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Rams running back has nowhere to run

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  • Rams running back has nowhere to run

    By Jim Thomas

    Even on a day when Marc Bulger had only 17 handoffs, Seattle's strategy in dealing with Steven Jackson and the Rams' running game was painfully obvious.

    Time after time, in those critical final seconds before the ball was snapped, the Seahawks would creep a safety toward the line of scrimmage, an eighth defender to help keep Jackson bottled up.

    "There were eight down there quite a bit," Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "With a running back like we have, I think that's something we're going to see. And I would anticipate that Washington will do the same."

    It's simple gridiron math. By sending a safety into the box — the area roughly from offensive tackle to offensive tackle along the line of scrimmage — the defense is committing eight players to stop the run. In base formations, most offenses have only seven blockers in that same area: five offensive linemen, the tight end and the fullback.

    So in what's commonly described as a game of inches, having an extra body to tackle the running back can make a huge difference.

    Jackson expected a lot of "eight in the box" against Seattle. Ditto for Washington on Sunday at FedEx Field, and really for every Sunday.

    "That's just going to be my mindset for all 16 games that we have," Jackson said. "I anticipate for the rest of the year that defenses are going to put eight men in the box because we're just so young at the wide receiver position."

    It makes all the sense in the world for defenses to gang up on Jackson.

    "I mean, right now he's our best football player on offense," tight end Randy McMichael said. "A lot of teams know that, and they want to take him away. We've got to find a way as receivers and tight ends to make plays.

    "And even if they do have eight-man fronts, we need to get seven guys (blocked), and let Steven make the one guy miss. It's all about just staying on your man a little bit longer and helping 'Jack' find somewhere to run."

    Easier said than done, particularly in more obvious running situations. Against Seattle, Jackson gained only 19 yards on eight carries on first down, a traditional running down. That's only 2.4 yards per carry. But on second and third downs, when defenses have to be more concerned with the pass, Jackson averaged six yards per carry (eight carries for 48 yards).

    Jackson should see plenty of Washington middle linebacker London Fletcher, the former Ram, on Sunday. "He's a tackling machine," Jackson said. "From what I see on game film, he kind of mirrors the running backs. So it should be a good matchup with myself and him."

    Fletcher had 18 tackles last week in the Redskins' season-opening loss to the New York Giants. Fletcher will have company, too. One of the Redskins' starting safeties — LaRon Landry or Chris Horton — figures to spend a lot of time in the box to stuff the run.

    There are a couple of ways to combat that. For one, Shurmur can call more running plays out of three- and four-wide receiver sets. It's harder to jam the box with extra defenders when you've got extra wideouts to worry about on the perimeter. But the Rams haven't shown much inclination to use four-wide receiver sets, much less run out of them.

    A more obvious way to loosen up a run defense is success in the passing game. The more the Redskins or anybody else has to worry about McMichael, Donnie Avery or Laurent Robinson, the less attention they can give to Jackson.

    "We're no different than fans or anyone else," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "We realize we've got to get the ball down the field, to get pressure off of Steven. So that's on myself, and the receivers, to make it happen."

    In their offseason acquisitions and final roster decisions, the Rams took a risk by going with a young and inexperienced wide receiver corps. And there were growing pains against the Seahawks. Whether they're classified as drops or not, Rams receivers got their hands on about a half-dozen passes that ended up on the ground, incomplete. On at least three occasions, Bulger had to throw the ball away because no one was open.

    "We left a couple plays on the field last week," Avery said. "We've got to make 'em up this week."

    Avery, who had zero touches in exhibition play because of a foot injury, looked rusty at Qwest Field. Slot receiver Keenan Burton had trouble getting separation. Robinson had some good moments but left about 100 yards and one touchdown on the field with near misses.

    Robinson caught one pass for 45 yards in the fourth quarter. But he got his hands on one ball that would've gone for about 50 yards in the third quarter, and another that would've gone for 40 at the end of the game — with both passes falling incomplete.

    "They were close situations," Robinson said. "And one of them, I should have gone up and used my hands a little bit (better). I let the DB knock the ball out. But that's something I've been working on in practice, going up with two hands and just catching it at the highest point."

    Robinson caught a shorter pass for what would've been a TD in the fourth quarter but didn't come down with both feet in-bounds, so the play was ruled incomplete.

    "(The defender) kind of pushed me out," Robinson said. "I tried to get the other foot down, but I just wasn't able to. ... That's something I've got to do better on, getting my feet down in the end zone and making a play on the ball."

    It all added up to a miserable day offensively. The Rams were shut out for only the fourth time since the move to St. Louis in 1995. And they became the first team since Atlanta in 2000 to finish plus-2 or better in takeaway-giveaway margin yet lose by 28 points or more.

    "Nobody's going to sit here and tell you that we did a good job out there," McMichael said. "A lot of our yards came in the fourth quarter (after Seattle loosened up its pass defense). So we've just got to get in a better rhythm. We can't kill ourselves like we did a lot of times when we had opportunities to make plays."

  • #2
    Re: Rams running back has nowhere to run

    All the more reason Bulger must play well for us to be successful. It is said that a strong running game opens up the passing game, but the opposite is also true: In order to effectively run the football, teams must respect the pass. if your QB is ineffective and the defense creeps its safety up to put another defender in the box, your running back is going nowhere.


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    • eldfan
      Once first, now last
      by eldfan
      Once first, now last

      In the span of a decade, the Rams' offense has morphed from the "Greatest Show on Turf" into what a Washington Post columnist declared after Sunday's 9-7 loss to the Redskins is the "Most Miserable Mass on Grass."

      That might seem harsh. Still, a team averaging 3.5 points per game really has no grounds for complaint. As coach Steve Spagnuolo acknowledged, "On offense, you're judged on how many points you score."

      In a way, the deck is stacked against the regrouping Rams. They're trying to scratch out a productive attack under a first-time head coach whose background is entirely in defense, a first-time coordinator who brought in a new offense, and with an overhauled roster that is young and inexperienced in some key areas.

      Heading into Sunday's home-opener against Green Bay, the Rams rank last in the 32-team NFL in scoring and 31st in total offense.

      "There's numerous reasons why you don't score," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said.

      Here are the major reasons why the Rams aren't putting points on the board:


      Just as the team was adapting to the modified West Coast offense that Shurmur imported from Philadelphia, quarterback Marc Bulger missed 3˝ weeks of the preseason with a broken pinky on his throwing hand.

      Shurmur's scheme demands precision and timing from the quarterback, and Bulger still is smoothing out the rough edges.

      In the same vein, the offensive line — with new starters at three of the five positions — was hit with early injuries and was intact for only about a week before the season-opener at Seattle. "It's very important that linemen work together" to develop familiarity and achieve synchronization," Shurmur explained.

      Now, that unit will be without right tackle Jason Smith (knee) on Sunday, and perhaps next week's game at San Francisco.


      The offense has committed 13 of the Rams' 16 penalties, setting the team back 100 yards — the length of a football field. "It's tough enough to win in this league without going backward," Spagnuolo grumbled.

      Several calls came at highly inopportune moments, including guard Richie Incognito's two personal fouls vs. the Seahawks. "It seems like when we do get a big play, maybe the next play we'll get a penalty that sets us back and stops our drive momentum," tight end Randy McMichael said.


      Penalties are mistakes; so are inaccurate throws, dropped passes, fumbles, erratic blocking and poor reads by ballcarriers. The Rams have been blameworthy in each area.

      Bulger has hit on 50 percent of his passes, far below his career average of...
      -09-25-2009, 08:55 AM
    • RamWraith
      Rams wanted to run more
      by RamWraith
      By Jim Thomas

      If Scott Linehan said it once, he said it a dozen times after being hired as head coach of the Rams: he was going to run the football, and strike a balance between the run and the pass.

      Linehan stressed it in practice from the first minicamp. He stressed it in training camp, and he emphasized it with his play calling during the exhibition season. All of which makes what happened Sunday in Charlotte, N.C., all the more mystifying.

      The Rams ran the ball only eight times in a 15-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers. And that matches the low total for rushing attempts in the Rams' 12 seasons in St. Louis. In 2003, en route to a 30-10 loss at San Francisco, Mike Martz's Rams squad had only eight carries.

      But that was with Arlen Harris at running back; Marshall Faulk was out with an injury, and Steven Jackson was nearly six months away from being drafted. In that contest, the Rams trailed 14-3 midway in the first quarter, and 24-3 by late in the second quarter.

      That wasn't the case Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. The game was scoreless until late in the second quarter, and remained no worse than a two-score contest throughout. So where did the running game go?

      "I intended to run the ball more," a tense Linehan said Monday. "We came out of some runs. ... I think I counted six that were called that were (passes) because of the look."

      Quarterback Marc Bulger has the option to check out of runs on some plays depending on the "look" — or the alignment — of the opposing defense. By Linehan's count, Bulger checked out of called run plays a half dozen times because of Carolina's defensive alignment.

      The Panthers were stacking the box — the area from tackle to tackle on the offensive line — with extra defenders. In effect, the Panthers were daring the Rams to throw by having eight men jammed into the box to stop Jackson and the running game. The Rams took the dare, but couldn't generate much of anything with their vaunted passing game.

      "Looking back at this thing, we may have abandoned the run too quickly in that game yesterday," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Monday. "We kind of felt like we would throw our way out of it. ... Eventually the passing game's going to click against all the 'bad-box' looks and the pressure, and we're going get an explosive play."

      In theory, that would eventually force the Panthers to devote more defenders to coverage, thereby opening up the running game. It never happened. Bulger completed only 19 of 34 passes, and none of those 19 completions went for more than 18 yards.

      It was the first time since Game 14 of the 2005 season that the Rams didn't have at least one completion go for at least 20 yards. Bulger...
      -11-21-2006, 05:15 AM
    • RamWraith
      Rams Want Run Game Revival
      by RamWraith
      Thursday, November 17, 2005

      By Nick Wagoner
      Senior Writer

      When the Rams’ season appeared to be in the most dire of straits – playing two games without the use of quarterback Marc Bulger and receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce – they hopped on the only mode of transportation that could carry them to victory.

      Running back Steven Jackson, nicknamed ‘Train’ because of his size and speed, responded by carrying the load against New Orleans and Jacksonville. Even without those Pro Bowl offensive talents, St. Louis found a way to victory on the strength of Jackson’s running, solid offensive line performances and a few timely turnovers on defense.

      After a bye week allowed the aforementioned offensive stars to recover from their injuries, the Rams’ biggest task offensively appeared to be finding the right balance between run and pass. After all, everyone who had longed for a power running game finally got to see what they wanted and it was effective.

      Even with the whole world knowing that Jackson was the Rams’ biggest offensive threat, opponents still couldn’t find a way to stop him. So, it stood to reason that the Rams would stick with Jackson against Seattle last week in another extremely important game. But the running game wasn’t as big a part of the game as many of the players expected.

      “Yeah, (I was) a little bit (surprised) because that kind of was our plan going in to run the ball a little bit more and we had some success but we had a few tackles for losses and that makes it tough on the play calling when you don’t get positive yardage on the running game too,” right guard Adam Timmerman said. “It takes commitment to stick with it and hopefully that’s what it will take down the stretch.”

      After the Jackson got 20 carries in the win against the Saints and 25 against Jacksonville the following week, his total dropped back to 17 against the Seahawks. Entering that game, the Seahawks were 12th in the league against the run, but were also without starting defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs and linebacker Jamie Sharper.

      In addition to the missing defensive pieces, the weather forecast called for rain, meaning that there was a good chance the game would be won on the ground.

      While Timmerman and Bruce expressed surprise at the lack of running game, Jackson actually wasn’t surprised by the slightly lighter load.

      “I kind of expected it,” Jackson said. “We had to get guys back into the groove of things and we wanted to try to stretch them out. We were going against the No. 1 offense and we knew we had to put up points so you can’t expect to run the ball too much.”

      Jackson finished with 17 carries for 70 yards, an average of just over 4 yards a carry. On the surface that would seem to be a more than solid performance, but a part of the reason Jackson’s carries were lessened were the direct of result...
      -11-18-2005, 04:05 AM
    • RamWraith
      Jackson: ‘no excuse’ for two lost fumbles
      by RamWraith
      By Bill Coats
      Monday, Dec. 08 2008
      GLENDALE, ARIZ. — Late Sunday evening in Henderson, Nev., Steve Jackson
      received his weekly phone call from his son. Rams running back Steven Jackson
      knew what he'd hear even before he dialed the number.

      "He'll tell me to keep my head up, but make sure that I take care of the ball,"
      he said. "That's what a running back has to do."

      Fumbling is a rare offense by Jackson, but he lost two in the third quarter
      Sunday that contributed to Arizona's NFC West-clinching 34-10 victory.

      Trailing 20-7, the Rams were driving to make it a one-score deficit when
      Jackson coughed up the ball, with linebacker Karlos Dansby recovering at the
      Cardinals' 22-yard line. On the Rams' next series, defensive tackle Darnell
      Dockett scooped up another Jackson bobble and ran 11 yards for a touchdown that
      made it 27-7.

      Linebacker Gerald Hayes, who forced both fumbles, said, "When I looked back and
      saw Dockett was going to score, it was like a sigh of relief. You make one play
      and then it turns into an even bigger play."

      Playing on an improving right leg, Jackson rolled up 48 yards on eight carries
      in the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. "I was really excited
      coming into the game, knowing that the leg was starting to feel really good,"
      said Jackson, who had come back the previous week after missing four games and
      most of a fifth with a strained thigh muscle.

      "Steven's a monster," said Adam Goldberg, who started at right tackle. "It's an
      honor to block for him, because you know that he'll pound out the tough yards
      and he'll work just as hard and play just as physically as you do up front."

      The Cardinals are 10th in the NFL in total defense, and Jackson rarely had much
      room to operate. "I knew it was going to be a tough game," he said. "They have
      a defense that's really physical."

      In addition to a strong and active front seven, the Big Red secondary is stout
      against the run, Jackson pointed out. "Their corners do a good job of keeping
      containment and forcing the run to stay within the tackles," he said. "And
      their linebackers and their safeties do a good job with gap protections."

      Jackson finished with 64 yards on 19 carries.

      Quarterback Marc Bulger has been sacked just once in the last two games, and
      it's no coincidence, wide receiver Dane Looker stressed.

      Jackson's presence "poses a threat for the defense," Looker said. "They really
      have to make sure that they stop the run. ... A good running game opens up
      everything else in the offense."
      -12-09-2008, 11:16 AM
    • eldfan
      Finding the Positive in the Rams' 0-2 Start
      by eldfan
      by Seth Doria Seth DoriaColumnist, Featured Columnist

      Columnist Written on September 22, 2009
      In the bottom-line business that is professional sports, the most important thing that happened to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday was another loss.

      In losing 9-7 to the Redskins in Washington, the Rams are now 0-2 and two games back of the 2-0 San Francisco ***** heading into next week’s home opener against Green Bay.

      And if the Rams were a team with high expectations, falling to 0-2 would be borderline catastrophic. Three teams last year made the playoffs from 0-2, but that was an anomaly. Most of the time, 0-2 is a precursor to disaster.

      But the Rams aren’t a team with high expectations. Not even the most die-hard pie-in-the-sky Rams fan dared dream of better than 7-9 or maybe (if they were high or drunk) 8-8.

      So yes, the Rams lost again on Sunday, 0-2 is 0-2, and you are what your record says you are. But when you’re the St. Louis Rams and you’re 5-29 over your last 34 games, you learn to find the hidden positives in the bottom-line failures.

      And so it comes to pass that losing 9-7 to Washington can be considered a success in many ways.

      Red zone defense: The Redskins’ lone scores came on Shaun Suisham field goals of 21, 28 and 23 yards. Washington came close to a touchdown on one other occasion. In the fourth quarter, David Vobora stopped Clinton Portis two yards behind the line of scrimmage on 4th-and-1 from the St. Louis two-yard line.

      On each of those drives, the Rams defense held strong with their backs against their own goal-line, forcing the Redskins to settle for three rather than seven.

      Steven Jackson: Not only did Jackson finish with 104 yards on just 17 carries for a 6.1 yard average, he also got involved in the pass game with four catches for 15 yards.

      A week after not catching a single ball against Seattle, it was encouraging to see quarterback Marc Bulger take advantage of the best player on offense in more ways than one.

      The run defense: Washington did gain 125 yards on the ground, but it took them 33 attempts to get there. Not counting the three kneel-downs at the end, the Redskins gained 121 on 30 carries.

      For a team that gave up 4.9 yards per rush attempt last year and 117 yards on 19 carries to Julius Jones in Week One, it was heartening to see Clinton Portis held to just 76 yards on 19 carries.

      The pass defense: Even though Chris Cooley had seven catches for 83 yards—continuing a trend of the Rams defense getting shredded by opposing tight ends—it’s worth noting four of Cooley’s seven catches came in the first eight minutes, and six came in the first half. In a tight game that was in doubt until the end, Cooley did not have...
      -09-23-2009, 08:45 AM