NFL Wire News

Rams continue to achieve little in the running game

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The Sports Xchange

EARTH CITY, Mo. — St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has always had a consistent philosophy since taking over as the interim coach of the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) in 1994: Run the football, play good defense and win games.

It has worked to varying degrees, but it clearly worked best when Jeff George and Chris Johnson were his running backs in Tennessee and working behind a strong offensive line.

Fast forward to 2015, and while Fisher has the defense in St. Louis to be successful, the running game and line aren’t close to being high quality. Thus, the Rams stand at 1-2 after experiencing another long afternoon with a sputtering offense in Sunday’s 12-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rookie running back Todd Gurley made his debut, but even that failed to inject any life into the team’s ground game as he gained just nine yards on six carries.

Through three games, the Rams rank 29th in the league in rushing with 214 yards, ahead of Philadelphia (193), Denver (171) and Detroit (135). However, 103 of the Rams’ rushing yards have been by wide receivers Tavon Austin (57) and Chris Givens (24), and quarterback Nick Foles (22).

Running backs Gurley, Benny Cunningham (18-57, 3.2), Tre Mason (16-42, 2.6) and Isaiah Pead (2-3, 1.5) have combined for 111 yards on 42 attempts, a mere 2.6 yards per carry.

Against the Steelers, aside from Gurley, Mason totaled just 26 yards on nine rushes, while Cunningham did have a 12-yard run on his lone attempt.

The young offensive line has struggled to create running lanes for the backs, and it won’t get any easier with a Sunday trip to Arizona looming.

Said Foles, “Yeah, it one of those things where we have to be able to (run the ball better). We have talented running backs. Our O-line’s doing a great job week-to-week of just working hard together and grinding. Once we get the run game going better, it’s going to really open up a lot of things.”

When that will be is anybody’s guess.

Despite the rocky beginning for Gurley, Foles said, “It’s great to have him out there. It’s great to have him healthy. Your first rookie game, it’s always a lot of emotions. Just having him out there is going to be a huge threat. We have talented running backs and so he’s going to add to it. Once he really gets going, it’s going to be something to see.”

Fisher, though, sees a silver lining. He said of the running game, “We were close. Coaches look at a little differently than everybody else. Todd had six carries for nine yards, played 14 plays. He could’ve very well had 50 or 60 yards in those six carries; it was that close. It’s not broken. It’s working.”

When asked to explain being “close,” Fisher said, “A block here, a press-the-hole here or a block there. Maybe it’s just a slight formation change and all of the sudden the back’s in the second level and on the third level.”

While fans might raise their eyebrows, Fisher insists things are improving. He said, “I thought this team improved over the Washington effort, yet it’s not reflected in the win-loss column. It’s not reflected in the points, but we did some good things. I thought our offensive line as a group played well. We just had little things go wrong here and there. I think objectively you look at the tape and there’s a lot of potential there.

“I’m seeing improvement. We have room for improvement, but I’m seeing improvement. We’ve got a lot of games left. We have huge challenges the next couple of weeks before the bye, but Arizona is playing as good as anybody in the league right now. So we’re going to go out there and see if we can find a way to win it. But I have complete confidence in the young group in this room. They’re practicing well. They’re getting better and excited to have Todd in the lineup and we’re going to go.”

REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS

–PASSING OFFENSE: C. QB Nick Foles had his struggles, but was also victimized by several drops, none bigger than the one by TE Lance Kendricks at the Pittsburgh 13-yard line. But Foles also unleashed a poor pass to Kendricks downfield from his own 17-yard with 3:02 left in the game that was intercepted by S Will Allen at the Steelers’ 49-yard line and returned to the Rams’ 31. Foles admitted it was “a poor decision.” WR Kenny Britt had seven receptions for 102 yards, but wasn’t able to maintain control of a fourth-and-5 pass that was originally ruled a catch, but then overturned on replay on what was the team’s final offensive play of the game.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: F. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. There was very little positive save for a 24-yard end-around by WR Chris Givens. There weren’t many holes, but it also wasn’t good the number of times the Rams ran on first down. On 13 first-down running plays, they gained just 41 yards and 24 came on the play to Givens. In the first half, there were eight first-down runs for 18 yards and just one pass attempt for 19 yards.

–PASS DEFENSE: B. This was another game with a high completion percentage, but the 25 receptions from Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Vick averaged just 9.2 yards. WR Antonio Brown had 11 catches, but none after Roethlisberger left the game, and his average was 9.8. The Rams had five sacks, three on Roethlisberger and two on Vick. The Steelers had just 197 net yards passing.

–RUN DEFENSE: B-plus. In his first game back from a two-game suspension, Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell gained 62 yards on 19 attempts (3.3 average), and had four runs for minus yardage and seven carries for one yard or less. He did have runs of 19 and 23 yards, so his other 17 runs totaled 20 yards.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. K Greg Zuerlein had field goals from 27 and 49 yards and has made all five of his attempts this season. P Johnny Hekker had a net of 37.5, which would have been better if one of his pooch punts hadn’t landed one yard deep in the end zone before bouncing out of bounds. There were three punts with fair catches, and only one kickoff returned for 22 yards. Tavon Austin averaged 10.7 on three punt returns. The biggest negative was a fake punt that Hekker threw too short for Stedman Bailey, who wasn’t able to make the catch for what would have been a first down.

COACHING: B-minus. Penalties continue to be an issue with seven for 97 yards, and it was surprising to hear head coach Jeff Fisher say, “There weren’t a lot of them, but wrong time. The holding penalty on the punt return, get the ball at the 30 (actually the 34) and takes us down at the 10 (actually the 12) in a field position game, that’s not good. We won’t tolerate those things anymore.” What was surprising is the insinuation, even if not true, that they have been tolerated on a team where penalties have been a source of frustration for several seasons.


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