KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Football might be a team game, but the Rams are finding that consistent offense requires some elite individual talent.
Without any stars, execution must be nearly perfect to score against good teams, especially when it matters most. The smallest disruption or mistake can be enough to derail momentum, and it hasn’t been easy for St. Louis to get it back.
That was all too evident Sunday when the Rams took a 7-0 lead on their opening drive and looked strong right up until Kansas City safety Ron Parker picked off quarterback Austin Davis’ deep pass into double coverage. Injuries to top receiver Brian Quick and more than half the offensive line only compounded the problem for an offense that would get just four more first downs until the fourth quarter of a disheartening 34-7 loss.
"We did a good job of executing (on the first drive) even though it was loud and we were just playing our type of football," said Benny Cunningham, who started at tailback for the second straight week and finished with 27 yards on four carries. "We kind of fell apart, stopped executing, started playing undisciplined and it showed by us not putting any more points up."
Four different players lined up at tailback and carried the ball two or more times for St. Louis in the first half, and at least three have accomplished that feat in every game. But none of them has rushed for more than 75 yards this season, and the Rams average just 102 yards per game as a team.
They also continued another disturbing trend Sunday by rushing for 48 yards on their first nine carries, then just 36 on their next 10. It’s worth wondering if sticking with one or two backs would lead to more sustained success, something this team desperately needs to complement Davis.
It’s not that the Rams can’t be effective with a deep and balanced offense. Despite no players ranked in the top 15 in the league in passing, rushing or receiving yards per game prior to Sunday’s woeful 200-yard performance, St. Louis’ 359.2 total yards of offense per game ranked 12th overall.
Davis has found at least eight receivers in all six starts and has been at his best when he uses every option and every yard of space on the field. He even orchestrated game-winning drives in the fourth quarter against Tampa Bay and Seattle that featured long passes to rarely used receivers Austin Pettis and Chris Givens.
"We’ve got so many playmakers, you can throw the ball anywhere," said Kenny Britt, the most obvious candidate to step into a bigger role. "That’s something that we gladly appreciate over here because you can throw it to any tight end, you can throw it to any wide receiver. Even the backs are making plays."
But more often than not, those late-game efforts failed miserably without a reliable option to turn to in crunch time. The Rams actually rank in the top half of the league in third-down conversion percentage, though that number dropped to 42 percent after they went just 3 for 11 on Sunday.
Quick’s absence no doubt contributed to those issues, since he’s been Davis’ favorite target most of the season. Tight end Jared Cook leads the team with 26 receptions for 320 yards, but the Chiefs held him to season lows of one catch and 11 yards.
Injuries to left tackle Jake Long, center Scott Wells and right guard Rodger Saffold only made things harder for the offense, especially after Knile Davis’ 99-yard kick-return touchdown extended the lead to 17-7 and ignited the Chiefs’ offense to open the second half. The dynamic Kansas City pass rush posted seven sacks for the game, with six of them coming after halftime when the Rams’ offense became more one-dimensional.
There would be no comeback like St. Louis’ 21 unanswered points at the end of a 34-28 loss at Philadelphia, the only time this year the Rams’ offense has shown any kind of resiliency. A much stronger Kansas City defense contributed to the Chiefs scoring the game’s last 21 points, much like Dallas and San Francisco did in erasing two-score leads to beat St. Louis.
Unfortunately for the Rams, there don’t appear to be any easy fixes for an offense that doesn’t seem to have much of a medium between lights-out and utterly helpless. No fresh faces or rising superstars are on the way, and in fact Fisher said he expects some of his injured starters will miss games as the schedule keeps getting tougher.
It’s almost time to start dreaming about what kind of elite offensive talent St. Louis might be able to get with a high pick in the 2015 draft. Until then, this offense will need to be nearly flawless to succeed.