Most of the talk surrounding rookie Tavon Austin has been that he will be more than worth the wait. Many of the pundits around the NFL chalk up his lack of immediate contribution to the St. Louis Rams offensively to his lack of familiarity with the offense and the obvious adjustments that take place from campus life to the 24/7 world of being a professional football player. If that really is the case, however, then why was he only on the field for seven snaps in Week 6?
The explanation given by head coach Jeff Fisher to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch seems like a plausible one as he said:
“It’s just the way the game went. We didn’t have a whole lot of plays, didn’t have a lot of opportunities on offense.”
While it’s hard to argue with the results of a 38-13 drubbing of the Houston Texans, Austin’s steadily declining playing time is definitely worthy of concern. The first four weeks featured a pass-happy attack with the Rams trying to be something they’re not yet ready to be, throwing the football a mind-numbing 71 percent of the time according to NFL.com. Zac Stacy’s emergence in the running game has really changed that approach over the past two weeks with quarterback Sam Bradford throwing the ball just 41 percent of the time over the team’s two victories.
It still remains an enigma as to why Austin’s numbers when he is utilized are so underwhelming. A player with his explosive skill-set should be able to make something happen on a consistent basis, but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been unable to design anything to get the diminutive receiver in space. His 23 catches for a mere 156 yards perfectly illustrates that for a season average of just 6.6 yards per catch and a career long of only 25 yards.
Other concerning numbers are the seven drops that Austin has already even with the limited playing time and targets in Schottenheimer’s elementary offense. Designing plays to get a player with his explosive talent open should be a piece of cake, regardless of how much smaller he is than the other guys on the field. A player like Darren Sproles has a niche in the New Orleans Saints’ offense, and that is the type of role the Rams must establish for their pint-size playmaker.
His league leading drop total is concerning and his low yards per catch certainly sets off some alarm bells, but the Rams simply need better play design to properly utilize what Austin brings to the table. Continuing to run the same package of plays that clearly haven’t been successful just isn’t going to cut it. Schottenheimer must go back to the drawing board and look for ways to drag receivers underneath like Austin Pettis to clear out some space for Tavon to work in the void left behind. If the schemes don’t change and the snaps continue to dwindle for this rookie, the Rams could make him be a bust even if he shouldn’t be.