Rams can't run from it -- they must adjust on offense
BY JEFF GORDON
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
The Rams are 2-4 and fading from the NFC playoff race. Interim coach Joe Vitt remains in charge while Mike Martz recovers from a serious illness and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild is calling the plays, with just one game under his belt.
Quarterback Marc Bulger is sidelined by a shoulder sprain. Two rookies, Alex Barron and Claude Terrell, start along the offensive line. One of the veterans, Adam Timmerman, has struggled enough in pass protection to earn a benching.
That is the current equation. The solution: Vitt and Fairchild should spend the next few weeks establishing the Rams as a consistently good running team.
Orlando Pace is locked up at left tackle for the rest of his career. Barron and Terrell are establishing themselves as forceful run blockers. Richie Incognito is preparing to move into an interior line job next season. Steven Jackson is growing into the feature back role.
Clearly this team has the building blocks to construct a good running game for years to come. Because of all the circumstances mentioned above, now is the time to do it.
Against the Colts on Monday night, the Rams were ready to feature the run against Tony Dungy’s “Tampa 2” defense. Fairchild knew that establishing the run would be the best way to create throwing opportunities against that defense.
Sure enough, the Rams came out running the ball effectively. On their first drive, Jackson broke a 14-yard run and later scored on a 21-yard burst.
Overall, he rushed for 64 yards on 11 first-half carries, solid numbers in the NFL for a predominantly north-south runner.
Unfortunately, the game got away from the Rams after they seized a quick 17-0 lead. Turnovers, Bulger’s injury and massive defensive breakdowns allowed the Colts to bury the Rams with a 35-point surge.
Back-up Jamie Martin did his best to throw the ball around. He failed to consistently find downfield targets, however, and his two interceptions helped feed the team’s overall collapse.
During the ugly second half. Jackson carried the ball just six more times, gaining 24 yards. But his overall yards-per-carry average for the game, 5.2, would qualify as one of the few positives for the Rams in that contest.
Between them, Jackson and Marshall Faulk got 30 touches. They rushed for 105 yards and caught nine passes for another 60 yards. That is very solid production against a very good Colts defense.
It is something to build on -– something the Rams MUST build on.
Going forward, the Rams should feed Jackson and Faulk the ball 30 to 35 times per game. This should be one of the NFL’s top 10 running back tandems.
To speed the development of the offensive line, Vitt and Fairchild should allow these guys to spend more time on their toes, run blocking, than on their heels, pass blocking.
Rather than test their ability to master the various pass protection schemes for Martz’s 1.5 million passing plays -– the dude’s office must look like the Library of Congress by now -– the coaches should develop their ability to knock down defensive linemen and linebackers.
This is not a call to make the Rams boring again. This is not a knock on Martin’s ability to run the offense or Fairchild’s ability to call it.
This is a call for a measured shift in emphasis. Establish the run -– really establish it -– to set up the pass. Keep the offense on the field longer and keep the defense on the sidelines longer.
Develop the offensive line. Fully exploit Jackson and Faulk while easing the load on Torry Holt and Co. just a bit.
Let those receivers run some routes in favorable down-and-distance situations instead of obvious passing situations. Let them run more downhill routes, if you will, against more favorable defensive schemes and personnel.
I’m not sure the defense can be fixed this season. The journeymen the Rams plugged into the secondary didn’t get the job done, so now Vitt is forced to play the kids. Opponents will continue attacking the weak points in the “D.”
But the Rams' offense can still run well this season, even with Bulger likely to miss a few games. And, yes, there are still plenty of winnable games on the schedule -– starting Sunday at home against the forlorn Saints.
Merely calling more run plays won’t get it done. The Rams must emphasize that half of their offense in practice and execute those plays in the games.
The opportunity is there, but the Rams coaches and players must seize it.