Keys to the Game Revisited: Jacksonville

Posted Oct 7, 2013

Establishing the Running Game

The Key: Four weeks into the season, the Rams have yet to produce the performance they’ve envisioned from their running backs. Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher said he plans to use a variety of backs—perhaps all of them—this week, in an effort to jump-start the team’s ground game.

“When you attempted 50 passes a game and 14, 15 runs a game it’s hard to get in a rhythm,” Fisher said after Wednesday’s practice. We’re hoping to get that behind us.”

It’s been tough sledding for the Rams entering Week 5, averaging 47 yards on the ground per game. By contrast, Jacksonville has allowed 165 rushing yards per game, the league’s highest rate.

The Answer: The Rams’ offense managed to achieve the balance that head coach Jeff Fisher had sought through the season’s first four weeks in the Rams’ 34-20 win over Jacksonville on Sunday.

For the first time this year, the Rams outpaced their pass attempt total with rushing attempts in Sunday’s 34-20 win over Jacksonville. In his first NFL start, RB Zac Stacy paced the Rams with 78 yards on 14 carries. True to indications that the Rams would feature multiple backs throughout Sunday’s game, Daryl Richardson added 48 yards on 13 carries as the Rams piled up a season-high 143 yards on the ground.

Defending Blackmon

The Key: Jacksonville’s offense has struggled mightily in recent weeks, though Sunday will mark the return of second-year receiver Justin Blackmon. Blackmon, who is has been reinstated following a four-game suspension to begin the season, was a favorite target of QB Blaine Gabbert in 2012, finishing with 865 yards on 64 receptions.

“We’re expecting the best out of him even though he’s not been on the practice field up until this week,” Fisher said following Thursday’s practice. “It’s certain that he’s in real good shape, so we don’t necessarily know how they’re going to use him. We’re going to have to adjust.”

The Answer: Fisher’s prediction regarding Blackmon’s readiness proved accurate. In his return to the field for the first time in 2013, Blackmon revealed just how pivotal he can be in Jacksonville’s offense. On the Jaguars’ second possession of the game, Blackmon turned a short reception into a 67-yard touchdown catch to give Jacksonville an early 7-0 lead. Blackmon posed a challenge to Rams defensive backs throughout the afternoon, finishing with five catches for 136 yards, as he helped the Jaguars to a season-high 20 points.

Starting Quickly

The Key: Through four games, the Rams have gotten off to uneven starts offensively. Of the team’s eight touchdowns, seven have been scored in the second half. The slow starts have been a leading cause in the Rams facing halftime deficits in three of their four games. The Rams’ 10 points in Week 1 against Arizona marked their best first-half showing, and resulted in the team’s lone win. If the Rams are able to improve to 2-3 on Sunday, they will likely have a strong start offensively to credit.

The Answer: Buoyed by a pair of Jacksonville turnovers, the Rams’ offense gained considerable traction in the first half. With a 24-10 entering halftime, the Rams established a season-high in first-half scoring. Their 24 first-half points were the most by a Rams team since rolling up 26 in the first half of a 36-33 win at Denver in 2010. Armed with their first halftime lead of the season, the Rams saw their lead trimmed briefly to 27-20 before QB Sam Bradford hooked up with WR Austin Pettis for their second touchdown connection of the day to salt the game away.