Zac Stacy delivers balance for the Rams in first NFL start

Dilip Vishwanat

The Rams shook the monkey off their back this week, with a little help from a rookie running back and a balanced offense.

There was something different about the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Yes, they won a game, which is a refreshing change from where the season was headed, but the biggest change in Week 5 was the appearance of a running game. And it was rookie Zac Stacy finally getting his shot and leading the way.

Stacy gave all the credit to his teammates.

"It was pretty much a good, productive day," Stacy said after the game. "It all started up front, but we came into the game - we wanted to establish the run and we got that job done today."

The Rams ran the ball 36 times this week, a season high. Whether it's been the second-half scoring deficits or the lack of commitment to the running game, it was the first time since Week 1 that the Rams offense had more than 20 rushing attempts in a game. The ground game produced a total of 143 net rushing yards, the first time the Rams have reached triple digits all year ... hell, it was the first time the offense topped 70 rushing yards in a game.

Critics and coaches alike can find plenty of room for improvement from the Rams offense. Nevertheless, they did accomplish the goal of finding a balance, finally.

"When you have 36 rushes and 34 pass attempts, or whatever it was, and balance that suggests that you're keeping the ball and you're creating third down situations that are convertible," Fisher said after the game.

"Any time you're having success running the football it really opens up some of the things you can do with play action," Sam Bradford said. "Today we still weren't great with it, but going forward as long as we can continue to run the ball it's going to help balance things out and keep defenses from attacking, knowing that we're one-dimensional."

Bradford's first touchdown pass of the day came on a perfectly executed play action pass. He rolled out to his right, hitting Lance Kendricks for the 16-yard score. He did it again in the fourth quarter, finding Austin Pettis on a deep shot from the play action to put one more nail in the coffin for Jacksonville.

"We finally got the run game going," Bradford said. "Give all the credit to those guys up front. It was a group effort, and the guys running the ball did a great job of running hard and trusting those guys today."

Bradford mentioned the rookie running back in particular for his effort in the game.

"I thought Zac did a great job today. I think he showed everyone what he was about. He ran hard, he ran physical, he ran downhill. I don't think you could ask for much more from him today."

The Rams nabbed Stacy in the fifth round this year, trading up to draft the Vanderbilt product who led the SEC in rushing in his final season. He's been buried on the depth chart since the start of the season, one of many questionable moves made by the struggling Rams.

It was announced the morning before the game that Stacy would start, days after Daryl Richardson revealed that he had lost his hold on the starting gig.

"It was pretty much kind of a later in the week thing," Stacy said when asked when asked when he learned of his status. "All the backs prepared the same way, so whenever the opportunity is called, whenever your name is called you just get the job done."

He had one carry prior to this week. But he was ready for his turn in the spotlight.

"I've been doing it my whole career," he said. "Obviously the game is faster, but at the same time, it's football - just out there to have fun."

Stacy split the workload with Daryl Richardson, 14 carries to 13. Benny Cunningham added another four rushing attempts, and Bradford scrambled five times to up the team's rushing totals. Nevertheless, it was Stacy's mauling style of running that pushed the pile to the tune of 5.6 yards per carry.

"Coach (Fisher, he loves that physical type of running," Stacy said. "That's one thing that we all emphasize in the running back room. We want to bring that physicality out there on the field, so it was pretty much what we emphasized all week."

Stacy's effort and the success of the offense helped put the struggling Rams back on track. There's still more work to do; after all, the Rams were favored by 12 points over the hapless Jaguars. Nevertheless, it's step in the right in the right direction.

"To pull out the win, I think it's huge for this group," Bradford said. "It'll give us some confidence going forward."

Next week, the Rams are in Houston for a date with the reeling Texans. Matt Schaub's pick-six record aside, it's still a tough defense to face any week. The Rams will need Stacy and the rest of the offense firing on all cylinders, but the fact that the team finally has struck a balance bodes well for the road ahead.

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