Rams winning with tight ends

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Rams have rededicated themselves to running the ball more, the team's tight ends have emerged as the offense's most effective weapons.

The  St. Louis Rams have 13 passing touchdowns through six games this season. That's the most the team's had since 2000, when the Greatest Show on Turf had 18 passing scores through its first six games (the 1999 Rams had the same mark). What's different this around (besides A LOT of things) is that the tight ends are scoring 46 percent of those touchdowns. Tight ends accounted for just one of those touchdowns through the first six games for the 2000 GSOT Rams, and only three all season.

"They all do everything so well," quarterback Sam Bradford said of his tight ends. "I think that's one of the reasons that they've accounted for half the touchdowns down there is the fact that we're able to move them around and do some different things that defenses haven't really been able to prepare for."

Jared Cook has two scores and leads the team with 311 yards on 22 receptions. Both of his touchdowns and 141 of his yards came in a Week 1 win over the Cardinals. He's been held in check since then. But the others have stepped in to fill the void left by the struggling free agent acquisition.

Lance Kendricks has two touchdowns and 129 yards. He's scored in each of the Rams last three games. Cory Harkey added a sixth tight end touchdown last week to put the Rams on the board for the first time in a win over the Texans.

Harkey's a hybrid, and was actually lined up in the backfield on that play ... there were three other tight ends on the field, giving the offensive formation a very distinct running look.

That's been the key to the team's tight end fortunes, says the head coach.

"What's been helpful has been our run game," Jeff Fisher said Wednesday. "We have different options when they're on the field and it all starts with the run action and things. The tight ends have been very productive for us down there."

"When we get in that 13-personnel grouping, we can do so many different things," Bradford said. "If we want to line up with two of them in line and one of them at fullback or if we want to spread them all out, our options are really endless."

The Rams expect to continue with their emphasis on the run this week against Carolina. But that poses a tougher challenge than the Jaguars and Texans.

"When you play a defense that's as good as Carolina, you've got to be able to run the football and you've got to be able to keep them off balance," Bradford said. "The biggest thing for us is last week playing Minnesota they did a pretty good job stuffing the run on first down, got them behind the chains. For us to be successful this week, if we do run the ball on first down, they've got to be positive runs and we've got to play from ahead of the sticks."

The Panthers are allowing an average of just 8.2 points per game this season. Only two opponents have score more than 20 points, despite the team's underwhelming 2-3 record. Only one of Carolina's opponents so far this season has totaled more than 100 rushing yards in a game, the Bills.

But there's a weakness ripe for the Rams to exploit this week: Tight ends.

Carolina is allowing an average of seven passes and 48.6 yards per game to tight ends. In part, it's a product of opponents having to take quick shots to hold off the Panther pass rush. Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph caught nine passes for 97 yards and a touchdown last week.

But Minnesota lost that game, and Adrian Peterson was kept in check by Carolina's defense. It's a big challenge for the Rams, even with outstanding tight end play and a balanced offense.

"Our challenge this week, however, is a little different than the last two from the standpoint that this defense is very good against the run," Fisher said. "This defense is very well-coached, very aggressive, not giving up any points. They have not been scored upon in the first quarter this year so we'll know.

"We'll find out after this week."

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