Coming into the season many believed that the St. Louis Rams would be basing their offense on speed. Quarterback Sam Bradford had plenty of new weapons to go along with some of his returning artillery in the receiving corps, and the team appeared to be on a fast track to keeping up with the Jones’ of the NFL in running a wide open, spread attack.
What has happened thus far hasn’t exactly quashed those thoughts, but Bradford’s go-to receiver has been a bit of a surprise. Rookie Tavon Austin has been unable to find much space to work with, and prized free agent tight end Jared Cook has quieted down since a breakout performance in Week 1. Last year’s speed demon Chris Givens has yet to rekindle his 2012 form, and both third round rookie Stedman Bailey and second-year disappointment Brian Quick have both been virtually non-existent.
No, the man that Bradford has turned to as his old reliable really is just that: old and reliable (in relative terms at least). At 25 years of age, Austin Pettis is the oldest receiver on the Rams roster. He is only in his third NFL season, but that too makes him the elder statesman among the Rams’ young receiving corps. That veteran knowledge has proven valuable for Bradford and St. Louis on offense as the Rams signal caller told ESPN:
“You can’t say enough good things about Austin Pettis. I’ve said it since OTAs, I think he’s one of our most dependable. He’s so smart; you can put him all over the field. He knows every route that everyone’s supposed to run, and I can trust him, because I know that he’s going to see things the right way and he’s going to be in the right spot.”
There’s something to be said for trust in any relationship, and that’s especially true when each decision made is based on the assumption that a player will be where he is supposed to be when a pass arrives. His numbers aren’t monstrous with 22 catches for 222 yards, but there is more to Pettis’ production than meets the eye. Of his 22 grabs this year, 14 of them have earned the Rams a first down. Actually, of his 52 catches over the past two seasons combined, an astounding 38 of them have moved the chains.
He may not have top end speed and it’s unlikely he’ll ever lead the team in any statistical category – aside from first downs at least – but Pettis is essential to the Rams on offense. His role is one that every team needs to fill, and the Rams are lucky he has yet to enter his prime as a receiver in this league. Pettis explained his thoughts on his niche with the team saying:
“I really enjoy those clutch situations, and I kind of just want to be that guy who makes a play for the team.”
Earning first downs and making those tough nine-yard catches on a third-and-eight often go overlooked in box scores, but there’s no doubt they are crucial to a team’s success. It’s only a matter of time before the Rams have an offensive explosion with the new weapons they accumulated over the offseason, but don’t expect that to impact Pettis’ role. There will always be a place for a receiver that can pick up first downs and provide a quarterback with some piece of mind.