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Rams' offense seeks short-yardage improvement

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Before the season started, the St. Louis Rams set out to be a physical, grind-it-out type of team capable of lining up, powering up and running right at opponents.

Fourteen games in, that approach hasn't materialized, and it's come back to bite the Rams on multiple occasions, including Thursday night's 12-6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

And nowhere has the Rams' lack of power running been more evident than their feeble attempts to get the tough yards that keep the chains moving. In the loss to the Cardinals, the Rams had a couple of key third- and fourth-down situations and came up empty on all of them.

On their first drive, the Rams had third-and-goal at Arizona's 1 but running back Benny Cunningham was stopped for no gain, leaving the Rams to settle for a field goal. With that in mind in the fourth quarter, the Rams decided to eschew the run on third-and-goal at the Cardinals' 1, which led to an incompletion and, once again, settling for a field goal.

For the season, the Rams are converting 54.5 percent of their third-and-1 opportunities, tied for last in the NFL. On third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 this season, the Rams are averaging just 1.09 yards per carry, which is the worst output in the league in those situations.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher makes no bones about his team's need to improve when it comes picking up the tough yards, especially on the ground.

“We’ve got to get better at it," Fisher said. "We need to be able to line up and say, ‘Here we come. This is what we’re running. Stop it.’ We’re not there yet.”

Because of the Rams' struggles running in short-yardage situations, they actually haven't been bad throwing it in those spots. On third-and-1 and fourth-and-1, the Rams are averaging 9.33 yards per pass attempt, seventh best in the NFL, and have a total QBR of 82.4, which is fourth best in the league.

But now that the Rams have enough evidence of struggling in those spots, opposing defenses are looking for the pass more, which explains why the Cardinals were all over the third-down play at the goal line in the fourth quarter and quarterback Shaun Hill essentially had to throw it away.

"They’re loading the line of scrimmage as far as the run game’s concerned," Fisher said. "We thought our best opportunities were doing just what we did. We didn’t make plays. We have to do much better there."