“They abandoned the run” – maybe not


Here we go again. Pundits everywhere are distressed that the Rams abandoned the run in the loss to the Bears. My first article after the Rams loss noted the Rams called for runs on only 26% of the plays in the Bears game. I called it an astonishingly low ratio. At the same time, I noted that I wanted to review the film before any conclusions could be drawn. http://www.ramsherd.com/2012-articles/what-the-hell-happened-and-other-life-altering-questions.html.  Before watching any film, Twitter was replete with noted sport gurus overwrought with the lack of running plays.

Ramsherd Will remarked “Running the ball became an afterthought in the second half, as the Rams ill-advisedly switched into the shotgun to try to move the ball.” http://www.ramsherd.com/2012-articles/season/mistakes-doom-rams-fourth-quarter-comeback-hopes-in-loss-to-bears.html. I will acknowledge that the formations the rams choose certainly were not advantageous to slowing down the rush. 

Bernie Miklasz assailed offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer in his Monday column: “The Rams abandoned the running game long before it was necessary, and that eliminated the real possibility of using play-action fakes to slow the Bears pass rush.” http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/bernie-miklasz/bernie-rams-smacked-with-jolt-of-harsh-reality/article_6ff00cf6-b335-5287-a17b-5b365d1c8558.html

On his radio show, Bernie informed his audience that the Rams should not have abandoned the run in the second half because the Rams had 8 carries for 34 yards in the first half. The suggestion was the Rams should have kept running because they were having success.

With all due respect, after reviewing the game tape, I disagree. I will acknowledge that 15 runs out of a total 58 plays is not ideal. I will also note that the Rams could have and arguably should have run more in certain possessions. At the same time, looking at the numbers, I do not believe a reasonable person can blame the coaches for abandoning the run.  Let’s take a closer look.

In the first quarter, the Rams had three runs from the running backs, one called roll out for Bradford which led to a run, and seven passing plays. There were four first downs the entire quarter for the Rams, and they ran on two of them. The three running plays gained a grand total of 4 yards. 

In the second quarter, once again the rams called three running plays for the running backs. Bradford also had a scramble to escape pressure which gained 10 yards, and 10 other pass plays were called. There were six first downs for the Rams in the quarter and the Rams ran on only two of them. The first run of the quarter was a 12 yard gain by Richardson. It must be noted that the Rams had 8 blockers on the run. It was an amazingly well designed run, which was executed to perfection. With the four yards from the other two runs, the Rams gained a whopping 16 yards in the second quarter. 

At this point, I will note that Mr. Miklasz, who I respect greatly, may have looked at numbers that he wanted to make a point. To get to 34 rushing yards in the first half, one has to include Bradford’s scrambles. According to the stats from the NFL, the running backs gained only 20 yards rushing in the first half. http://www.nfl.com/liveupdate/gamecenter/55537/CHI_Gamebook.pdf. It is a little misleading to try to suggest that the running game was working due to scrambles by the quarterback, unless of course Bernie wanted to run Bradford more. 

So, here we are. The Rams called 6 running play for the running backs in the first half, and they were still in the game. Of course, with everyone claiming the Rams abandoned the run in the second half, you would expect the numbers to go down, correct?

In the third quarter, the Rams called eight (8) running plays for the running backs. Let me repeat that in bold: eight running plays.  There were only 13 passing plays called. Outside of one 13 yard gain by Steven Jackson, the running plays were less than productive.  We gained 3, 3, -1, 2, 4, 3 and -1 on the other seven runs. There were 8 first downs in the third quarter and the Rams ran on five of them. On second down, we had the following opportunities: 2nd and 10, 2nd and 12, 2nd and 7, 2nd and 8, 2nd and 10, 2nd and 24, and 2nd and 7. 

I ask all reasonable people reading this article; do you consider 8 runs in one quarter, after only 6 in the first half, abandoning the run? I would argue the Rams coaches tried everything they could to get the running game going in the third quarter. If you take into account the lack of success in the running the game, Steven Jackson’s bad groin and the actual down and distance on second and third down in this quarter, you have to stretch to say the Rams abandoned the run. 

This leads us to the fourth quarter. At the beginning of the quarter, the score was 13-6. The Bears had the ball for the first possession of the fourth quarter. After a nice drive, they sputtered inside the five yard line and had to kick a field goal. The Bears now led 16-6. The Rams were still in it. They needed a good drive to keep this game in reach.

Unfortunately, we got four called pass plays. The fourth was the pick 6. Suddenly, the Rams were down 23-6 with only 9:06 left in the game. After this, the Rams ran only 1 time.  This run came on 3rd and 2.  Steven Jackson lost a yard. For the quarter, they had 11 passes and only the 1 run. In context, the lack of running plays is completely understandable. 

With the abandonment argument clearly refuted, let’s discuss where the Rams could have run more. The most obvious situation was the first possession in the fourth quarter. They needed a good drive. With the lack of success in running to that point, I understand why the coaches may have thought passing was the best idea. However, given the tremendous pressure on Bradford, I believe the Rams needed to try to establish the run on that drive.

On first down they had an incomplete pass. Often after a failed pass, teams run the ball to avoid a difficult third down.  However, the rams threw again, which resulted in a 19 yard completion.  It is difficult to second guess that success. 

In an effort to foreshadow, on this 2nd and 10, the Bears were chomping at the bit to get to Bradford  and jumped offsides. The penalty was declined. With another first down the Rams chose to pass again. I think a run would have been a better option. The pass was incomplete.  Once again, on 2nd and 10 after an incompletion the Rams passed.  If there was ever a time to run the ball, this was it.  Instead, Bradford threw the interception, and the game was over for all intents and purposes.

I also would have liked to see more runs in the 2nd quarter, when it was becoming obvious that the o-line was outmatched.  In the third quarter, there were only a few situations where the run was a reasonable option.  If only to even things out, maybe one or two more runs in the third quarter would have been helpful. 

If you disagree with this article, please comment below or contact me on twitter @therebirth. I would love to discuss this further.