No experience, no problem: Can the Rams passing game succeed this year?

The Rams relative lack of experience at wide receiver and the seeming lack of a true #1-type has lots of fans and observers concerned. It's hard to deny the glaring weakness this presents when you look at it on paper. In a piece on the PD's website today, KMOX's Kevin Wheeler, when asked about Bulger's chances for success this season, said something that caught my eye...or ear, whatever.

One of Steve Spagnuolo’s former teams, the Eagles, went on a 46-18 run from 2000-2003 and did so without any impact receivers on the roster. In those four seasons only two wide receivers caught 60 or more passes (James Thrash had 63 in 2000; Todd Pinkston had 60 in ’02) yet they got it done because they ran the ball, they threw it to the running backs a ton and because Donovan McNabb threw twice as many touchdowns as interceptions during those years.

I knew there had to be a more recent example, so I started combing the 2008 stat sheets and found a reasonable parallel.

The dramatic turnaround of the Miami Dolphins, from a one game winner to AFC East champs, is a frequent topic of conversation among Rams fans. A turnaround of that magnitude for the Rams seems unrealistic, but there might be something in their offensive success that offers some nugget of hope. Take a look at their three leading receivers:

Player Experience Receptions Yards TDs
Tedd Ginn Jr. 2 56 790 2
Greg Camarillo 3 55 613 2
Devone Bess 1 54 554 1

 

Ginn, a smaller player who profiles similar to Donnie Avery (i.e. speed), was a 2007 first round pick who caught just 34 passes in his rookie season. Camarillo, an undrafted player, had just 8 catches with the Dolphins the season before, and Bess was another undrafted rookie with no NFL experience. Obviously, there were other factors at play with the Dolphins: 1) new blood on the o-line, including Jake Long and new guards in Justin Smiley and Ikechuku Ndukwe, 2) a rejuvenated QB in Pennington, and a successful running game featuring Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams (I'm lumping the wild cat into that last item).They also good play from their starting TE, Anthony Fasano, who caught 34 passes and scored 7 TDs, the most receiving TDs on the team.

They had the 10th most passing yards per game with 227 and the 10th most total passing yards. According to Football Outsiders DVOA measure, their passing offense had a 29% DVOA, fifth best among all teams. And with a relatively unknown and/or unproven group of receivers they still attempted about 40 more passes than rushes.

I'm not trying to suggest that these are the tea leaves pointing toward the Rams getting back into the double digit win column, not at all. However, it's tough to ignore some of the similarities. Like the Dolphins, the Rams have made significant upgrades to the offensive line, and the blocking in general, with the additions of Jason Smith, Jason Brown, FB Mike Kareny and TE Billy Bajema. A healthy Randy McMichael should give the Rams another receiving weapon and a player who can open up the field with seam routes and other lost pages in the playbook. Whether or not Bulger can turn his game around remains to be seen, but at the very least he shouldn't have to worry about getting sacked as often. Avery can play, but some of the other WRs will have to emerge as weapons this year too. That means getting in sync with Bulger and learning the offense. Finally, the wild cat may be over as a fad, but we do have a RB who's caught 90 passes in a season (2006) and is capable of being a real threat in the passing game.

Like a watch, there are plenty of other parts that have to work together and there may not be anyone that really jumps off the page when you look back on the passing offense for 2009, but the parts are there for some success as long as you keep a firm handle on reality.

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