The Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel's new offense will be measured in a number of ways. The number of first downs per game will be one of them. The ability to move the chains, to gather in 10 yard increments at will, may not be the sexiest way to win an NFL game. The greatest teams in NFL history know that to own the ability to move down the field, from first down to first down, creates an undeniable tide that will, in fact, sweep all before them. They each had a chain gang, led by players that lived life in power's dimension. The Running Back, whose will to live is measured in four yard increments. The Tight End, who breaks through defensive human walls, to roam in the land of blood thirsty giants known as linebackers, to catch a hard won five or six yards. The Wide Receiver, who is asked to deny his need to sprint long and instead to turn inward toward a cloud of defensive backs waiting to sever him limb from limb. Seven, eight yards: "Good Job! First down" is all he hears through his brain addled haze.
Some call the NFL of today a "pass happy" league. True enough, but only to a point. Since the days of "Air Coryell", the desire to march down the field by taking huge swaths of turf at a time through the pass has become the the desired norm. Yet, for every team you can show me that wins by the pass, I can show within that team a chain gang.
The St. Louis Rams have a chain gang for the 2011 season. If the Rams are going to be successful this year, it will be due in no small measure to this small group. The first member of the group to join this year's chain gang is Danny Amendola. Much harangued for low his yards per catch average (8.1 ypc on 85 receptions) last year, some people just don't get it. His routes were designed to enable a rookie quarterback in Sam Bradford to have the best chance at moving his team with quick, short passes. Amendola took a beating and never complained. This small and slow player (by comparison to today's #1 wide receivers) did what the team needed: moved the first down chains. He'd be welcome on any team from the Lombardi era to today if getting a first down was an issue. I also think Shurmur established a viable argument for having an "Amendola-type" player around if a team drafts a quarterback and expects him to start as a rookie.
Next, we have rookie tight end Lance Kendricks for inclusion into the Rams chain gang. Don't worry, he'll catch a few passes for big gains every Sunday, but his primary goal will be first downs. At 6'3' and 243 lbs., if you were hoping for winger Pegasus you're not really seeing McDaniels actual mission for his offense. Kendricks will make most of his living in the land of linebackers and under safety coverage. Look for eight to fifteen yards to be his true and frequent realm - First down, move the chains.
Finally we have the running back who will be responsible for short, hard fought yardage. You may think I mean Steven Jackson here? You'll be wrong. Steven Jackson has done his time as a chain gang member. In fact, for years he was the only member. Don't get me wrong, he'll still pick up many o' first down this year, but the Rams need him on first and second down, not third and short. This is where the newest member of the chain gang comes in: Cadillac Williams
When the Rams went in search of some help for Jackson, they wondered on down Tampa Bay way and snagged a quality, tough running back recovering from injuries that had slowed him the last couple seasons. I knew less than nothing about Williams. While not the best place to meter value, I used this past preseason to glean what has become obvious to any Ram fan: We acquired a hard nosed, fast running back that can move the chains. Look for Cadillac on third and three or four situations. Williams has the ability to catch the ball, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him on a number of screen passes this year : 7,8 yards. "Good Job, First down!"
I'm like every other Ram fan. I love the long bomb to whoever for a "quick six". I'm also a fan that knows that to become an elite NFL team, the ability to dominate the area three to eight yards behind the defensive line makes the long ball possible. If defensive backs don't buy the possibility of a receiver cutting short his route, and attenuate their coverage accordingly, they'll be able to cover wide receivers like a blanket. If linebackers didn't have to cover the short pass possibilities, they'd be free to roam in the offensive backfield unencumbered, counting quarterback coup at will. Running backs keep defensive linemen toiling to discern whether it's a run or play action fake. They add that moment in time every quarterback needs to find an open receiver and loose his cannon like arm.
I believe in the chain gang and the part they play in making a good team into a great one. They don't get the respect or headlines they deserve. Stadium crowds will never be heard cheering "Ten Yards! Ten Yards!". Women won't offer marriage to a four yard hero. They are the chain gang after all is said and done. They are the chain gang, and what they do decides this or any team's destiny. They are the chain gang, and damn proud of it. We should be too...