It’s very rare these days for an NFL team to run more than it passes over the course of a season.
But Jeff Fisher’s teams did so eight times in his 16 full seasons as head coach in Tennessee and Houston. Usually it was Fisher’s worst teams that passed the ball more. In fact, all five of Fisher’s losing teams over those 16 seasons threw more than they ran it.
As for Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the most successful seasons on his play-calling résumé came when running the “ground-and-pound” for the New York Jets and either leading the league in rushing, or coming close to it.
It looks like that’s all about to change — in a big way. The most intriguing story during the spring practice period and into training camp, the preseason and even early into the regular season will be how the Rams’ offensive philosophy is molded around a bold new mix of skill position players.
The short answer is this could look like more of a spread offense in 2013, with the ability to go up-tempo, go deep and get the ball in space.
The Rams certainly have gotten much faster on offense this offseason with the addition of tight end Jared Cook in free agency and wide receiver Tavon Austin via the just-concluded draft.
“It creates opportunities for everybody else,” Fisher said, in talking about those two players. “It creates opportunities for Brian (Quick) and for Chris (Givens), Lance (Kendricks), and the running backs just because they are threats. They are going to create mismatches that are going to have to be dealt with defensively, which is going to open some other things up for us.”
The Rams will be able to come at opposing defenses with multiple personnel groupings, employing different sizes and skill-sets within those groupings.
Givens, Austin and Cook can stretch defenses with top-end speed for their positions. Cook, Quick and Kendricks are big targets. Third-round draft pick Stedman Bailey as well as holdovers Quick and Austin Pettis can go up and get the ball.
At the moment, Quick and Givens project as the starting outside receivers, with Austin in the slot. The Rams could pair those three up in two tight end sets with Cook and Kendricks in what would be an empty backfield. Three- and four-receiver sets figure to see more use at the Edward Jones Dome than they have since the days of Mike Martz.
Cook alone could line up on the line, in the backfield, in the slot and out wide.
As for Austin, the possibilities are just as numerous. When asked Thursday if Austin will line up in the backfield as a ball-carrier, Fisher smiled and said: “Maybe. We’ll see.”
Actually, Austin let the cat out of the playbook earlier that night while on a conference call with St. Louis reporters.
“They showed me all the positions that I did when I played for Coach (Dana) Holgorsen,” Austin said, referring to the West Virginia head coach. “They’re going to use me in the backfield. Coach Fisher talked to me about special teams, and I’m definitely a slot receiver. So, they definitely have a plan for me.”
The plan is possible only because the Rams surprisingly decided to trade up in the first round, giving Buffalo a second- and seventh-round pick to move up eight spots in the first round, from No. 16 overall to No. 8.
(In addition, the teams swapped third-round picks, with a net effect of having the Rams move up seven spots in the round, from No. 78 overall to No. 71.)
The Rams talked to the five teams that held picks No. 6 overall through No. 10 about the possibility of moving up.
It soon became apparent that they might have to get ahead of the New York Jets at No. 9 to nab Austin. And for a while, they wondered if they might even have to draft ahead of Buffalo at No. 8 for Austin.
So Cleveland, at No. 6 overall, was offered the same deal as Buffalo. But for the second year in a row (See: RGIII trade), the Browns declined to pull the trigger on a major deal with the Rams. Cleveland wanted Louisiana State outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo and decided to stay at No. 6 to do just that.
Similarly, Arizona decided to stay put at No. 7 to grab Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack.
So the deal was with Buffalo, and the Rams got their man in the diminutive Austin. At a shade under 5-feet-9, Austin’s stature won’t be an issue when it comes to presenting a target for quarterback Sam Bradford, according to Fisher.
“It’s not (an issue) when you’re dealing with a quarterback like Sam,” Fisher said. “Sam’s got excellent vision, he’s got a quick trigger, and he’s very accurate. That creates opportunities for a receiver with that kind of quickness and stature. A shorter quarterback’s going to have a little more difficult time getting the ball to him on time.”
In many ways, Austin is the replacement for the departed Danny Amendola. The Rams view Bailey as the replacement for Brandon Gibson. In the long run, the hope is that they are more talented and productive versions of their predecessors.
As for who replaces three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson in the backfield ...
That might take an entire committee, with Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Terrance “The Sandwich-Maker” Ganaway, and even Austin at times vying for a committee berth.
And as of the fifth round Saturday, add Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy to the mix.
Although not as big as some power backs at 216 pounds, he runs that way. He has a knack for getting the tough yards and moving the chains.
But only time will tell if the Rams eventually regret passing on Alabama running back Eddie Lacy. He ended up with Green Bay.