The 2015 Rams could take a page out of the 2008 Dolphins’ playbook.
In September of 2008, Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Dan Henning faced a dilemma in regards to his offense.
The Dolphins were coming off an embarrassing 31-10 loss to the Cardinals in Arizona and had generated just 24 points in their first two games of the season. Quarterback Chad Pennington had struggled behind a shaky offensive line and suffered from limited options in the passing game.
Henning knew he needed a spark for his offense, so on the flight back from Arizona, he spoke with quarterbacks coach David Lee about an idea to utilize Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in the same backfield.
Lee had worked previously in Arkansas as the Razorbacks’ offensive coordinator. The year before Lee became the team’s play-caller, Gus Malzahn helped Darren McFadden become a Heisman candidate while using him extensively in the Wildcat formation. Thus, Lee was a good source for Henning to lean on when it came to bringing his idea to fruition.
The following week, the Dolphins caught Bill Belichick and the Patriots off guard while successfully utilizing the Wildcat in a 38-13 victory at Gillette Stadium. Miami went on to win 11 games that season before Baltimore negated the success of the Dolphins’ Wildcat in a 27-9 victory in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.
That 2008 Miami team in a few ways parallels the present-day Rams, who head into their bye week following a 24-10 loss to the Packers.
Let’s stop short of insinuating that the Rams should install the Wildcat during their bye week. Jeff Fisher loves the ground-and-pound approach, but running Gurley out of the single wing for the next 11 weeks would be excessive (even with how good Gurley has looked the last two weeks).
I bring up the 2008 Dolphins because Henning displayed a sense of urgency after just two games. He needed a spark offensively and instead of waiting for a punchless offense to right itself, he decided to throw his opponents a wrinkle. The Wildcat wasn’t new to football, but it caught opponents by surprise and allowed Henning to simplify his approach, all while playing to the strengths of his personnel.
Rams’ offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti now finds himself tasked with the same challenge as the team heads into the bye week.
The Green Bay game brought to light what might continue to happen if the Rams fall behind and all they have is Gurley for support. Down 11 midway through the fourth quarter, the Rams kept running the ball with Gurley because Cignetti was hamstrung by poor pass protection, a quarterback that kept turning the ball over, and a receiving corps that couldn’t catch or create separation in coverage.
Down by two scores and likely faced with only two more possessions in the game, the Rams couldn’t generate chunk yards in the passing game and suffered for it. They were one-dimensional.
Gurley has been fantastic. But if the passing game continues to struggle, perhaps opening games in the two-minute offense will allow Foles to get into a rhythm early.
The quick passing game is often an extension of the running game and allows teams to establish tempo. Allowing Foles to get the ball out of his hand quickly will also go a long way to masking the issues in pass protection.
Starting faster in general would help, as well.
Through five weeks, the Rams’ offense has generated just two first downs and one touchdown on their opening drives. The one score came in Arizona after rookie David Johnson fumbled the opening kickoff. There needs to be a greater sense of urgency at the start of games.
Even in the Rams’ three losses, Cignetti has done a solid job with what he’s had. He wasn’t the one tossing interceptions inside the red zone in Green Bay or losing the ball in the lights versus Pittsburgh. Players need to make plays and Cignetti is hardly at fault for some of the miscues on display.
Now is the time for the Rams to correct their issues on offense because they can’t continue to waste strong defensive efforts like the ones versus Pittsburgh and Green Bay.
This bye week comes at a great time for the Rams. It’ll allow Cignetti to find his own Wildcat – a way to tip the scales in the Rams’ favor even when there’s obvious limitations.
From here on out, he’ll be tasked with designing game plans that feature Gurley all while forcing defenses to know where Tavon Austin is. The Rams may only have two playmakers, but Cignetti will have to figure out a way to make it work.
Henning made it work in 2008. Opponents eventually adjusted, but he found a way to feature his best playmakers and overcome the shortcomings of his offense.
Cignetti now faces a similar challenge and it’ll be interesting to see how he and the Rams adjust.