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Strauss: Rams can't run; ***** walk all over them
Strauss: Rams can't run; ***** walk all over them
18 hours ago • BY JOE STRAUSS
Let’s begin today’s homily with an indisputable truth: these Rams can’t run the ball.
This is no attempt at dry humor or sarcasm. If anything, we run the risk here of stating the obvious.
After four games — the equivalent of 40 games in an MLB schedule or 20 in the NHL — the Rams have demonstrated little commitment and even less ability to run the pumpkin.
No longer are we talking small sample sizes, possible outliers, anomalies or whatever the rationalization du jour is. The Rams, a team that jettisoned a 10,000-yard rusher after last season, do not have the capacity of imposing their will or controlling the clock via the run. Accept that fact and whatever else happens — or doesn’t happen — begins to make sense.
The San Francisco ***** took apart the Rams 35-11 Thursday night before an NFL Network audience and a quick-exiting crowd at the Edward Jones Dome. The Niners rushed for 213 yards. The Rams finished with 22 yards on the ground — 14 in the first half with the night’s longest jaunt checking in at seven yards with less than four minutes left in the game.
In five days the Rams have seen their once-promising season threatened by a pair of 24-point losses. Whipped in Dallas last Sunday, they were exposed and badly bruised Thursday.
Adding injury to insult, the locals lost cornerback Cortland Finnegan, defensive end Eugene Sims and rookie safety T.J. McDonald. On the same drive that his inadvertent hit took out Sims, McDonald was carted from the field with a lower right leg fracture.
It’s too early to write a season’s epitaph but Thursday night’s debacle made clear the patient is sick.
The last week has confirmed the Rams as too predictable on offense and vulnerable on defense. Quarterback Sam Bradford took another beating while committing two turnovers that led to touchdowns. A depleted defense that allowed 84 points in its first three games held the Rams to an early field goal and a short-field touchdown. To the disgust of hundreds who remained, the Rams finished the game by running three plays from the “victory formation.”
Did anyone mention the Rams don’t have a running game to go with a passing game?
What the Rams have is a short passing game to go with a mid-range passing game and all the predictability that follows.
The Niners contrasted the Rams’ attack by piling up 219 yards on the ground. Their four-quarter progression was 22, 83, 48 and 66 yards. The Rams replied with 11, 5, -2 and 4. Of course, after the Niners took a 21-3 lead less than seven minutes into the second half the Rams running attack became little more than a hood ornament on a wheezing offense that produced five second-half first downs.
Niners feature back Frank Gore almost doubled the Rams’ rush total with a 34-yard touchdown burst on fourth-and-inches in the second quarter’s dying seconds. If Gore was touched it was only a love lap. Gore finished the half with 107 yards on 10 carries.
The Rams’ response was to feed Daryl Richardson the ball 12 times in return for 16 first-half yards. That’s an average of four feet per rush. Richardson’s longest carry stretched four yards.
What we’re left with is an offense painted many shades of gray. Bradford works something that resembles a ball-control passing game with little to fool an opposing defense — or for that matter a home crowd.
A year ago the Rams could ground-and-pound with Steven Jackson. This season they rely primarily on two backs — Richardson and Isaiah Pead — who had 108 career rushing attempts entering this season. The Rams bet big that one of the two could successfully run behind much the same offensive line.
“That was that team. This is this team,” said center Scott Wells. “We’re going to find a way to make a correction. To become a two-dimensional offense you have to do that in the NFL. I’m sure that will be stressed and we’ll find a way to make that part of our offense.”
The NFL is undeniably a passing league. But unless you’re the Denver Broncos, passing typically requires some form of deterrent as an offset.
“I don’t think it’s that we’re getting overpowered,” Wells said. “I’m sure it’s going to come down to fundamentals and technique and being consistent.”
The Rams’ formula is becoming stale. An early inability to run the ball allows an opposing secondary to sit back. Bradford becomes frustrated looking downfield. The Rams fall into uncomfortable third-down predicaments that only feed their predictability. They followed Sunday’s one third-down conversion with 3-for-17 efficiency Thursday.
The Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and the defending NFC champions have led them by a combined 55-6 in the opening 30 minutes.
Fisher confined his postgame comments to an opening statement and responses to two questions. He cited “our inability to run the football ... and then to get behind compounds it.”
The Rams didn’t dress Pead on Thursday. Fisher’s frustration with Richardson became apparent when he inserted undrafted rookie Benny Cunningham in the third quarter.
Down to their desperate division rivals by 11 points when kicking off the second half, the Rams energized the crowd by stripping Gore on the opening drive.
Set up at the Niners 44, the Rams’ next three plays were:
A Bradford incompletion thrown from an empty backfield; a pass deflected at the line; a pass thrown five yards shy of a first down that was dropped.
The cascade worsened after the ***** scored. The Rams followed with a four-play possession followed by a three-and-out followed by another three-and-out. The Niners held the ball for 10 minutes during the period, leaving the defense gassed.
Before Thursday’s action Bradford had thrown 115 of his 141 attempts less than 10 yards downfield, including 41 behind the line of scrimmage.
During the team’s 1-2 start a mere 13 completions traveled more than 10 yards in the air. The 6.3 yards per pass attempt ranked only 27th among 32 teams. Rushing for 171 yards in three games atop 3.2 yards per carry invites opponents to concentrate on the aerial attack.
The Rams won’t say it but they’re substituting a dinky ball-control passing attack for an effective ground game. Maybe their issue isn’t lack of imagination, after all. Unable to trust themselves to gain more than a couple yards and change per carry, the Rams must have Bradford carry out a drab game plan that Thursday left him with a 59.2 passer rating. For the second time in a week he became an easy target for a bull-rushing defense in the second half.
These Rams were supposed to be different, mixing flash with fundamentals. Perhaps it’s a year too early to expect a postseason appearance; however, it’s not too much to expect higher entertainment value.
For the previous three weeks the Rams subjected an expectant fan base to a montage of special teams penalties, a nonexistent running game, a John Birch offense and a defense gashed for an average of 393 yards. Opponents entered Thursday having converted 50 percent of their third downs compared to the Rams’ 29.3 percent. Pounded harder by the week, Bradford is discovering that operating from the same playbook without a backfield hammer carries little value.
“We’re going to have to get better in all phases of the game in order to be an efficient, productive offense,” Bradford said. “It’s not just the run game. It’s the passing game. It’s everything this unit is doing right now. We’re not doing anything well.”
Admitting it four weeks into an endangered season may have been the worst hurt of all.
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Re: Strauss: Rams can't run; ***** walk all over them
...here is the salt in the wound....the Rams are in a division where running the ball is KING. The 49whiners prior to the meeting with the Rams stepped away from the run, they are not back too it. The Seagulls no such luck, they run the ball and have been running the ball. Right now the ONLY debate is whether or not the Rams or the Cards will have the "honor" of being last in the division--pretty DAMN sad that its not even week 4 and its talk of the 2013 being over for the Rams
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