The Rams Offense After Four Games: What's Wrong?

Austin Pettis leads Rams wide receivers in fantasy points. Wait, what?

While watching the Rams and 49ers on Thursday night in St. Louis, I noticed that Rams fans are very selective with their booing. They’ll boo on only two occasions: a Rams run or a Rams pass.

That should tell you all you need to know about the St. Louis Rams offense. They scored their first 1st-quarter points in 10 games on Thursday. Essentially, if you’re starting a Ram on your fantasy squad, you’re already at a 25 percent handicap.

While it’s unfair to judge an offense based on one game against the stout 49er defense (no matter how many all-pros they have injured or in substance-abuse programs), we do have a four-game sample from the 2013 season that we can gain some key takeaways from.

Sam Bradford is Still Mediocre at Best

Sam BradfordAtt/GComp %Pass Yards/GYd/AttTDIntNEP/Pass Rank (Min 80 Att)
201234.559.5 %231.46.7211324/39
201345.558.8 %273.36.07323/32

The Rams have found themselves trailing a bunch so far, and it has resulted in significantly increased passing attempts and yards from Sam Bradford. Yet, he’s only fantasy's 15th-ranked quarterback in points per game.

We told you back in July not to get excited about Bradford, who had always been near the bottom of the league in passing efficiency. This season, he's averaged -0.03 net expected points per pass. This essentially tells us that, every time he throws a pass, his team is expected to score less points than they were before the play began.

On tape, its apparent that Bradford’s reluctance to throw deep is approaching Alex Smith territory. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock even noted that “there are no chunk plays in this offense.”

Against the 49ers, Bradford overthrew a wide open Austin Pettis for a touchdown. Later on, he finally threw deep into one-on-one coverage, but hung the ball up too long and had it picked off in the end zone. After that, Bradford seemed too shell-shocked to look more than 10 yards downfield.

The Rams offensive line isn’t helping. Sam Bradford leads the league in dropbacks under pressure (75), and has the NFL’s 4th-worst completion percentage under pressure (38%).

Despite the added speed to the offense, Bradford’s yards per attempt average this year has declined over a half yard from last season. He’s only completed three passes all season thrown 20 yards downfield or more. He’s a check-down machine.

Treat Bradford as a QB2 based on volume.

The (Non-Existent) Running Game

There’s been a disturbing trend emerging with Daryl Richardson. After starting the 2012 season strong, he managed only 24 yards on 16 attempts in his last 5 games. This season, he has only 114 yards on 42 carries. I’ll do the math for you: that’s 138 yards on his last 58 rushes, good for a 2.37 per-carry average.

Forget longing for the days of Steven Jackson, Rams fans would be happy with Trung Canidate right about now.

Did I mention Richardson has never scored a touchdown in his young NFL career? Given his lack of big plays and the fact that rookie Benny Cunningham has been getting the short yardage work, that trend may very well continue.

There has simply been no space for Rams rushers to operate in 2013. Richardson - a 7th-round pick - has solid burst in the open field, but can’t create many additional yards between the tackles. Add that to Bradford’s reluctance to stretch the field, and it's hard to imagine the running game will significantly improve. The Rams seem to agree, as they have been the most pass-happy team in the NFL through four weeks.

Richardson had been salvaging his fantasy production with a combined 10 receptions for 78 yards in his first two games, but had only one catch for eight yards in his last game. With the way the Rams are blocking, he'll need to see a handful of receptions every game to be startable.

While Richardson’s lack of production has fantasy owners scrambling to add his backups Cunningham, Zac Stacy and even Week 4 healthy-scratch Isaiah Pead, I wouldn’t recommend it. The Rams running woes are more of a blocking problem than running back problem. It’s hard to envision any of those unproven backs being any more productive than Richardson in a featured role until the blocking improves.

We’re Talking About Pettis. Not Tavon. Not Givens. We’re Talking About Pettis. Pettis!

Rams Receivers in 2013TargetsReceptionsYds/RecStandard Fantasy Points
Jared Cook321714.136.0
Austin Pettis31189.629.3
Tavon Austin34206.225.4
Chris Givens271318.123.1

Out of the 87 wide receivers that have been targeted at least 10 times this season, the highest any Rams wide receiver ranks in net expected points per target is Austin Pettis at 51. Pettis also leads all Rams wide receivers in fantasy points. It’s a bad sign for an offense when the least owned wideout on the team is pacing them in fantasy production.

The Rams tend to spread the ball around, and it hurts all of their receivers’ fantasy value. Wideouts Tavon Austin (34), Pettis (31), and Chris Givens (27) all have a similar amount of targets. Tight end Jared Cook has another 32. In a given game, any one of these guys could go off, and all four have had at least one startable game thus far. Good luck trying to figure out who will bust out when, though.

My advice is to keep an eye on Austin. He now leads the Rams in targets, and it’s possible he may pull away even more as the season progresses and he gets more acclimated to the NFL game. Givens is basically what he was last season: a boom-or-bust deep threat. Pettis has never averaged double-digit yards per reception in his career, so he won't be much of an asset regardless of how many targets he gets.

It’s not fair what Cook did in Week 1, teasing his fantasy owners with a 7/141/2 stat line. He proceeded to not equal that production in his next three games combined. He ranks 21st out of 26 tight ends in NEP per target this season (minimum 10 targets). He’ll remain a big play threat, but with the question marks on offense, we still have him pegged as the 17th best tight-end for the rest of the season. If Cook is your starter, it may be time to start exploring other options who can give you more consistent production.

Can Any Ram Be Trusted?

The Rams sub-par blocking severely hinders their fantasy potential. Add in an inefficient quarterback and four receivers cannibalizing each other's value, and you have the makings of an offense that should be avoided for fantasy purposes.

I wouldn't start any Ram wide receiver unless I was desperate, and I wouldn't be mad at you if you immediately sold high on any of them after their next good game.

Hold on to Richardson as long as he starts, but don't count on much more than RB3 numbers. Hold on to Cook only because he's capable of the occasional monster game, but don't count on it occurring frequently.