The Mike Karney Factor (Week 1)

In a recent post from his must-read NFC West blog on ESPN, Mike Sando asked a question that has been on our mind as well, here at the RamsHerd:

As noted after Week 1, I’m still waiting to see whether the Rams are better off running the ball with fullback Mike Karney on the field. This [Jackson’s 58-yard run, from a single-back set] was a second-and-10 play. I’m hoping to chart the Rams’ personnel use before time runs short.

Fortunately for us, we don’t have to wait for Sando to chart the Rams’ personnel use, as Pro Football Focus is doing it for us. Here is the Game 1 player participation log, with Game 2 hopefully launching later this week. Here are some observations, based on the week 1 numbers, after the break:

  • Karney lined up for 23 plays, 2 of which were shut down by pre-snap penalties.
  • Of those 21 plays that counted, only four came in the second half, none in the fourth quarter with the Rams already down 28-0.
  • Karney’s appearance in the backfield does not necessarily signal a run play — the Rams only ran 11 times in those 21 snaps. Once, Karney was targeted with a pass, but did not come down with it.
  • Yardage gained from running plays with Karney, listed consecutively: 1, 2, 2, 8, 10, 8, 2, 0, -2, 5, 2. 11 attempts, 38 yards. (average of 3.45 yards per carry).
  • Yardage gained from running plays without Karney (not counting Bulger’s 2 yard “scramble”): 37 yards in 6 carries. (average of 6.1 yards per carry).

Granted, a big chunk of the yardage gained without Karney in the lineup comes as a result of Jackson’s 22-yard breakthrough in the fourth quarter, but still, the percentage of running plays that were stuffed with Karney in the lineup is very high. This is a little surprising, because as we saw in practice, Karney is by far the best blocker in the Rams backfield.

This reinforces an early impression that I have formed of the Rams’ offensive line — that they aren’t doing a good enough job opening holes for both a lead blocker and a ball carrier to get through. When Jackson has found room, it has typically been through the smallest of windows that are open for a blink of an eye.

The Rams ran the ball more, and more successfully in general, in Week 2, so we will take another look at this question when those stats come in from the fine fellows at PFF.