National Football League

Rams Poised to Open It Up At Last

The Rams’ message this past weekend was clear: We no longer have to win in a phone booth.

Eddie Lacy apparently wasn’t on a lot of teams’ radar, which is why he fell to the Packers with the 29th overall pick in the second round. But his lack of durability, limited body of work and toe injury weren’t the only reasons why the Rams passed on the Alabama running back in the draft.

He also didn’t fit into their current plans.

As long as Jeff Fisher calls the shots at Rams Park, this team will remain balanced offensively. Fisher’s teams have always been physical, so that’s not going to change after the team added the likes of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin. That also became evident when they didn’t hesitate to part with both of their sixth-round picks on Saturday to trade up for decisive runner Zac Stacy in the fifth.

But the decisions made this offseason also signal a change in philosophy. By not re-signing Steven Jackson and passing on a powerful back like Lacy in the early rounds, the Rams have shown they no longer want to win four yards at a time. They want to strike for eight and nine yards a clip, all while spreading opponents out and getting their playmakers in space.

Cook creates matchup problems for opponents in the slot because he’s faster than linebackers and stronger than defensive backs. Austin creates the same headaches because of his explosiveness and speed. Together they make teammates like Chris Givens better, or at least that’s the thought process.

Their decisions this offseason also suggest that the Rams want to focus on Sam Bradford’s strengths as a passer. He excels in the short-to-intermediate game and now has a couple of weapons in Cook and Austin who can attack the seam. The Rams weren’t explosive last season offensively, but when they attacked the seam, they were a different team. (See Lance Kendricks’ touchdowns in Tampa and Arizona as examples.)

This team will no longer be limited by a lack of weapons. No offense to former players Jackson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, but Austin, Cook and Givens are more likely to keep defensive coordinators up at night. The key is how Brian Quick and Isaiah Pead respond in Year Two. The skill sets of both players are intriguing, but the production was non-existent in 2012. If both players develop into the weapons that Fisher and general manager Les Snead originally envisioned, then Bradford will have a plethora of weapons.

Granted, questions still remain. Can Jake Long, Scott Wells and Rodger Saffold stay healthy? Everyone is excited about the additions of Cook and Austin, but will they pan out? Will Quick and Pead’s development escalate? Will Bradford become more of a playmaker and shake the “game manager” tag that some have labeled him? These questions are justified, and we haven’t even discussed how the 49ers and Seahawks also upgraded their rosters this offseason (or how the Rams’ defense has an unsettled situation at both safety positions).

But while questions remain, the vision is clear. The Rams are more athletic, explosive and versatile than just one year ago. And while ball control will remain a focal point for Fisher and his staff, this team can now beat opponents in a variety of ways.

After being forced to win inside a phone booth last year, the Rams have transformed the 100 yards between goal lines into their entire playground.