When the St. Louis Rams took the field on Friday night, the storylines surrounded seventh-round pick Michael Sam. Fans and media members alike wanted to know how the first openly gay player in the NFL would perform when the national spotlight was on him.
Unfortunately for Sam, he didn’t perform all that well. In his team's 26-24 defeat to the New Orleans Saints, the 249th-pick in the 2014 draft registered one tackle and a quarterback hit.
Yes, I suppose things could have been worse for Sam, but they could have also been better as well. Nevertheless, one below-average performance doesn’t mean the rest of the team was held back.
In fact, outside of Sam and St. Louis’ atrocious run defense, the rest of the team was firing on all cylinders. For a case in point, take a look at how well the offensive line and the young running backs played.
On 30 carries, running backs Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, Chase Reynolds and Tre Mason combined for 143 yards rushing (4.7 yards per carry). Not to mention, each of the four running backs mentioned above had at least one carry of 11 yards or more.
Based on those numbers, it’s safe to say the Rams talented offensive line and runninggame are the keys to St. Louis’ offensive revival. Sure, it’s only the first preseason game of the year, yet let’s not forget the organization has been building this style of offense since head coach Jeff Fisher first arrived in 2012.
The attempts to upgrade the wide receiver corps over the last three years may have led some to believe the Rams wanted to deploy a pass-first offense, but that’s simply not true.
The additions of wide receivers Brian Quick, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Kenny Britt were moves that had to happen regardless of the Rams' offensive style. Why? Because Fisher upon taking over inherited one of the worst cast of receivers in the NFL.
For those of you who don’t believe me, here were the Rams’ pass-catchers at the end of the 2011 season: Brandon Gibson, Brandon Lloyd, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry and Nick Miller.
Outside of Lloyd and the often-injured Alexander, quarterback Sam Bradford didn’t have a whole lot to work with. This, in turn, leads me back to my original point: The Rams (under Fisher) have always tried to be a run-first offense. Yet, that doesn’t mean it has always worked out in their favor.
However, after three long years, we are finally starting to see the true potential of St. Louis’ ground game. Here’s what Cian Fahey of Bleacher Report said about the Rams running game in a recent article:
“The Rams should expect to have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL in 2014. Actually, it's not improbable that they become the very best rushing attack in the NFL.”
All things considered, it’s hard to disagree with Fahey’s opinion. Here’s why: In addition to having two star-studded backs (Stacy and Mason) who complement each other quite well, the Rams offensive line is littered with talent at every position.
Left tackle Jake Long is a two time All-Pro. Left guard Greg Robinson was the No. 2 overall pick and a dominant force in a run-heavy attack at Auburn. Center Scott Wells was a Pro Bowler in Green Bay. Right guard Rodger Saffold was the 18th-highest rated guard by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in 2013. And right tackle Joe Barksdale was PFF's 25th-best tackle in all of football.
With that being said, it’s evident that the Rams have the proper front five to go along with their stable of running backs. Moreover, it’s also evident that Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer may be looking to run the ball 500-plus times in 2014.
I say that because Fisher, during his time as the Tennessee Titans head coach, ran the ball at least 500 times in five separate seasons. Similarly, when Schottenheimer was the offensive coordinator for the New York Jets, his offense ranked in the top 10 in rushing attempts three times in six years, via Fahey.
In all, Rams fans have to trust that their team is doing the right thing by building a run-oriented offense. Even though the NFL has become a pass-happy league, running the football can still help teams win the Super Bowl—just ask the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks had the second-fewest passing attempts in the league and the second-most rushing attempts. Does that mean the Rams will win the Super Bowl if they follow that pattern? Probably not, but it does mean they will have a greater chance of overall success since they are built to follow that pattern.
Nonetheless, St. Louis just needs to keep doing what it did against the Saints on Friday night. As long as it does that, everything will fall into place, and the Rams will undoubtedly finish with the best running game in the NFL.