National Football League

Rams Retake the Athletic Advantage

In a sport of matchups that the NFL has become, for the last several years the Rams haven’t presented an awful lot of problems for the opposition. Brandon Gibson overcame his drops to become a nice possession receiver, but even in his best season last year averaged 13.5 yards per catch – 52nd among all wide receivers with at least 16 catches. Danny Amendola averaged 10.6 per reception. Matthew Mulligan averaged 10.5 on just eight catches. The big play, aside from rookie Chris Givens, was not something in which the Rams specialized.

With this offseason, the Rams have put themselves in a position to win matchup battles against any defense in the NFL. Obviously, the biggest reason is first-round draft choice Tavon Austin. Austin can line up anywhere – outside the numbers, in the slot, in the backfield or even at quarterback – and be a terror. Knowing where he’s going to be is going to be a top priority for the defense.

Even if the defense finds and contains Austin, third-round choice Stedman Bailey will be a major threat. At West Virginia, he was actually a guy who put up better receiving numbers than Austin, with more than 1,600 yards receiving. While Austin had at least one 35-plus yard play in 10 of 12 games, Bailey was a consistent scorer, getting a touchdown in 10 of 12 games.

That’s just the rookies. If Austin and Bailey contribute as expected, does a defense put one defender on Givens, who earned double teams and forced zone defenses in the second half last year? And what about Jared Cook, the new tight end who runs a 4.49 40 at 250 pounds? If you’re running a two-deep zone, do you really want your middle linebacker trying to cover him?

We haven’t even mentioned the emerging Lance Kendricks, and the physically imposing Brian Quick. The Rams have a ton of targets for Sam Bradford who will head downfield.

By the way, Isaiah Pead was a very good receiver out of the backfield in college. He’s another speedster who provides matchup nightmares. Along with the speedy Daryl Richardson and Terrance Ganaway and newcomer Zac Stacy, the Rams have youth and speed at running back.

Obviously, we’re talking about a lot of ifs here. The most important one is that Jake Long remains healthy and returns to the form he displayed in the first four years of his career in Miami. If Long does that, he takes away the opponent’s right defensive end. Protecting Bradford’s blind side in five- and-seven step drops will allow routes to develop and allow all those weapons to get open.

If they run those routes correctly and catch the ball, that will allow their athletic ability to take over. And if the Rams go up against a defense athletically, they’ll win. When a defensive coordinator prepares for this group, there’s a very good chance they he’ll say, “Oh my gosh, where do I start here?” Of course, the first order of business will be to get to Bradford.  Because with his accuracy, if the Rams’ new playmakers have the ball in their hands, they’re going to score.

We haven’t seen this sort of potential matchup advantage in St. Louis since Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Kevin Curtis and Marshall Faulk were winning those battles in 2003. Ten years later, the Rams have a chance to catch up with the rest of the league and win because their athletes are better.