Week 6, the St. Louis Rams battered the Houston Texans in a convincing 38-13 win. Circle that date on your calendar because, from here, it looks like the moment where the Rams put things back on track. That game also gave the world its first look at the team's promised secret plans for Tavon Austin: six snaps.
The eighth overall picks in the 2013 NFL Draft saw three snaps with the offense and three snaps with special teams this week.
His declining playing time is a trend.
Jeff Fisher waived off concerns about Austin's playing time at his Monday afternoon press conference.
"No, it's just the way the game went," Fisher said. "We didn't have a whole lot of plays, didn't have a lot of opportunities on offense. I'm not concerned about it. He'll be fine."
The Rams have changed their offensive approach over the last two weeks. Through the first four games of the season, the Rams passed the ball 71 percent of the time. Over the last two weeks, the Rams are passing the ball just 41 percent of the time, a 30 percent drop. Part of that can be attributed to trailing in the first four games, but the numbers show the Rams intent on throwing the ball even before things got out of hand in the second half of those games.
More emphasis on the run means fewer three- and four-receiver sets (thankfully). Last week, we even saw some four-tight end sets. That means fewer opportunities for Austin to get on the field. Chris Givens and Austin Pettis are taking the majority of the receiver snaps now as the top two players on the depth chart at that position.
It's been a frustrating start to the season for Austin. His 24 receptions are second among all NFL rookies, but his 6.6 yards per catch number is the lowest among all rookies with at least six receptions. It's not exactly the kind of figure the Rams had in mind when they were rotating him through all three wide receiver spots in OTAs and training camp.
And these definitely aren't the kind of statistics the coaches had in mind when so-called secret plans were dangled in front of fans hungry for offensive production.
"You're going to have to come out, watch and see," Fisher said about Austin back in August. "He is versatile, as you say, and obviously there's things that everybody does across the league in camp that they don't show until the regular season."
A confused offensive identity aside, Austin's had his share of struggles through six games. He's dropped five passes, including two in Week 5 against Jacksonville. Dropping passes isn't usually a means to more playing time. Which might also explain storming out after the game and getting his media appearances nixed by the press office.
As for the front office, the jury's still out on their eye for offensive players, draft picks and free agents. Isaiah Pead's barely there. Brian Quick still hasn't cracked the top three receiver spots. Daryl Richardson's limitations were exposed in the starting role. Jared Cook's snap counts have decreased over the last two weeks as well. Zac Stacy, a fifth-round pick, is the most important rookie this season, and for some reason, they were hesitant to use him. Rookie skill position players don't have to be superstars in their first year, but the Rams were very publicly counting on their first- and second-year players to have a larger impact than they're having.
Austin's a rookie, a talented one at that. He'll get the learn the ins and outs of the pro-level game, now that he's not facing Big 12 defenses anymore. This is more a lesson in hype, and your usual October reminder to take anything said in August with a healthy dose of skepticism.