During the first half of the 2013 season, Austin Pettis was the third-most targeted receiver on the St. Louis Rams roster. Most of those targets came during a time when he was Sam Bradford‘s safety valve. Pettis and Bradford had chemistry and they knew each other well after three years in the Rams’ offense.
He was the one receiver that Bradford looked to trust to bring in anything thrown his direction. He caught multiple passes in the team’s first five games to start the season with Bradford under center.
Since Kellen Clemens took over, Pettis’ role has diminished as have his receptions. In his last seven games, he has only caught more than one pass three times. He went from playing 90 percent of the offensive snaps to playing 25-30 percent of them. Part of the cause for the lack of playing time has been the increased role of Stedman Bailey and the increased use of two and three tight end sets.
It’s not like he is complaining about the situation though. He knows that the team has been much more successful since there has been increased focus on running the ball. “I know my role has definitely been up and down a lot this year,” Pettis told Jim Thomas of STLToday.com. “But just like the coaches have harped on, I’m just making sure that I’m always ready whenever that time comes. I’ve tried to do that to the best of my ability this year.”
He did just that last week when he caught all four of his targets for 41 yards. Once the Rams got the lead after the first quarter, the run game took over and they were right back to the two and three tight end sets. He has done more than enough to prove that he is a reliable option on the outside in the next-man-up mentality for the Rams’ receivers.
With Tavon Austin being questionable today, the focus will go back to the run, but Pettis and Bailey will certainly see their usage remain steady.
On the Stedman Bailey side of things, he has earned his playing time through hard work on the practice field and benefited what seems to be a depth of chemistry for him and Clemens. Bailey has hauled in two or more catches in three games since week 12. The trust that Bradford had in Pettis has transferred to Bailey and Clemens. It appears that not only does Clemens trust Bailey to catch the ball, but so do HC Jeff Fisher and OC Brian Schottenheimer.
Bailey is much like Pettis in physical skills; he isn’t the fastest or biggest option out there, but he catches the ball with sure hands.
These two receivers are pitted against each other for playing time, and both provide the steady hands that St. Louis had been in need of all season. With the rest of the young receiving core struggling with drops early in the season, the Rams suffered disappointing losses in a pass-heavy attack. A lot of the offensive issues were forced onto Bradford because he was the QB, and we all know that the QB always takes the blame.
A Pettis/Bailey rotation gives them two receivers that will do everything they can to hold onto anything thrown their direction.
It is going to remain a battle for playing time between these two heading into next season. It might come down to training camp and preseason games to separate the two receivers. Neither is an explosive downfield receiver, but a lot can be said for just catching the ball in this offense.