When the Rams travel to Cincinnati on Sunday, they’ll unpack an offense that ranks 31st in the NFL in total yards per game, 32nd in the league in passing yards per contest, and 31st in points per game.
This level of inefficiency doesn’t happen overnight.
Jeff Fisher and Les Snead deserve credit for restocking a roster that was significantly devoid of talent when they arrived in 2012.
They also deserve blame for how woeful the current product is on offense.
The Rams’ offensive struggles can be traced back to recent drafts. For every Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Janoris Jenkins selected on defense, there’s been an Isaiah Pead, Brian Quick and Greg Robinson on offense. This regime has done a great job finding mid and late-round defensive gems like Trumaine Johnson and E.J. Gaines, but there have been misses on Garrett Gilbert, Chris Givens and Barrett Jones to accompany those hits.
Some fans believe teams should hit on all of their draft picks. That’s insane.
Bill Walsh often noted that if a drafted player contributes to the team in a measurable way for at least two years, he should be considered a “good” draft choice.
Not every first-rounder is going to be a Hall of Famer and not every seventh-rounder is going to make the team. All franchises, not just the Rams, have plenty of draft misses.
That said, there’s a clear difference between the current regime’s ability to scout, draft, and develop defenders, and its ability to scout, draft, and develop players on offense.
And therein lies the current problem.
This Rams offense isn’t improving, and despite claims that Fisher’s brand of football is outdated, the bigger problem is talent.
There’s nothing wrong with having a team whose identity is to win games on the strength of its defense and running game. The Seahawks went to back-to-back Super Bowls with that general philosophy and the 2015 Panthers are unbeaten despite the fact that they’re averaging just 40.4 more passing yards per game than the Rams.
Yes, the Seahawks and Panthers have quarterbacks, but don’t stop there. It isn’t just the quarterback position that’s held the Rams back. They haven’t been able to develop a legitimate weapon in the passing game and the offensive line is a mess because of injuries and inexperience.
What’s frustrating is that the Rams clearly have the right approach on defense.
They’ve invested draft picks in the first three rounds on legitimate talent like Donald, Brockers, Jenkins, Johnson, Alec Ogletree, and T.J. McDonald. They also didn’t stop adding quality depth via the trade market (Mark Barron), or free agency (William Hayes and Nick Fairley), just because they were set at a certain position. The Rams knew the importance of having quality depth for when injuries inevitably struck.
But on offense? Snead and Fisher avoided adding a lineman outside of Garrett Reynolds this offseason and instead threw all of their eggs into the 2015 draft basket. They did invest four picks on the offensive line this past April, but what if 2015 turns out to be a down year for offensive linemen? Then the Rams just scarified quality for quantity, and their offensive line is littered with inexperience because of it.
Here’s another reality: The Rams don’t have the personnel to match their current identity on offense.
The plan three years ago was for Sam Bradford to run an offense similar to the system he ran at Oklahoma (i.e. spread the ball out and attack teams with quick, accurate passes that allow receivers to generate yards after contact). But four games into the 2013 season, the Rams scratched that idea, Bradford got hurt, and the rest is history. That’s how you get a Jared Cook and a Tavon Austin (as good as he’s been this season) shoehorned into your current run-first offense.
What’s the solution? The Rams need to take the same relentless approach they’ve used to build a formidable defense and apply it to the other side of the ball. But that’s easier said then done.
Quarterbacks don’t grow on trees, the return on investment in the free agent market is usually poor (as this team knows all too well), and the draft offers just as much risk as hope.
Thankfully, the Rams do have one foundation piece on offense in Todd Gurley. But unless they find a franchise quarterback, a reliable weapon outside of Austin in the passing game, and the young offensive line grows up in a hurry, the frustrations fans currently feel about the offense aren’t going away.