Season in Review: Offense

Posted Jan 15, 2014

As they opened the season against Arizona with a new starting running back for the first time since 2003, and with an infusion of youthful talent among the team’s receiving corps, the Rams were prepared for a season of transition offensively.
The amount of adjustment that would be forced upon them in the following weeks, however, was a bit more than anticipated. The unit, led by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, navigated an in-season change at running back, the loss of its starting quarterback and ended the season with three new starters on the offensive line. In a year rife with adversity, the Rams’ offense managed to score more points in a single season (348) than any Rams team since 2006.
Rookie RB Zac Stacy emerged as the team’s starter in the season’s fifth week, and rushed for 973 yards, third-most in franchise history by a rookie. After QB Sam Bradford began the year with the best seven-game start in his four-game career, he was lost for the season when he tore his left ACL while running out of bounds in Carolina. QB Kellen Clemens performed capably in Bradford’s absence, establishing career highs in nearly every passing category while guiding the Rams to four of their seven wins. The Rams collected two of those wins against playoff contenders in New Orleans and Indianapolis, piling up a combined 65 points in the process
“We played some good opponents and we played them well, especially here at home and that was good to see,” Head Coach Jeff Fisher said in his final regular season press conference. “We had some near mistake-free games, and I think we can draw from those.”
TE Jared Cook entered the 2013 season as the Rams’ top free-agent acquisition, and delivered with a team-high 671 receiving yards on 51 catches. Much of Cook’s production came in the first half of the season, as he built a solid rapport with Bradford. The Rams also received a glimpse of what may be to come from rookie receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Austin finished second on the team in receptions with 40, and led the Rams in all-purpose yardage. After opening the season exclusively on special teams, Bailey saw his role progress in the season’s second half. He led the Rams in receptions twice in the season’s final four games.
The emergence of Bailey and Austin can perhaps be best quantified when considering the fact that the Rams concluded the season by facing four of the league’s top six defenses over the final five weeks.
But perhaps no challenge offensively was greater than the one faced by offensive line coach Paul Boudreau in 2013, who rotated a cadre of linemen throughout the year, culminating in a season finale that was without veterans Harvey Dahl, Scott Wells and Jake Long. In their absence, RT Joe Barksdale turned in the best season of his three-year NFL career, and guard Shelley Smith and C Tim Barnes picked up the slack along the line’s interior. Four-year veteran Rodger Saffold opened the year at right tackle, but displayed his versatility as he saw considerable time at both right guard and left tackle by the conclusion of the year. Given the shuffling, the Rams’ success in the running game over the season’s final 12 games takes on an impressive perspective.
“We didn’t track how many combinations of guys and who was playing here, but there were a lot of people playing,” Fisher said. “So, there’s a lot of good things that happened there. It was a good group. He (Boudreau) puts together a really unique group in the classroom and they enjoy working together.”
The Rams’ offense, which embraced the designed changes brought upon by a busy offseason following 2012, did perhaps its best work following the challenges it hadn’t envisioned.