Personnel report: Rams running game

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams know they need to run their offense through running back Steven Jackson, but how should they make that happen?

Sticking with their base offense means pairing Jackson with fullback Mike Karney. Jackson was thrilled when the Rams signed Karney because he knew the potential benefits in the run game.

Putting Karney on the field with Jackson usually comes at the expense of second tight end Daniel Fells, however, and Fells has the athleticism to become an occasional receiving option. The Rams need all the receiving options they can get and Karney isn't going to help in that area.

Against Seattle, the Rams ran the ball nine times from their base offense -- two backs, two receivers, one tight end -- and averaged 2.9 yards per attempt. They gained 9 yards on their only carry with one back (Jackson) and two tight ends (Randy McMichael and Fells). They gained 10 yards on their lone rushing attempt with two backs (Jackson, Karney) and two tight ends. They gained 2 yards and the first down on their lone rushing attempt with three tight ends.

  • Download: This Excel file features a sortable Rams offensive play-by-play sheet complete with my observations on select plays, plus a second sheet summarizing production across personnel groups. Alternate download link here.

I'll be watching to see how the Rams run the ball across their various personnel groups. They signed Karney to pound the ball. Will they be better running the ball with Karney on the field? We don't have near enough evidence at this point. Just something to consider. One way or another, they need to run the ball effectively.

A few other things I noticed about the Rams in Week 1:

  • Chris Long driving Seahawks tackle Sean Locklear deep into the backfield to disrupt a running play, only to have Julius Jones gain 8 yards.

  • David Vobora coming close to a sack on a well-conceived blitz, only to have Matt Hasselbeck complete a pass anyway.

  • Oshiomogho Atogwe getting a strong jump on a pass, only to have Hasselbeck's perfectly placed pass elude him in the only place the receiver could catch it.

  • Vobora shedding Seahawks tight end John Carlson easily to tackle Jones for no gain.

  • Fewer of the ridiculously blown coverages seen far too often in recent seasons. The Rams seemed to have a sound plan defensively and they made Hasselbeck earn his completions until later in the game.

  • Right tackle Jason Smith making strides. The sack he allowed appeared to stem from Smith getting a late start on the play. On the Rams' second play, Smith cleared out Aaron Curry to help Jackson gain 9 yards. Smith never appeared overmatched physically working against Cory Redding, Patrick Kerney, Brandon Mebane, Darryl Tapp, Lawrence Jackson or Nick Reed. Lofa Tatupu did beat Smith badly once, shedding Smith's block and sending the rookie onto the ground. It happens.

  • The Rams converted both third-down plays with 6 or fewer yards needed for a first down. They needed an average of 12 yards for a first down on their 10 remaining third-down plays, none of which they converted.

  • The Rams needed, on average, 9.3 yards for a first down on 19 second-down plays. The average distance grew to 10.7 yards on third-down plays. No wonder they struggled to score points.

  • The Rams lined up tight ends and running backs as receivers, but they never used four wide receivers at a time.

For one game, I think the Rams appeared more competent defensively. The mistakes they made on offense were correctable ones, namely penalties. They generally protected the ball offensively. They forced turnovers defensively. The score was 7-0 with 12 seconds left in the first half. The score was 14-0 deep into the third quarter.

The longer the game went, the more vulnerable the Rams were going to become. Their defense finally snapped and Seattle made a few big plays to put away the game. I never got the feeling of utter futility and disorganization that pervaded the Rams at times in the past. They simply aren't very talented or very good yet, but we knew that.