Austin suffered the ankle injury near the end of the team's game against Arizona in Week 14. He did not practice last week and missed his first game against New Orleans. But Austin is out of his walking boot and appears to be moving around better.

The chances for Austin to get back on the field this week against Tampa Bay will likely hinge on his ability to return to practice Friday.

Elsewhere on the injury report, the Rams made some additions to the two they had listed Wednesday. Here's the full breakdown:

Did not practice: Austin (ankle), running back Daryl Richardson (thigh), offensive tackle Mike Person (illness), linebacker Will Witherspoon (illness)

Limited practice: Cornerback Janoris Jenkins (back)

Austin, Jenkins questionable for Sunday

December, 13, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For the third consecutive day, St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin and cornerback Janoris Jenkins did not practice.

Jenkins
Austin
For those keeping score at home, that's a full week's worth of practice in preparation for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Austin's ankle injury and Jenkins' back ailment have kept them on the sideline all week and now have them listed as questionable for this week.

In NFL parlance, the questionable designation translates to a 50/50 chance to play. Austin has watched practice each of the past two days with a walking boot protecting his left foot.

Jenkins has spent the week getting treatment on his back but took to social media earlier Friday to offer a strong statement that he plans to play against the Saints.

In response to a fan question, Jenkins said he'd be ready to play.

The possibility of playing without Austin is damaging enough to an offense without much big play potential in his absence. Not having Jenkins would also be harmful to a struggling secondary without much depth, especially against New Orleans' high-octane passing attack.

Here's the Rams' complete injury report for Friday:

Questionable: Austin (ankle), Jenkins (back), running back Daryl Richardson (thigh), Harvey Dahl (knee)

Probable: Cornerback Brandon McGee (foot)

Rams-Jaguars study session: Offense

October, 8, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A look back at the St. Louis Rams' 34-20 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars after reviewing the All-22 film.

Big Play: Rams quarterback Sam Bradford hits receiver Austin Pettis for a 31-yard touchdown to seal the victory.

[+] EnlargeAustin Pettis
Scott Kane-USA TODAY SportsAustin Pettis hauled in a perfect pass from Sam Bradford to seal the Rams' win over the Jaguars.
The Rams lined up in '21' personnel with two receivers, one tight end and two running backs. Jacksonville had four linemen and a linebacker at the line of scrimmage with a single high safety in the form of Josh Evans.

At the snap, Bradford faked a handoff to running back Daryl Richardson with fullback Cory Harkey sliding down from the left side of the formation to the right to pick up a blitz. Richardson also picked up another blitzing linebacker to create time for Bradford.

Pettis got a free release against cornerback Will Blackmon and did a small stutter step before accelerating to Blackmon's outside shoulder. Pettis quickly gained a step on Blackmon and Bradford dropped a perfect ball over his left shoulder for the touchdown.

Bradford's throw was pretty close to perfect and Pettis did a nice job of hauling it in but extra credit goes to Richardson and Harkey for picking up the blitz as well as they did.

Hidden Play: Bradford narrowly misses a deep ball to receiver Chris Givens.

With a 24-13 lead near the end of the third quarter, the Rams had a golden chance to hit a big play to effectively put the Jaguars away but just missed it when Bradford and Givens couldn't connect.

In '12' personnel with two receivers split right, two tight ends stacked left and a running back to the left in the backfield, the Rams lined up against Jacksonville's defense in its base 4-3 alignment with one cornerback on the left side and two high safeties.

At the snap, Givens got a free release to the inside against Blackmon, who presumably was to have safety help over the top. Jacksonville safety Johnathan Cyprien, who otherwise played well, got lost on the play and took a step toward the line as Givens raced down the field to the post.

Bradford didn't see Givens right away and the pocket closed in around him from the left side with end Tyson Alualu and tackle Sen'Derrick Marks providing pressure. Bradford took a couple of little hops before letting it go and as he threw, the pressure appeared to force him to take something off the throw.

By the time the ball arrived, Blackmon was able to recover and time it up to break up the pass.

Other observations:
  • Bradford had a couple of other issues with the pocket, including a third-quarter play where he didn't send the pressure quick enough and tripped over left tackle Jake Long's foot for a sack.
  • Tight end Lance Kendricks isn't completely healthy but he looked much better against the Jaguars. He was solid in his blocking and made some plays in the passing game. He was on the field a lot, too, playing 66 snaps.
  • Speaking of tight ends playing a lot, the Rams are using Harkey more and more. He played more snaps than Jared Cook and had good moments blocking. He also had a drop in the passing game, which won't help get more looks there.
  • Harkey also provided a glimpse into the world of working with so many young skill players on offense. During one sequence in the fourth quarter, Bradford signaled for Harkey to go in motion three times before he turned around to tell him to move.
  • Receiver Brian Quick also continues to work his way into the mix more. He played more snaps than Tavon Austin and had a couple of nice grabs. On one, he saw the pocket collapse around Bradford and did a good job of coming back to the ball, making himself available and hauling in the catch for a 17-yard gain.
  • Shelley Smith played about a third of the snaps at left guard and Chris Williams handled the rest. There didn't seem to be much dropoff between the two. Both were solid in the run game and just OK in pass protection. As I mentioned this morning, it seems inserting Smith is intended to have him ready in case a tackle gets hurt and Williams has to shift outside.
  • Richardson still doesn't look healthy to me. He ran a little better in this one but he looks a bit tentative hitting the hole, not at all like the guy we saw last year. Also, plays designed to throw him the ball just don't seem to do much. It's clearly not his forte.
  • Obviously the Rams are trying to get Tavon Austin going in the pass game but Bradford missed a golden opportunity for a touchdown to Cook on a play where Austin dropped a short pass at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Defenses throw a lot of attention at Austin on plays like that and it seems to allow chances to hit elsewhere.
  • Nice power running from back Benny Cunningham late when Zac Stacy was off the field with a rib injury.
  • Stacy was as expected. Powerful, breaking tackles, all the things you could see live showed up on film. He also did a nice job when asked to pass protect.
  • Bradford was mostly solid for the day. He did miss a couple of opportunities but he took care of the ball and didn't make any huge glaring mistakes.
  • The offensive lineman who looked the best to my eyes? Right tackle Joe Barksdale. He was solid in all aspects but caught my eye a couple of times in the run game, especially. He appeared to give up a sack but that was about it in terms of anything from the man across from him.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert once felt very much at home at the Edward Jones Dome. In fact, it was at the current home of the St. Louis Rams where he kick-started a career that would eventually make him the No. 10 pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

Gabbert made his first college start as a sophomore in 2009 at the Edward Jones Dome, for Missouri against Illinois in what then was an annual border showdown. He led the Tigers to a blowout win, throwing for 319 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another touchdown. He returned with the Tigers in 2010 and led them to another victory on the same field in his final college season.

"It’s going to be a nice return to the Dome, and we’re ready to go,” Gabbert said.

Finding a NFL stadium where Gabbert has had success in his young career isn't an easy task. Putting it mildly, Gabbert has had a tough transition to the league, going through coaching and scheme changes nearly from the day he was drafted. This season, he's posted a quarterback rating of 30.7 in his two starts, with no touchdowns and five interceptions.

Gabbert's struggles in Jacksonville have many wondering just how long he'll get to prove himself. It seems the Jaguars are committed to seeing it through this season and at least finding out what they have.

Well aware of the criticism that surrounds him, Gabbert has a pretty respectable approach to understanding all that goes with playing his position at the game's highest level.

"It’s rightfully deserved," Gabbert said. "It’s part of the job description when you signed up. The quarterback and the head coach are the ones that get the blame, and they’re the ones that get more of the credit than they deserve when things are going well. But it’s the quarterback’s job to lead his football team and it’s the quarterback’s job to get points on the board."

Getting points on the board has been a tough task for the Jaguars so far this season; their 7.8 points per game rank last in the league. Considering the Rams' struggles this season both scoring and preventing points, they'd better hope Gabbert doesn't feel too at home in the Edward Jones Dome.

I.C.Y.M.I.

It was an exceedingly busy day in this corner of cyberspace, with Twitter nonsense, trades and so much more. Here's a recap of yesterday's activities. ... We started with the weekly quarterback watch and a look at Sam Bradford. ... From there, it was time for the weekly buzz with a video breakdown of this week's storylines for the Rams. ... Next was the first glimpse at the possible changing situation at running back and the Daryl Richardson/Twitter affair. ... We looked at how Jacksonville's trade of tackle Eugene Monroe changes things for this week. ... A quick injury update and the Rams' lack of bodies in the secondary. ... Finally, we had a news story with reaction from all parties on Richardson and the Twitter incident, as well as a vote for Zac Stacy as this week's starter.

Elsewhere:

At stltoday.com, my pal Bernie Miklasz took a break from Cardinals mania and offered his take on the Rams' run-game struggles.

Post-Dispatch writer Joe Lyons writes that rookie end Gerald Rivers is looking to build on his debut.

CBS Sports offers a preview of Sunday's Rams-Jaguars game.

At stlouisrams.com, Jonathan Webb takes a look at Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein's solid start.

New look for Rams' run game?

October, 2, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Asked about his team's struggling run game last Friday, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher indicated that changes might be in the offing.

Nothing appears set in stone as to what those changes might be but (former?) starter Daryl Richardson offered a clue as to what one of those alterations might be, this time via Twitter.

Tuesday night, Richardson had the following exchange with a fan on the social media website.


That the Rams could look in a different direction comes as little surprise given Richardson's struggles in the early going. Plagued by a foot injury, Richardson hasn't had the burst or confidence he ran with for most of his rookie season. Although he leads the team in rushing with 114 yards, he's averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.

Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham are possibilities to be more involved this week if indeed Richardson's role is reduced. Pead was inactive last week while Cunningham has been getting opportunities the past few weeks. Stacy was back on the active list against the Niners but played just one snap. Since he's the back that has had the fewest opportunities (among those who've had them), perhaps this week he gets a bit of an extended look.

Regardless of who gets the carries, the Rams must find a way to get production against Jacksonville's 32nd ranked run defense.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After two of the ugliest offensive performances any team in the league has put up in the past couple of weeks, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher wants to make some changes.

“We’re going to have to, as we’ve already started, kind of adjust our offensive philosophy to, I think, what’s probably better suited for us right now,” Fisher said. “And that’s to hand it off, and everything else spins off of that.”

After an offseason of adding speed on the perimeter with the likes of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin with the intent to build an offense around the right arm of quarterback Sam Bradford, a philosophical shift is coming, but not the one anyone expected.

Despite the offense’s success in up-tempo, no-huddle looks, the Rams want to get back to what Fisher has had the majority of his coaching success doing: run the ball.

[+] EnlargeDaryl Richardson
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceWith Daryl Richardson and the Rams run game scuffling, coach Jeff Fisher said he may consider outside options for a solution.
One pretty big problem with that: The Rams have showed absolutely no ability to do that effectively in 2013. The offensive line hasn’t opened many holes, and there isn’t a running back on the roster who has proved capable of making anyone miss or picking up yards after contact on a consistent basis.

The Rams have just 189 rushing yards this season, which ranks 29th in the league. Mind you, the Rams rank that low despite having played one more game than every team in the league except San Francisco. They’re averaging 2.59 yards per carry, which is second to last in the NFL, and are getting 1.15 yards after contact per rush.

That anemic run game has been even worse in the past two weeks, gaining 1.71 yards per attempt on 31 tries with a long of 11 yards. The Rams also sit 31st in the league in third-down conversions at 25.9 percent in no small part because of an inability to gain yards on the ground to get into more manageable third downs and move the chains on the few occasions they get into third-and-short.

“Frustrating,” Fisher said. “It is. We’ve got work to do. It’s been -- again, 75 carries against any defense for that matter is difficult over that period of time in a short week and we talk about teams that can run it.”

Clearly, the Rams need to get the running game going in some capacity, and I have to believe that when Fisher speaks of running the ball more, he simply means he wants to find ways to be successful as his teams in the past have been rather than some sort of major shift in which the Rams suddenly line up in power I-formations and hammer away with a fullback.

Either way, it’s going to be difficult for the Rams to get the run game going until one of their backs shows the ability to take over the job.

They hoped it would be Daryl Richardson, who won the starting job early in camp. Richardson has been slowed by a foot injury but has struggled rushing anyway. A one-cut-and-go runner in his rookie season, Richardson isn’t particularly adept at making tacklers miss or shaking loose when a defender gets his hands on him.

Isaiah Pead was also supposed to factor, but after he missed the first game because of a substance abuse suspension, he wasn’t even active against San Francisco.

“He’s had a couple moments, yeah, over the last couple of weeks,” Fisher said. “But I didn’t put him down because of that.”

Fisher said the Rams intended to use Austin in the backfield against the 49ers in a role similar to what Pead had played, but those plans were scrapped early.

Rookie Benny Cunningham has had some opportunities but hasn’t had much success either, and fifth-round pick Zac Stacy was active last week but played just one snap.

Clearly, the Rams’ drastic inability to run the ball isn’t solely the product of the backs. They aren’t getting much help from the offensive line. And that doesn’t even touch on the struggles of the backs to help in pass protection.

“We’ll evaluate the running back situation based on the types of things we come up from the run game need,” Fisher said. “We’re going to look at it this week, and we’ll definitely have a plan in place when we come back.”

The Rams don’t appear to have any obvious solutions for the position in house, and it would make a lot of sense to, as Fisher says, look at possible outside options to at least give them some semblance of a run game and some reliability picking up the blitz.

Rams must get running game going

September, 24, 2013
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- There was a time not so long ago where the thought of trying to get an ailing running game revved up against San Francisco 49ers' defense would have spelled disaster for the team attempting to accomplish the feat.

This week, that’s precisely what the Rams need to do if they want to get the offense going and come away with a home victory against the division rival 49ers.

“Being one dimensional isn’t really helpful to an offense,” Rams running back Isaiah Pead said. “We need to go out and let the 49ers know and everyone else that is coming to play us that we can run the ball also.”

So far, that message has apparently been sent using a carrier pigeon instead of UPS overnight. The Rams' run game has been stuck in neutral for the first three games, accumulating 171 yards on the ground, 29th in the league.

[+] EnlargeSean Weatherspoon
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesDaryl Richardson is the Rams' leading rusher, but he's averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
What’s worse, the Rams are gaining just 3.17 yards per attempt, which ranks 27th in the NFL. They’re also one of four teams without a rushing touchdown in the first three games.

When asked about his team’s rushing woes, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has repeatedly pointed out that the Rams have found themselves trailing early and forced to abandon the run before it can find any rhythm.

“We’ve just got to hand it off more,” Fisher said. “We haven’t had the opportunities -- we’ve gotten behind. We’ve got to get back to that early in the game.”

There’s some truth to the idea that the Rams have had to get away from the run sooner than they’d like. They have just 54 rushing attempts so far this season, more than only three teams in the league.

Of course, the Rams could allow for more rushing attempts if they ran the ball more successfully on those earlier attempts.

In the first three games, the Rams have attempted 12 runs and gained 35 yards in the first quarter, less than 3 yards per carry. None of those dozen rushing attempts has resulted in a first down.

Logically, if the Rams are having more success running the ball, they’re picking up first downs, extending drives and creating more chances to keep attacking on the ground.

The bigger issue here seems to be an offensive line that has struggled to get consistent push and a young group of running backs from which no one has emerged as a consistently reliable option yet.

“We have got to do a better job upfront of moving guys off the ball, get on the second level, get to linebackers, let the running backs hit the hole,” left tackle Jake Long said. “The last few weeks we have been down so much we have had to play catch up and pass the ball a lot so that takes away from the run game. It all starts up front, we’ve got to move guys off the ball and stay on our blocks.”

It’s not all on the offensive line, though. Starting back Daryl Richardson leads the team with 98 yards on 30 carries. He’s been slowed by a foot injury but hasn’t been particularly impressive on his rushing attempts.

Pead and Benny Cunningham have had a few chances of their own and neither has done much to distinguish himself. Part of the problem is none of the backs have showed much ability to make defenders miss or run through contact. The Rams have 71 rushing yards after contact, which ranks 31st in the league.

The Rams have alternated among their various backs in the first three weeks.

“A rhythm is a running back’s best friend,” Pead said. “To have that rhythm is always a plus. We’re a running back committee right now. Daryl is the starter, but whoever gets in there has to answer the call.”

Allowing one back to stay in and get a rhythm would be made easier if one of them would have some measure of success.

In a departure from the usual San Francisco defensive dominance, the Niners are giving up 138 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 29th in the league. Last week, the Colts bludgeoned the Niners with the run, carrying 39 times for 179 yards on their way to a time of possession edge of 12 minutes and 50 seconds.

It’s not realistic to expect the Rams to do the same without proven backs like Indianapolis has in Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw but some sort of reasonable facsimile would serve the Rams well in their quest to even their record at 2-2.

“When we get the opportunity to run the ball, we’ve got to run the ball,” Long said.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 3

September, 23, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams31-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Falling behind: Getting off to a slow start has been an ongoing problem for the Rams in the first two weeks, but they raised (lowered?) the bar on themselves Sunday in Dallas.

[+] EnlargeAustin Pettis
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Austin Pettis, who had two receptions for 20 yards and one touchdown, reacts to the Rams' Week 3 loss in Dallas.
At halftime, the Rams trailed 17-0 with only 18 yards of offense and a single first down while having allowed allowed 202 yards and 12 first downs. It’s hard to pinpoint why the Rams can’t get off to a good start, but it’s a problem they better fix in a hurry.

Defensive regression?: The Rams were off to a good start defending the run in the first two weeks, limiting Arizona and Atlanta to 61 yards per game on an average of 2.9 yards per carry. Dallas running back DeMarco Murray erased any of that goodwill by trampling the Rams once again with 175 yards and a touchdown.

Pass defense was the primary issue for the Rams in the first two games, but the Cowboys didn’t even need to attack St. Louis through the air. Supposedly the strength of the team this season, the Rams' defense has shown more signs of regression than progress through three weeks.

Running in place: Starting running back Daryl Richardson left the game early after aggravating a foot injury and did not return. No matter, the running game picked up where it left off in the first two weeks, which is to say it was essentially nonexistent for the third week in a row.

Yes, the Rams fell behind early and were forced to throw to try to catch up, but even before that, the Rams showed no signs of a running game ready to break out. They attempted 12 runs and gained 35 yards, with the longest rush coming on an 11-yard gain by Isaiah Pead.

Suddenly, Steven Jackson “only” rushing for in the neighborhood of 1,000 yards doesn’t sound so bad.

Special flags: Jeff Fisher didn’t agree with the majority of the four special teams penalties that went against his team last week in Atlanta, and it remains to be seen how he’ll feel about the three more that went against the Rams on Sunday.

Nevertheless, those penalties happened, and this time, they were even more costly because the Rams earned two apparent infractions that wiped out a punt return for a touchdown by Tavon Austin. Field position remains a problem, and the biggest reason for it continues to be the team’s penalty issues.
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.

[+] EnlargeSean Weatherspoon
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesDaryl Richardson hasn't been able to get on track through the first two weeks, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
“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.”

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