Rams Making Ground Gains

Posted Oct 15, 2012

Entering Sunday’s against Miami, the Rams’ approach took on a familiar refrain, something that mirrored what they’d said they wanted to do since Jeff Fisher was brought on as head coach in January.

On offense, the goal was vintage Fisher even against a defense that hadn’t been prone to allowing a Fisher style of game to develop.

“Well, we set out early in the week and recognized the fact that they’re first in the league in rushing defense and that we had to run the football,” Fisher said. “You have to do that this time of the year to have a chance. So that was our focus all week and it’s got to continue to be our focus but, you know, we ran the ball well.”

On defense, the plan was to keep Miami from doing what the Rams wanted to do offensively.

“Our goal was to stop the run, and we did that,” end Chris Long said. “But if we would’ve had a take away or two, statistically we did a pretty good job but it if we would’ve had a take away it would have made a difference”

While the Rams did fail to come up with a takeaway and lost the turnover battle – the third element of the Fisher philosophy – they executed the first two parts to near perfection and the reality is that in the past two weeks, they have made strides in both ground game categories after relatively slow starts in each.

Going in to Miami, the Rams faced a daunting challenge in taking on the Dolphins dominant run defense. Led by a massive front four anchored by powerful defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, Miami came in ranked No. 1 in the league in run defense.

Through the first five weeks, the Dolphins were yielding just 61.4 yards per game on the ground and less than 3 yards per rushing attempt. The Rams, meanwhile, had struggled to get consistent traction in their rushing attack, ranking 22nd at 94.6 yards per contest.

But the Rams had showed signs of emerging from their rushing slumber against Arizona when they went for 111 yards on 32 carries. The average of 3.5 yards per opportunity wasn’t where they wanted but they believed they might have found something in the combination of speedy Daryl Richardson and powerful Steven Jackson.

Even with Miami’s daunting rush defense as the upcoming opponent and the Dolphins’27th ranked pass defense there for the taking, the Rams didn’t shy away from running the ball.

It was evident right away that Jackson, Richardson and fullback Brit Miller would have busy days as the first three offensive plays were all runs, including a 44-yard burst down the right sideline from Richardson.

“We know that we can run the ball,” Miller said. “I loved the fact we had a lot of 22 sets so we had me in there a lot leading the way. That’s what I love to do. We have got a great 1-2 punch right now with Richardson and the big fella (Jackson) and it can be dangerous. Hopefully this is what we’ll continue to do. We want to get 100-yard games every week but unfortunately it was all in a loss.”

When all was said and done, the Rams had gashed Miami for 162 yards on 27 attempts, a healthy 6 yards per attempt average with Jackson (12 for 52) and Richardson (11 for 76) sharing the work load almost evenly.

The week leading up to the meeting with Arizona, the Rams were 20th in the league rushing and by Monday afternoon had moved up to 16th.

As if the duo of Jackson and Richardson wasn’t enough, quarterback Sam Bradford also continued to show signs of having a better feel for when the scramble and put together a career-best rushing day by escaping the pocket four times for 34 yards with a long of 21.

Bradford also scored the team’s first rushing touchdown of the season on a sneak late in the fourth quarter.

Not that Bradford will be running the triple option anytime soon but if nothing else he’s showed upcoming opponents that they can’t count on him to just hold his ground in the pocket.

“You know it’s great,” Bradford said. “Anytime that I have the ability to extend the play or pick up a first down with my legs is just another dimension of our offense and something that the defenses are going to have to prepare for. It just keeps our drives going.”

On the other side of the ball, the Rams improvement against the run has been even stronger than what they’ve done offensively.

As they prepared for the Arizona game, the Rams sat 26th in the league against the run, allowing 135.3 yards per game and had just been gashed by Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch and Co. for 179 yards on 34 carries.

The emphasis for improvement was obvious after that lackluster performance by the emphasis was buoyed by the return of first-round pick Michael Brockers at defensive tackle, who after a rough start has settled in and the continued improvement of fellow defensive tackle Kendall Langford, who is adjusting to a new position after playing end in a 3-4 his first four years in the league.

“We are attacking the line of scrimmage,” Fisher said. “We are setting our edges and we’ve got our safeties involved. It’s something we have to continue to do.”

The results have been somewhat startling as the Rams allowed just 45 yards on 17 carries, an average of 2.6 yards per attempt against the Cardinals. Miami’s rushing attack, led by back Reggie Bush posed a bigger challenge than Arizona.

But the Rams put together their most dominant performance against the run yet, limiting Bush to 17 yards on 12 carries and the Dolphins to 19 yards on 18 carries.

“I think we played a dominant game defensively,” Langford said. “We stopped the run made them one dimensional…We played incredible defense.”

In the past two weeks, the Rams have given up just 64 yards on 35 carries, an average of just 1.8 yards per attempt. In the process, they’ve gone from 26th against the run to 13th and shaved nearly 35 yards per game on the ground from their season average.

“We prepared extremely hard all week,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “We knew we had to stop the run. We couldn’t let Reggie (Bush) get after it. We worked hard to stuff the run. I thought we did that.”

With dynamic offenses coming up on the schedule in Green Bay, New England and San Francisco, the slate is only going to get more difficult, something Fisher readily acknowledges. He’s made it clear to his team what needs to be done in order to come out of that stretch still in the mix.

“It was an emphasis of ours early in the week,” Fisher said. “As soon as our Thursday game was over we came back and said we have to run the football and stop the run over this next month to put ourselves in position to win games. That’s what you do at this time of the year. So we have to keep that going.”