The Amendola Factor: how losing Sam’s security blanket could be a good thing

My first thought after seeing Amendola walk off the field, cradling his arm? “Oh god, we’re screwed.”

Fortunately, the vultures circling around Danny Amendola appear to be backing off. At first, we heard “dislocated elbow” and I thought damn, that’s a 6-week injury at least. Then, John Clayton started reporting it as a “broken shoulder,” out 8-10 weeks! However, once the internet diagnosis settled on the elbow, it turns out that he could be out only a short while.

@RamsHerd Depends. Can’t tell wo more info. Can pop back in and be fine. Depends on soft tissue
WR Danny Amendola is having MRI right now. Possible he might not need surgery but no determination on his status yet.

That said, the post-game conversation was dominated by “How do we replace Amendola???” Donnie Avery was mentioned. So was Mardy Gilyard, Terrell Owens, and TJ Houshmandzadeh. Clearly the Rams now have a glaring hole where Sam Bradford’s favorite target used to be.

But you know what? Maybe that’s all right. Here are a few reasons why:

Bradford forced to build more trust in his other receivers.

The chemistry between Bradford and Amendola was forged while working with Pat Shurmur’s “all-underneath” playbook, generating tons of easy throws for safe but short gains. The Rams were a three-down offense, meaning that the goal of the offense was to generate makeable third downs with a series of mildly successful plays. Danny’s hands and toughness over the short middle were a great enabler of this mindset.

Without Amendola, Bradford will necessarily be forced to take more risks downfield. He’ll be forced to look harder at the higher branches of McDaniels’ passing tree, rather than letting his eyes drift Danny’s way. It’s notable that after Amendola went out, Bradford finally tested Asomugha and completed a 31-yard pass to Brandon Gibson.

This fits more into McDaniels’ mindset as coordinator, as well. His offense is more of a “two-down” offense predicated on taking bigger risks and not getting to third down in the first place. (Good thing, too. When they did, their 32% conversion rate ranked 28th in the NFL.) Consider this: the Broncos generated 736 more yards of offense on 40 fewer plays than the Rams in 2010. And they didn’t have an Amendola for Kyle Orton to throw to.

Of course, the receivers have to hold up their end of the bargain as well. Lance Kendricks might be able to get by on the “Week 1 jitters” excuse for now, but he has to make good on the trust Bradford put in him early. Gibson, Sims-Walker and Salas have to fight for balls and bring them in, even when Bradford is throwing heat. Especially when Bradford is throwing heat.

The Rams are starting to build a seriously good running game.

Without Amendola to run those routes that are essentially runs up the middle, the Rams will actually have to, you know, run it up the middle. The good news is that they’re suddenly pretty good at it.

Phil Gaskin of took an in-depth look at Steven Jackson’s game-opening 49-yard touchdown run, and called it “perfect in so many ways.”

Even after Jackson’s loss after that play, backup Cadillac Williams averaged better than five yards per carry, and had very few negative plays behind a suddenly revitalized Rams offensive line. Jason Smith’s absence with a high ankle sprain will hurt here, as Goldberg is not an effective run blocker, but our runners are finding holes between Dahl and Brown, and outside Saffold and Bell as well.

And the run game’s effectiveness opens up possibilities that Bradford is only hinting at in the play-action passing game — especially for those big gains that open up when you’ve successfully drawn the safety up into the box.

When Amendola returns, he might be freed from the short-route constraint.

It’s possible that the Rams’ offense could get more dangerous in Amendola’s abscence, which would free him to run more creative routes from the slot position. We’re already starting to see that in Rams camp, in the 60% of the playbook that McDaniels didn’t import from Shurmur’s. And based just on what I saw in practice, it’s exciting stuff.

This might be an optimistic take, but Bradford and McDaniels have the ability to make it happen. But the hardest part of Sam’s relationship to replace?

The trust. His receivers will have to step up.