After jumping out to a quick lead with a touchdown on their first play in Saturday night's preseason win, the St. Louis Rams' offense sputtered. Once again, the specter of uninspired play calling haunted fans as the offense failed to make anything happen, despite getting favorable field position on a couple drives.
I defended the play calling somewhat in comments yesterday. First of all, it was only the second week of the preseason when players, regardless of their draft position, can struggle with some pages of the playbook. The Browns secondary was doing a good job of covering our receivers; Feeley was successful because he found his tight ends at mid-field. The Browns played their top CBs well into the game, long after the Rams top receivers left the game. The search for mid-field targets continued when Bradford entered the game. On his first 16 snaps, not including punts and field goals, receivers were only targeted three times, with Robinson, Amendola and Avery all coming up with incompletions, Amendola did draw a pass interference call.
With the backup running backs in the game at that point, Cleveland had a much easier offense to defend, cover up the receivers and force the Rams to try and make YAC gains on short throws. Unimpressive route running, dropped passes and some bobbled snaps prevented that. I think that the Rams needed to establish that portion of their offense, which isn't to say they shouldn't have at least tried some longer passes. On the flip side, if the receivers aren't catching the short throws (Gilyard, Avery, Robinson, Burton and Foster were targeted 10 times with 0 receptions), what makes you think they're going to do any better with the longer ones?
The decision to keep trying with carries to running backs not named Steven Jackson added to the frustration with the playcalling, but I think the coaches had to give them more carries as part of the evaluation process. I don't know if that was the thinking behind a couple of playcalling decision that would be impossible to defend otherwise.
The plays in question came on the second drive of the second quarter. On the first down, Ogbonnaya is tackled for a 4-yard loss, setting up 2nd-and-14. The Rams hand it off to Ogbonnaya again who runs toward the same spot, right tackle, for a mere 2-yard gain. Would it have been too obvious to pass here? Given the situation, it seemed like a good down for a screen pass or anything designed to fake out the defense. That sets up 3rd-and-12. The Rams line up in the shotgun, but a Jason Smith false start penalty makes it 3rd-and-17. Yikes. It's obvious what the Rams should do, and hopefully there are any number of a plays for that situation to take advantage of a defense that is likely to stay in tight coverage while sending a minimal number of pass rushers. The Rams again line up in the shotgun and hand the ball to Ogbonnaya, who picks up 7 yards.
Yikes, runs on 3rd-and-long still give Rams fans nightmares after last season. I'm writing this without having game tape in front of me, so maybe there's more to the story. Precedent says otherwise. Why not take a the risk there and have the highly accurate Bradford attempt a throw across the field, it was a preseason game? Or why not even a comeback route or even a play that fakes the deep routes and asks a TE to pick up the rest of the yards on a short throw? Ogbonnaya hadn't been able to get much going as a runner so this decision seemed questionable. I'd feel a lot better about that call if Steven Jackson were running the ball, but even then we've seen it fall apart.
Again, maybe there was more to it. Maybe the coaches wanted to see what the offense and Ogbonnaya could do on that play for evaluation purposes. I don't know. But it was one reminder of the frustrating play calling we saw so much of last season. Hopefully, it gets worked out while we're still in the preseason.
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