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Rams' offense struggling to sustain drives, stay on the field

Coach Jeff Fisher says the Rams' offense needs to work harder at staying on the field for more sustained drives. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Before the season, it was expected the St. Louis Rams' offense, with so many new pieces in place, would take some time to coalesce. Two weeks in, there's no denying the group remains a work in progress.

While nobody expects the Rams' offense to go out and put up 30 points every week, the sooner it can at least manage to stay on the field, the better off the Rams will be.

Through two weeks, the Rams' average time of possession is 25 minutes, 24 seconds, which is 30th in the NFL. To go along with that, the Rams are 31st in first downs (30). In other words, the Rams have been unable to sustain drives and the trickle-down effect of those struggles has made life difficult for a defense that has been on the field the second most of any team in the league.

Sunday's 24-10 loss to Washington offered the best example of how the Rams' inability to move the chains and stay on the field can have an adverse effect on a defense and the team as a whole.

"I think it was just inconsistency and little mistakes everywhere," guard Rodger Saffold said. "We all have got to be on the same page and we were just off a little here and a little there and it was turning into consistent three and outs. You can't have that. They were too tired on the defense, they were out there for like 38 minutes."

For the game, the Rams had a whopping 10 drives of four plays or less. In the first half alone, they had three three-and-outs and four four-and-outs. The Rams had no drives longer than 3:21, only got into Washington territory three times, and they only got inside the Redskins' 40-yard line one time aside from their lone touchdown.

While the defense had issues of its own, especially stopping the run, it didn't help that they barely had time to unbuckle their chin straps before they were back on the field as Washington had the ball for nearly 38 minutes.

"That doesn't give your defense a chance to even rest," coach Jeff Fisher said. "Let alone give your offense a chance to make plays."

In discussing the Rams' offensive woes, Fisher points first and foremost to a run game that has been unable to get on track. Even with Tre Mason back in the fold against the Redskins, the Rams found nowhere to run and Washington sat on the screen game to prevent the Rams from using it with the success they did in Week 1 against Seattle.

Fisher also points to the offense's struggles on third down as the Rams converted just two of those 12 third down attempts. That can be traced back to the lack of success on the ground, however. The Rams are 23rd in the league in yards per carry at 3.67 yards per attempt but they've been so ineffective on first and second down that they haven't been in many favorable third down situations.

Thus far, the Rams have had 23 third-down opportunities but 17 of those have come on third-and-5 or longer, of which they've only converted five for first downs.

"The third and longs are always difficult to convert, the percentages say," Fisher said. "We're just not making our plays. We had two first downs in the first two drives and then we had three-and-outs. You've got to get chunks on the early downs and stay out of third down or when you get in it, you need to convert."

The sample size remains small just two games into the season. But even in the Rams' opening week win, their ability to come up with drives when needed most overshadowed an inconsistent offensive performance. Against the Seahawks, they had five drives of four plays or less and had no drives that lasted longer than 4:36.

In that game, the Rams' offense offset the lack of sustained drives with big plays. That's why they currently sit 11th in the league in yards per play (5.59). Progress there has been canceled out by the inability to stay on the field as evidenced by the team's league-low number of offensive snaps (101).

Those big plays are certainly a step in the right direction but the Rams must find a way to surround those with consistent drives that, at minimum, move the chains a couple of times, keep the clock running and swing field position.

For a team built on the premise of having a dominant defense and a ball control offense, the Rams have no choice but to find a way to keep the offense on the field for longer periods of time.

The defense would appreciate it.

"You just keep going," end Robert Quinn said. "There's nothing you can do. You've got to be out there so you might as well keep going. Regardless of what the situation is, sometimes it's going to come down to us to win ball games, sometimes it's the offense or special teams. Regardless, we are a team and we have got to figure out a way [to win]."