The St. Louis Rams haven't been running well through the preseason.
A group of running backs auditioning to replace Steven Jackson are averaging just 3.1 yards per carry on 63 rushing attempts through three preseason games. Only two NFL teams have a lower YPC average than the Rams. And St. Louis is one of six teams that has not scored a rushing touchdown this month.
"That's an area we need to improve on," head coach Jeff Fisher said. "We haven't had opportunities in the games to just really line up."
Last year, the Rams ran the ball for an average of 4.1 yards per carry in the preseason, auditioning Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson to backup Steven Jackson. The 2012 Rams averaged 30.3 rushing attempts per game in exhibition play.
All part of the plan, says Fisher, and one reason why the team's rushing numbers are down.
"We've got young receivers we've got to develop," Fisher said. "We'll be OK in the run game. We feel like the better we are downfield with the matchups, the more opportunities it will create for us in the run game."
The numbers reflect that. The Rams are running the ball an average of 21 times per game. Only the Vikings are averaging fewer carries per game this month. Sam Bradford and the other quarterbacks have thrown the ball a total of 106 times. Time of possession has also limited the available offensive snaps. St. Louis is getting the ball an average of 26:18 minutes per game. Opponents have an average time of possession of 33:42 minutes.
The rushing numbers could change this week. Fisher plans to get his stable of running backs on the field this week against Baltimore, in part to prepare for Pead's suspension in Week 1.
"We're getting a chance to look at them this week," FIsher said. "With Isaiah not being available to us in Week 1, we need to look at all the backs for that matter. So, we'll have all three backs on the field."
Cunningham has probably played his way into a roster spot, giving the Rams four hands at the position. Most of his work in the preseason has come with the backups against backups. He and Stacy could see more time with the starters this week, depending on how Fisher prioritizes the rotation.
There has been some talk among the chattering classes about finding a veteran to help the group, someone like Michael Turner or Willis McGahee. A tight salary cap may prevent that, and none of those options have much left to give at this point in their careers.
With more emphasis on the running game this week, we'll get a better idea of what this group can do.