Having watched the St. Louis Rams passing game struggle, once again, I think we're at a point where can legitimately say that the team, the front office, has failed to address the team's glaring need at wide receiver. That need has been apparent since the departure of Isaac Bruce after the 2007 season. The various stopgap solutions have yet to produce any results, outside of Danny Amendola. The failure to add a receiver looks even more egregious in light of page after page charting the rise of the NFL as a passing league.
In a post at Slate/Deadspin, Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats noted where all these extra passing yards are coming from: yards after catch. For the entire league, completion percentage is up and the percentage of deep passes are down. The average number of passing attempts per game has risen from 35.7 to 37 over the last two seasons. YAC per game, however, has increased from 110 YAC per game to 123 YAC per game.
The Rams' various receiving options have been woeful this season in terms of gaining yardage after the catch, almost as woeful as making the catch itself. The Rams average just 76 yards after the catch per game, a number that translates into an average of 47 fewer yards per game than the league after from YAC alone. Think about this when you hear criticisms of Bradford's low yards per pass number.
Part of the problem is the absence of YAC from the Rams top two receivers this season. Mike Sims-Walker, who leads the Rams in targets and is second in catches with 11, has a measly 3.6 YAC average. Brandon Gibson an average of less than 1.1 YAC on his 13 receptions. Danario Alexander leads the way with 7.3 YAC on his eight catches; the problem with DX is that he only catches about a third of the passes thrown his way. Greg Salas actually has a 7.4 YAC on his five receptions, but you know the problem there.
Suffice it to say that the Rams have done a poor job bringing in weapons for the talented young quarterback they drafted first overall in 2010. A number of players brought in over the last two seasons were supposed to offer something in that department, but for one reason or another failed to do so. Some of those players we're still waiting on to get those yards after the catch.
The three players selected in rounds two, three and four of the draft this year are all supposed to have some ability for that. Maybe it's the newness of the NFL game and the offensive system. The NFL leader in YAC is Giants WR Victor Cruz, an undrafted rookie last year who didn't catch his first NFL pass until this year.
This is as much a failure to develop those players as it is a failure of scouting and personnel acquisition. That said, in hindsight, I really wish the Rams would have been able to land Sidney Rice, risk and all. The same could be said about the Vincent Jackson trade saga. The Chargers asked for a hefty return, but one that was ultimately less than what Atlanta paid to move up in the draft this year for Julio Jones. Rice and Jackson aren't necessarily YAC machines, both average less than four YAC per catch, but their impact on the Rams offense could have been tremendous.
In the meantime, the Rams will have to seek more YAC out of the options they have. More, better executed screens would be a huge starting point, getting those YAC from the running backs and others. Wherever the Rams intend to get those yards, it needs to start immediately.