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Short passes key to the Rams offensive success

While we wait to see when/if St. Louis Rams GM Billy Devaney adds another wide receiver to the roster, currently featuring just four WRs, it's a good time to talk about Pat Shurmur's West Coast offense, specifically the passing game.

Over the weekend, I received a section of KC Joyner's Scientific Football 2009 (link here), the one containing the Rams write-up. Joyner relays an important observation about the Rams passing game:

Having said that, an inability to hit short passes can be significant hindrance to an offense. St. Louis found this out last year when no one on their team seemed capable of posting solid short yardage totals in the air. Marc Bulger ranked next to last in the league in the dink and dunk style passes, and none of the Rams qualifying receivers ranked higher than 69th.

Another way to look at this is that Bulger's 5.2 short level YPA was about one yard below the median YPA at that depth level. Getting that total even back to the league average would add 300 yards to this offense.

A feature of the West Coast offense are the short, quick and precisely times routes from receivers...and running backs and tight ends. Take a look at the offensive personnel on the roster right now and go back to some of the preseason action we saw, and it's clear that Rams plan to recoup some of that lost yardage via short passes.

I also suspect we'll see lots more passes like that on 1st and 2nd downs than you realize, especially for a team that's been repeating the "Steven Jackson is the foundation of our offense" mantra to everyone who will listen. In fact, we've already seen that. Go back and look at the play-by-play from the Bengals game (and I use that one since it was the closest to what we're likely to see from the playbook); the Rams called passing plays on 8 of 19 first and second down attempts, including a pass to Keenan Burton on 2nd-and-3 on their second drive of the game (that came after two penalties on that down, which I'm counting here).

The key to those passes in this West Coast system will be to open the field a little for Steven Jackson to run the ball, as well as use vertical passes with Donnie Avery and Laurent Robinson, both of whom provide a deep threat.

I also would not assume that the offensive play calling will favor the run. In fact, with the Rams likely to be playing from behind some, passing plays will most certainly outweigh runs. Just take a look at Philadelphia's offense: Andy Reid passes almost 60% of the time.

Steven Jackson is the team's one bona fide superstar, and he'll have the numbers to back that up at the end of the season. But it's those short, West Coast-y passes (many of which will be thrown to Jackson) that will be the key to the Rams offensive success.