Rams Want Run Game Revival
Thursday, November 17, 2005
By Nick Wagoner
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 of the success or lack thereof, he had on a number of first down carries.
Jackson had 11 carries on first down for a total of 43 yards. Again, that total looks fine on the surface, but in reality 32 of those yards came on two carries. Jackson had four first-down carries for negative gains and none of his other carries went for longer than a gain of 4, often putting the Rams in second and third and long situations.
Timmerman said even when things aren’t going the way you’d like the running game is more of a marathon than a sprint.
“Sometimes you are going to have plays where you don’t get any yards,” Timmerman said. “You have to be committed to the run to continue to run the ball and do it well. You are going to average 5 yards, but you are not going to get 5 yards on every play.”
Admittedly, Jackson says he took some risks with his runs, bouncing carries to the outside or taking a chance when he probably should have turned the ball upfield.
“It’s a matter of if it works it works and you gamble right and if you didn’t you get criticized for it, but there’s another game,” Jackson said.
Earlier this week, coach Joe Vitt said the Rams would like to limit the amount of gambling the Rams and Jackson do.
“I think we have got to get Steven the ball with his shoulders square,” Vitt said. “Counter steps, etc, hey, let’s keep your shoulders square and let’s hit it down hill because not only can he make people miss, but let him be square when he drops his pads and runs over somebody.”
In other words, less of the tosses and things that force Jackson to be running east and west and more running north and south. Jackson’s tremendous combination of speed and size is best utilized when has a chance to drive through blockers at full speed, as opposed to juking and dodging like a scatback.
Overall, Jackson’s touches weren’t down as much as some would think just by glancing at his carry total. He added five catches for 45 yards, bringing his touch total to 22, five less than against the Jaguars and the same total as the game against New Orleans.
“(Offensive coordinator) Steve Fairchild wanted to get the ball in my hands some kind of way so if we couldn’t run he wanted to involve me in some kind of way into the game,” Jackson said. “He knows the presence I bring and some things I can make happen when I touch the ball.”
Of course, Jackson would like to get as many carries as possible, but only if it means the Rams are winning. But the rest of his teammates, receivers included recognize the need to get Jackson involved early and often and what it could do for the balance and performance of the offense as a whole.
“Personally I think running the football more,” Bruce said. “It’s my experience that it always helps when they bring the safeties down and it gives the outside guys an opportunity to make plays down the field without going against the Cover 2 structure. Getting 39 rolling up the field would help a lot.”
Never one to worry about personal statistics or accolades, Bruce insists that he would have no problem seeing his talented young teammate getting involved more.
“I don’t mind,” Bruce said. “If it helps the team, yes…I’m here to do my part and my part is when we run it to get a block and when we throw it to catch it and get in the end zone.”
That desire is coming to the forefront more this week with Arizona coming to town. Jackson had 18 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting with the Cardinals, an average of 5.2 yards per attempt.
The Cardinals enter Sunday’s game banged up in the secondary and potentially without star linebacker Karlos Dansby who is listed as questionable with a groin injury. Arizona is 25th in the league against the run, allowing 125.7 yards per game, making it susceptible to a strong rushing attack.
“You’d always like to see him get 20, 25, 30 plus carries,” Holt said. “That didn’t happen. I would have loved for that to happen. The situation is what it is. I think coaches will make it a point to run Steven this week and run him often. We know if he runs the ball well that gives us a better chance to win the ball game. We need to win this ball game so I would assume they will give him the ball a lot in order to give us an opportunity to win this game.”http://www.stlouisrams.com/article/52176/