In a league where 4,000 yards passing has become the new normal standard for a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, the St. Louis Rams have only had that accomplished by one of their quarterbacks four times in franchise history. Marc Bulger was the last to achieve the feat back in 2006, and since then the Rams have been very dependent upon their running game to open up receivers through the air.
2013 will see a paradigm shift as the team seemingly becomes a pass-first offense with Sam Bradford entering his fourth year under center and stalwart running back Steven Jackson now with the Atlanta Falcons. The duties in the backfield will fall on second-year man Daryl Richardson for the most part with some Isaiah Pead and rookie Zac Stacy sprinkled in occasionally. Still, the idea of a reliable running game is something St. Louis desperately needs to avoid predictability offensively.
That’s also true due to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer being a primarily run-based play caller throughout his career. Without the ability to keep defenses honest, the Rams will struggle to move the football consistently and get behind the down and distance on a routine basis.
While Richardson showed some skills in his limited work a year ago, he doesn’t look like a workhorse type of back at just 5-foot-10, 196-pounds. His counterpart in Pead is nearly an identical twin at 5-foot-11, 197-pounds, and his one-game suspension to start the year along with his fumbling troubles thus far in his career – including two more in the preseason – will keep him in the spectator role quite a bit this year. Stacy is a bruiser at 5-foot-8, 216-pounds, but as a rookie it’s likely his primary role will be as a complementary short-yardage specialist for the offense.
What all of this seems to signal is that Bradford will be asked to do more in the upcoming season. The team has afforded with a bounty of weapons in the offseason to offset the losses of Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson via free agency. Bradford will have plenty of young targets to spread the ball around to with the dynamic rookie Tavon Austin, his former West Virginia teammate Stedman Bailey, and free agent tight end acquisition Jared Cook as the big-name newcomers.
New, expensive weapons mean that the expectations for Bradford have been raised significantly in his fourth year in the NFL. This will also be his first year that he has had the same offensive coordinator in the aforementioned Schottenheimer year-over-year in his career. That should only further aid the maturity and familiarity for the still 25 year-old signal caller.
A lack of a running game will make the task a bit taller for Bradford in his pursuit of 4,000 yards through the air, but 11 quarterbacks reached that plateau a season ago with Bradford ranking 15th in passing yards at 3,702. Only four of the 11 guys that reached 4,000 yards passing failed to make the postseason last year so a thriving passing attack is a sign of more wins as well. Look for both categories to see a significant increase in St. Louis this season if for no other reason than the fact that the Rams will struggle to run the ball in 2013.