Cards could leave Rams feeling empty

Steven Jackson knew there would be games when the St. Louis Rams did not feature his running prominently.

There would be times, he realized, when the game plan would make his contributions more difficult to quantify.

"This type of offense is more about learning what the defense is trying to take away and what they are going to give us," Jackson said during training camp. "You have to be more of an unselfish player."

That was the case for Jackson against Seattle in Week 11. Not only was Jackson featured less prominently, but there were times -- lots of times -- when he wasn't lined up in the backfield at all. The approach raised questions and stood out to ESPN Stats & Information's Doug Clawson, who noted that a similar approach might not make sense against Arizona on Sunday.

A few of his findings:

  • Sam Bradford attempted 24 passes from empty formations Sunday, the most in any game for an NFL quarterback over the last four seasons. That tells us the Rams went to extremes in this matchup. They did not trust their offensive line enough to attack Seattle with a traditional ground game.

  • Bradford averaged only 4.1 yards per pass attempt from empty backfields, mostly when the Rams went with a no-huddle attack.

  • For the season, Bradford has the sixth-most attempts from empty backfields (49) and the sixth-lowest average per attempt from these sets (4.8).

  • The Cardinals' defense ranks among the NFL's top five in first-down percentage (22.6) and yards per attempt (5.5) against empty formations. Their defense is one of four yet to allow a touchdown against an empty backfield. Opponents have attempted 31 passes from empty sets this season.

The sample sizes are obviously small. Empty formations are relatively uncommon overall in the NFL. But based on what we've seen from the Rams' offense and Cardinals' defense, it's an upset if St. Louis attempts a similar approach Sunday.

Jackson, held to 42 yards on 15 attempts against Seattle, carried 29 times for 130 yards against the Cardinals in Week 9.