Running into trouble: The Rams need backfield help, fast

ST LOUIS — The Rams fans who decided to show up to the Edward Jones Dome on Thursday conveyed their feelings loud and clear before they gave up and trudged toward the exits with more than 10 minutes left in quarter four.

Had the place been full instead of the generously announced crowd of 56,640, the boos would have been much louder.

There sure was plenty to boo about.

Sam Bradford was less than meh. Cortland Finnegan showed he is a liability again. And the special teams penalties have turned into a plague.

But one guy — Daryl Richardson — got booed in the first half, before anyone else, before a 14-3 dud nosedived into a 35-11 debacle.

When Bradford threw a short pass to Richardson with 29 seconds left in the half, and the ball bounced off Richardson and into the turf, they booed. And not because Richardson, the Rams’ starting running back, didn’t make the catch. They booed because he didn’t make the catch after not doing much of anything else.

Can you blame them?

There’s a very drastic running problem in St. Louis. It showed through the Rams’ previous back-to-back losses and again in their third straight on Thursday. It’s a glaring issue, an underlying factor that has to be considered when we are discussing the legitimate concern about Sam Bradford not living up to his franchise quarterback expectations.

“We are going to have to take advantage of some opportunities here through the weekend and early next week to get these issues fixed, mainly our inability to run the football,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said before excusing himself early from his post game presser. “We had two less carries than they did at halftime for no yards. That’s pretty much the issue we are facing right now, because everything spins off of that.”

For a half — and this game was really a game for only a half — the Rams faithful watched San Francisco bruiser Frank Gore run north and south until his lanes closed. They watched him refuse to go down when that happened. They watched him make one sharp cut and find more daylight, more yards.

Meanwhile, Richardson’s cuts — stutter steps that often came behind the line of scrimmage — seemed only to lead him into the rumps of the Rams offensive linemen who failed to clear visible holes.

Gore carried the ball 10 times for 107 yards … in the first half. He finished with 20 touches for 153 yards, a clinic highlighted by a 34-yard touchdown rumble early in the game.

Richardson carried the ball 12 times for 16 yards, an average of 1.3 yards per touch. He did hit the 100-yard mark … on the season. His 2013 total is now at 114.

His backups didn’t do any better. While San Francisco’s Kendall Hunter totaled 49 yards and a score, Rams second-stringer Isaiah Pead was inactive for reasons that went unexplained. Rookie Zac Stacy touched the field but not the ball. And rookie Benny Cunningham turned four carries into just six yards.

“It’s huge,” Rams tight end Jared Cook said when asked how a lack of a run game hampers his offense. “But that’s not the only thing that’s wrong.”

That’s nice of him. But even if it’s not the only thing, it’s the biggest and most damning.

The Rams now have 189 total rushing yards on the year. That’s 47.3 per game, second-worst in the NFL behind the New York Giants. The Rams’ 2.6 yards-per-carry average is second only to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. Only four teams in the NFL have yet to score a rushing touchdown: Cleveland, New England, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The Rams are the only one with four games played.

You get the picture. Things are ugly right now. Ugly enough that anyone who saw former Rams legends Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk on the sideline Thursday had to wonder if the old men might be able to do just as well, even in their fancy suits.

“We’ve got to get better at it,” Rams left tackle Jake Long said. “We’ve got to watch the film.”

Whether the blame falls on the running backs or the linemen, something has to shift if a team with big expectations is going to salvage a respectable season out of this start. Fisher and his players are adamant it can happen, even if they don’t seem to know what’s going wrong.

“We’re going to get it fixed, OK?” Fisher said when asked for a cause. “That’s all I can tell you. We are going to get it fixed.”

In June, the same coach said he was confident a stable of unproven backs could handle the responsibilities Atlanta-bound workhorse Steven Jackson left behind.

“I wouldn’t say a question mark,” Fisher told back then. “There’s competition. One of the guys — one, or two, or maybe even three — competing right now are going to end up playing in ball games.”

So far the competition is leaving a lot to be desired.

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