Can the St. Louis Rams’ running game help elevate the rest of the offense?

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The St. Louis Rams’ offense hasn’t been the strong suit of the team since the days of “The Greatest Show on Turf”—and that is putting it lightly. Steven Jackson’s streak of eight consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons could not make up for the lackluster passing attack. Moreover, even when Jackson was performing at his best, the team struggled to get the ball into the end zone.

This coming season, however, could sing a new song for the Rams offense, especially the rushing attack.

In a recent interview with Jeff Fisher, the head coach pointed out that Zac Stacy is capable of bench pressing 500 pounds, which is a massive amount even for an offensive lineman. (You’ll recall that Rodger Saffold was pretty pleased with himself for putting up 440 earlier this year.) Those unfamiliar with the second-year running back out of Vanderbilt might want to take notice. At 5’9 and 215 pounds, Stacy carried the Rams offense from the downward spiral of horrendousness, to mediocrity. Once Stacy starting toting the ball at almost 18 times a game, the Rams offense started to gel thanks to Stacy’s hard-nosed running.

The Rams’ offense hinged almost entirely up the success of Zac Stacy since he became the starter in week five. When Stacy had good production, quarterback completion percentage took a turn for the better. Conversely, if Stacy struggled, so did the rest of the Ram offense.

In Week 5 the Rams played the Jacksonville Jaguars in which Zac Stacy carried the ball 14 times for 78 yards and no touchdowns. While the numbers don’t exactly scream out all-pro production, his average yard per carry equals out to be an impressive 5.57. Knowing that a running back is good for five yards a carry takes a lot of weight off the shoulders of offensive coordinators and quarterbacks alike. Sam Bradford’s game improved with the help of Stacy, as Bradford threw three touchdowns and no interceptions. Overall, the Ram offense was efficient enough to get the win.

In each of Stacy’s four 100 yard games, the Rams lost by no more than six points and won by 11 points or better. Though Stacy’s production is not entirely indicative of the Rams ultimate winning or losing, to say that, in this specific instance, correlation does not equal causation would be an injustice to Zac Stacy.

In only 12 games as a starter, and 13 games with yardage, Stacy was able to accumulate 1114 total yards from scrimmage— 973 rushing and 141 receiving. Assuming that Zac Stacy can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump, it would be easy to project Stacy at 1000 yards or more rushing in the upcoming season. However, all things are not equal when comparing the 2014 season to last season and it might be a safer bet to put Stacy around 1,200 yards rushing.

Last season, the change of pace running back for Zac Stacy was Benny Cunningham. Cunningham tallied up 47 carries for 261 yards—good numbers for a backup. This season, the Rams will enjoy the talents of Auburn star, Tre Mason. Brian Schottenheimer has openly stated that no one is guaranteed the starting running back position, but barring injury, the one-two punch will be Stacy and Mason.

The benefits of Mason are, like all rookies, entirely speculation. However, if Mason is capable of doing what Zac Stacy did in his rookie season, the Rams rushing attack could be deadly. Mason will provide fresh legs anytime Stacy needs to come off of the field, which will in turn allow Stacy to have more energy throughout the entirety of games. If Stacy doesn’t get tired, he can be more productive, and when Stacy is productive, the Rams offense is more likely to succeed.

Mason is an unproven commodity, but speculating from his collegiate career, it seems that Mason will provide a bit more explosiveness than the hard-nosed runner of Zac Stacy. While Mason isn’t known to run away from tacklers, he is known for being more elusive and having breakaway speed—nearly the opposite of Stacy, who runs over his own lineman when they get in his way.

The Rams’ offense will need to score far more points to be a contender in the NFC West and to have any shot at the playoffs. The driving force of those points will come from the legs of Stacy. When Stacy is able to get behind the revamped offensive line and force opposing defenses to continuously put eight defenders in the box, the passing game will open up for Sam Bradford and company. If the running game can’t get going, then the passing game will likely continue to be pedestrian, causing another year in the cellar of the NFC West for Rams fans.

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