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Three Weeks and Still Running: What Are the Rams Doing at RB?

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What is the Rams plan at running back? Have the first three weeks shone any light on what that plan might be?

Michael B. Thomas

Throughout the offseason, the Rams were seemingly preparing to be a run-heavy, defensively-led team to cope with the physicality and technical discipline of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, two of the better teams in the NFL who just so happen to be in the Rams' division.

The reasoning was sound. The Rams didn't have a QB capable of busting out huge numbers or slicing all parts of the field the way teams like New Orleans or Denver do. They didn't have a stable of WRs that could discombobulate any defensive shell like Atlanta or Chicago. And they certainly lacked the wizardy of an offensive coordinator who was adept at developing an aerial attack that changes just enough week to week to paralyze opposing coaches.

So the Rams picked a mauling offensive lineman in Greg Robinson with the #2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and added his Auburn teammate in Tre Mason to add some athleticism to the Rams' backfield. They were prepared to run the ball to support a Sam Bradford-led offense. They beefed up on the O-line signing G Davin Joseph.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand no.

We lost Sam for the year. GRob has barely logged any offensive snaps. Mason hasn't sniffed the field, being surpassed by UDFA Trey Watts. Davin Joseph looks horrible through three games.

If the Rams had a plan for the first three games, this wasn't it. First, let's take a look at the pass/run disparity (adding sacks to intended pass plays and taking out any QB runs):

Play v. MIN @ TB v. DAL
Run 20 28 28
Pass 41 31 42
Run % 32.79% 47.46% 40.00%

While it hasn't been all that balanced, we're right around a 40% run, 60% pass rate. I'm not sure what to make of it without really having a sense of the gameplan. Did Schottey and Fisher assume that defenses were loading up for the run and plan to pass a bit more instead to counteract that? Is it more about concerns regarding the offensive line? Did the growing confidence in Austin Davis in weeks two and three allow them to feel they could pass the ball with a smaller disparity?

Perhaps more interested is the developing committee at running back. For all the plaudits Stacy received in the offseason, the Rams' brass never was all that committed to him publicly as a workhorse back that would exclude other backs from the gameplan. Here's how that's worked out through the first three games:

Name Week % of Snaps Carries % of RB Carries Yds %of RB Yards TDs Fumbles Receptions % of RB Recs Receiving Yards % of Rec Yds Rec TDs
Zac Stacy 1 44.78% 11 57.89 43 62.32% 0 0 1 4.17% 8 2.93% 0
2 65.57% 19 76.00% 71 82.56% 1 1 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0
3 44.74% 12 46.15% 67 55.83% 0 0 5 16.67% 54 16.51% 0
Benny Cunningham 1 46.27% 5 26.32% 21 30.43% 0 0 4 16.67% 30 10.99% 0
2 29.51% 6 24.00% 15 17.44% 0 0 1 4.55% 4 1.70% 0
3 44.74% 9 34.62% 29 24.17% 0 0 1 3.33% 5 1.53% 0
Trey Watts 1 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0
2 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0 0 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0
3 9.21% 5 19.23% 24 20.00% 0 0 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 0

This is even tougher to decipher. Zac Stacy (barely) played the least percentage of offensive snaps in week three but had the biggest impact, gaining more than 5.5 rushing yards per carry and adding more than 50 yards in the receiving game. Even Benny Cunningham's strong week one support performance doesn't come close to that. Throw in the arrival of Trey Watts in week three, and I'm even more confused.

So here's what I wish I knew: what the Rams want out of the running game.

It's obviously not volume. The Rams haven't run the ball more than they've passed it. Contrast that to the Cowboys on Sunday who, despite being down 21-0 early, still managed to get DeMarco Murray one more carry than Tony Romo throws. I'm not saying you have to break a 50-50 split in favor of the run. But Stacy had more than half Murray's yardage in half the carries. It's fair to question if he's being underutilized through three games.

Meanwhile, you've now got a backup system that's even more confusing. Benny Cunningham isn't a change of pace back for Stacy. So you're giving defenses a very similar look. In the last two games, he's averaging less than three yards per carry. Perhaps that's why the Rams elected to give Trey Watts a couple caries to see how he looks in meaningful action.

But more importantly, if you look at the bigger picture, there's cause for concern. The Rams have now built up this running attack on a 5th round pick (Stacy) and two undrafted free agents (Cunningham and Watts). The two running backs they invested the most draft capital in aren't in the picture. Isaiah Pead is entering his third year with 17 carries in his first two seasons, now saddled with an ACL injury to sideline him for the 2014 season. He was a mid-2nd round pick in 2012, the Rams' third selection of the round after WR Brian Quick and CB Janoris Jenkins who are firmly established starters at this point. Tre Mason, for his part, can't make a gameday roster and has been passed over, leading to the fair question as to whether his contributions to the Rams have ended before they even started.

All this is to say...I don't know where this is going. I don't know what the plan is. I don't know if there is a plan, though you would feel comfortable assuming that a business operation that cold possibly crack the quarter-billion dollar revenue threshold this year would have a plan for what to do with a portion of their labor pool.