For all the hype about quarterbacks in today's NFL, you still have to run the football effectively to win consistently. The St. Louis Rams aren't doing the former, and unsurprisingly, they're not getting the latter. To address that problem, head coach Jeff Fisher announced Tuesday that Daryl Richardson probably won't start Sunday's game against Jacksonville and that the team has packages prepared for their entire stable of backs.
“I haven’t decided (who will start) yet. Probably play most, if not all, the running backs that are active. Depends on what package we’re in when we start the game…We’ve got different things (packages). They’re different style runners and we’ve got different things for different backs.”
The change in approach was prompted by a dismal start to the season with Daryl Richardson being the featured back. Richardson has gained just 114 yards on 42 carries in three games, a paltry 2.7 yards per carry average. The Rams as a team reflect Richardson's struggles, ranking dead last in the NFL rushing the football.
That's not all on Richardson, mind you. The interior of the Rams' offensive line hasn't been getting any kind of push on the line of scrimmage and Richardson has struggled with a nagging foot injury in recent weeks.
So who's getting the carries?
If Fisher knows, he wasn't saying on Wednesday. I'd look for Richardson to still get some carries, depending on the condition of his foot. Isaiah Pead would be the most logical choice to see the most action as he has a year's experience in pass protection and Brian Schottenheimer's offense. He's likely to get the majority of snaps.
Benny Cunningham has been getting some carries the last two weeks, but his 2.2 yards per tote average hasn't exactly turned any heads. Zac Stacy, the Vanderbilt rookie, would figure to get some looks as well. Stacy is the kind of back Fisher has historically liked: a power back who can run between the tackles and move the pile. Given the relative lack of openings being created by the offensive line, if Stacy can run hard and get some positive yardage with his power, he might be the back the Rams are looking for.
Of course the wild card with all these runners isn't so much their play-making abilities. It's their pass blocking. Stacy likely would have already seen more time had he not struggled in this area in the preseason. The running game might be struggling, but the last thing the Rams need is Sam Bradford getting killed because a back doesn't pick up a blitzer.
For Fisher, using multiple backs isn't anything new. After Eddie George hung up his cleats, Fisher regularly employed at least two backs with contrasting styles during his last years in Tennessee. Even with the explosive Chris Johnson in the backfield, bruising backs like Lendale White and Javon Ringer continued to get carries for Fisher. He continued that approach last year with Steven Jackson and Richardson.
Given the state of the Rams' line and lacking a true every down back, this approach is likely the wisest for St. Louis's short-term prospects. Better that opponents have some mystery in their preparations for the Rams' offense than the ability to completely dismiss the threat of a running game.
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