Gordon: Rams offense developing at proper speed
• BY JEFF GORDON

[www.stltoday.com]

The Rams offense is progressing at a brisk clip.

Last season it passed for just 221.7 yards per game. It averaged 325.5 passing yards in the first two games this season.

Last season the Rams scored just 18.7 points per game overall, including five defensive touchdowns and a safety. This season the Rams are scoring 25.5 points per game. (And if Jared Cook takes care of the ball at the goal line in Game 1, that is a 28-point average.)

That is significant progress for a team lacking NFL-proven playmakers. But the dramatic gains have been offset by some inevitable growing pains — offensive breakdowns of every conceivable fashion.

Penalties wiping out key first downs, passes caroming off targets, intended receivers failing to run out their routes, receivers failing to read and react to blitzes, a running back failing to lower his pads on a short-yardage run, the quarterback failing to locate second or third passing options, passes batted at the line of scrimmage . . . mistakes of every description have slowed the charge.

Ironically, the biggest blunders came on plays designed for safety.

On the first deflection interception for a touchdown, quarterback Sam Bradford failed to pass the ball over an unblocked defender at his own goal line. This was supposed to be a ball control passing play, almost secure as a handoff. As it turned out, it wasn't.

On the second deflection INT for a TD, running back Daryl Richardson took his eye off a quick swing pass and let it carom off his body and into harm’s way.

So the Rams still have plenty of work to do. This is not an offensive juggernaut just waiting for permission from Jeff Fisher to savage the league.

Is Bradford comfortable in an up-tempo attack? Clearly he is, based on the success when circumstances forced the Rams into hurry-up mode. He played at a fast pace in college, as did some of his key receivers.

Are the Rams better suited to play a faster game? Certainly, given their lack of a power running game and their quantity of spread-style skill players. This offense needs to play to the strengths and mask the weaknesses.

But let’s pause for a reality check:

• The Rams offense should learn how to drive well before starting to race. In Weeks 1 and 2, this team failed to establish a consistent ground attack or much of a downfield passing threat. Also, this team still makes dispiriting mistakes playing at regular speed. Playing fast and sloppy would not be a winning combination.

• Bradford did most of his damage Sunday throwing against an injury-depleted Falcons defense sitting on a big lead. Atlanta’s battered unit didn’t want to yield big passing plays and it didn’t. The second half afforded Sam a wonderful opportunity to play some pitch and catch with his buddies, but folks shouldn’t read too much into his statistical clean-up.

• Long, methodical touchdown drives are more valuable than quick scoring drives. A 7˝-minute march shortens the game and allows defensive teammates to rest. Alabama couldn’t stop Johnny Football on Saturday, but the Crimson Tide offense slowed him some by staying on the field. An 11-play, 93-yard TD drive in the second quarter and a 10-play, 83-yard drive in the third quarter ate up 11˝ minutes and helped Alabama outlast Texas A&M.

• It remains to be seen whether playing fast-break offense on every single drive will fly in the NFL, Pro teams have smaller rosters and play a longer schedule. Few teams have much offensive line depth. The Rams, for instance, are one more offensive line injury away from massive trouble.

• Defensive coordinators can counter fast-break offenses with fast-break defenses, blitzing from various angles while hoping to confuse quarterbacks and catch linemen flat-footed. If an offense wants to wedge 20 or 25 more passes into a game, the defense should counter with 10 more quarterback hits.

Ideally, the Rams will learn to build long, deliberate scoring drives AND mix in successful up-tempo sequences.

When run correctly, no-huddle packages can spark the offense and catch the defense off balance. They create favorable match-ups, generate big plays and swing the game’s momentum.

But no-huddle packages are not a short-cut to success, even for teams suited for such schemes. Progress still must come the old-fashioned way, through individual growth and collective execution.

The Rams are making great strides in their offensive makeover, but they still have a ways to go. Now is not the time for them to get ahead of themselves.