EARTH CITY, Mo. -- There was a time not so long ago where the thought of trying to get an ailing running game revved up against San Francisco 49ers' defense would have spelled disaster for the team attempting to accomplish the feat.
This week, that’s precisely what the Rams need to do if they want to get the offense going and come away with a home victory against the division rival 49ers.
“Being one dimensional isn’t really helpful to an offense,” Rams running back Isaiah Pead said. “We need to go out and let the 49ers know and everyone else that is coming to play us that we can run the ball also.”
So far, that message has apparently been sent using a carrier pigeon instead of UPS overnight. The Rams' run game has been stuck in neutral for the first three games, accumulating 171 yards on the ground, 29th in the league.
What’s worse, the Rams are gaining just 3.17 yards per attempt, which ranks 27th in the NFL. They’re also one of four teams without a rushing touchdown in the first three games.
When asked about his team’s rushing woes, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has repeatedly pointed out that the Rams have found themselves trailing early and forced to abandon the run before it can find any rhythm.
“We’ve just got to hand it off more,” Fisher said. “We haven’t had the opportunities -- we’ve gotten behind. We’ve got to get back to that early in the game.”
There’s some truth to the idea that the Rams have had to get away from the run sooner than they’d like. They have just 54 rushing attempts so far this season, more than only three teams in the league.
Of course, the Rams could allow for more rushing attempts if they ran the ball more successfully on those earlier attempts.
In the first three games, the Rams have attempted 12 runs and gained 35 yards in the first quarter, less than 3 yards per carry. None of those dozen rushing attempts has resulted in a first down.
Logically, if the Rams are having more success running the ball, they’re picking up first downs, extending drives and creating more chances to keep attacking on the ground.
The bigger issue here seems to be an offensive line that has struggled to get consistent push and a young group of running backs from which no one has emerged as a consistently reliable option yet.
“We have got to do a better job upfront of moving guys off the ball, get on the second level, get to linebackers, let the running backs hit the hole,” left tackle Jake Long said. “The last few weeks we have been down so much we have had to play catch up and pass the ball a lot so that takes away from the run game. It all starts up front, we’ve got to move guys off the ball and stay on our blocks.”
It’s not all on the offensive line, though. Starting back Daryl Richardson leads the team with 98 yards on 30 carries. He’s been slowed by a foot injury but hasn’t been particularly impressive on his rushing attempts.
Pead and Benny Cunningham have had a few chances of their own and neither has done much to distinguish himself. Part of the problem is none of the backs have showed much ability to make defenders miss or run through contact. The Rams have 71 rushing yards after contact, which ranks 31st in the league.
The Rams have alternated among their various backs in the first three weeks.
“A rhythm is a running back’s best friend,” Pead said. “To have that rhythm is always a plus. We’re a running back committee right now. Daryl is the starter, but whoever gets in there has to answer the call.”
Allowing one back to stay in and get a rhythm would be made easier if one of them would have some measure of success.
In a departure from the usual San Francisco defensive dominance, the Niners are giving up 138 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 29th in the league. Last week, the Colts bludgeoned the Niners with the run, carrying 39 times for 179 yards on their way to a time of possession edge of 12 minutes and 50 seconds.
It’s not realistic to expect the Rams to do the same without proven backs like Indianapolis has in Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw but some sort of reasonable facsimile would serve the Rams well in their quest to even their record at 2-2.
“When we get the opportunity to run the ball, we’ve got to run the ball,” Long said.