About those secret plans ...
Brian Schottenheimer's highly touted, top secret strategy for using the St. Louis Rams first-round pick turned out to be nothing more than dump offs in the flat. Tavon Austin has seen plenty of playing time with the offense so far this season. He's caught 20 of the 31 passes thrown his way for a total of 124 yards. But the one stat that tells you all you need to know about Tavon Austin and the Rams offense is this: 6.2 yards per catch.
"Again, I think it comes down to execution," Schottenheimer said this week. "He's had some big plays for us. He scored two touchdowns, I think, and certainly he'll get better with the drops. We just want to go out there and again, take the execution to a different level. If we do that I think we'll find a way to get a win."
Execution has certainly been lacking, nowhere more so than when it comes to blocking. Nick Wagoner at ESPN has more on the woeful state of the Rams blocking, specifically the receivers, tight ends and running backs.
Here's an example of how that poor blocking has impacted the Rams offense. This is Jared Cook's meager effort against the 49ers last week. It's just a simple handoff to Daryl Richardson. Cook lets his man off the hook with a halfhearted shove, and he comes in to tackle Richardson for a loss. Of course, Richardson was headed up the middle on this play, and you can see in the GIF below that there isn't a lane for him. The combination of the offensive line struggling against defensive fronts and the skill players not doing their job take a heavy toll.
Poor blocking is also partly responsible for Tavon Austin's slow start. For players like that, it's not about designing funky plays that take away practice time, it's just finding ways to get him favorable matchups. And those kinds of plays -- as we learned in Ben Muth's breakdown of how to use offensive weapons like Austin -- require some help from the other players on the field in the form of fooling the defense and blocking.
No blocking, means no one-on-one matchups with Austin against a safety or a linebacker that he can get around with his athletic skills alone.
Like this: could be a huge play if Rams had Cook/WR block, let Austin go 1-on-1. Instead, everyone just runs routes. pic.twitter.com/2U4o7AvZTJ— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) September 26, 2013
Of course, the playcalling does matter as well. Pushing Austin to the outside of the field in the flat isn't going to set him up for success. Sure, he's probably going to make that catch, but it's not going give the Rams offense much more than four or five yards.
Schottenheimer noted the need for adjustments, but he didn't find much fault in the playcalling when asked about being too predictable with his plays.
"I don't think it was anything in terms of - there's certain plays I'd like to have back that I called," he said. "I don't think it was anything other than the fact that we just didn't execute very well."
Head coach Jeff Fisher sounded a different tone when asked about reviving Austin's season.
"Well what we've got to do is we've got to get the run after catch," Fisher said. "We've got to get him in position to where he's got a chance to make somebody miss and go. That's just a matter of continuing to work on things and maybe experiment with some different things."
And that's certainly possible, especially if the head coach was implying that using Austin as a hot read in the flat was less than ideal.
The Rams have a chance to iron out the wrinkles this week against the struggling Jaguars. The key here is getting Austin into the middle of the field, disguising play packages to make it harder for defenders to stay on top of him and, finally, blocking.
If the Rams can't do that this week, it's going to be a long season for Austin and everyone who was excited to see the spark he might have delivered to a perpetually moribund offense.