Rob Boras takes reins of St. Louis Rams offense

By Howard Balzer, The Sports Xchange  |  Dec. 10, 2015 at 1:00 AM
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- We won't learn much until Sunday, but the question on everyone's mind is how different the St. Louis Rams' offense will be against the Detroit Lions with Rob Boras as the new play-caller.

Boras was named to the job Monday when offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti was fired, and it appears his biggest task will be finding ways to get more production from running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Tavon Austin. At least get the ball in their hands more.

The running game has been stagnant since Gurley burst on the scene in his first four starts. In the last five games the production has evaporated and with it little chance for offensive continuity.

When asked Monday what he hopes will be different with Boras, head coach Jeff Fisher said, "What I'm anticipating is it's play selection, it's calls, it's adjustments and things like that. It's commitment to it as far as the play-calling is concerned. Expanding on some things that we need to do and then hopefully pushing things down the field as a result of it, because that's what we haven't been able to do."

In Sunday's loss to the Cardinals, the Rams had just 50 offensive plays, 20 of which were incompletions. However, Gurley and Austin combined for only 12 touches.

Gurley had nine rushes for 41 yards with a long of 34 and Austin had two runs for 14 yards. In the passing game, Gurley was never targeted, while Austin was targeted just three times, catching one for 24 yards.

For the season, Gurley and Austin have accounted for 46.8 percent of the team's yards and Gurley didn't play until the third game of the season when he had just six rushing attempts.

By contrast, tight end Jared Cook was targeted nine times Sunday, catching only three for 22 yards, while wide receivers Kenny Britt and Brian Quick each had six targets, but Britt caught just two for 41 yards and Quick one for 14.

On third down, Austin was rarely the target and when he was it was on third-and-long. On 11 third-down pass attempts, of which just one was completed, to wide receiver Wes Welker for a first down, Austin was targeted just twice: on third-and-9 and third-and-10. On five third-down plays of four yards or less that failed, Quick was targeted twice and Welker, Britt and Cook once.

As Fisher also said, "We've got good players. We've got to use them."

And that begins with Gurley and Austin.

Boras said no one should expect major differences. "I don't know how much you can change," he said. "Obviously, it's a different philosophy. We have different thoughts, but at the end of the day, we're pretty far down the road right now. There's not going to be a whole lot that's going to change.

"You hope to become more efficient. We've got to try to put guys in the best position they can to make plays, but it can't be a huge change. Guys can't handle that right now. We're too far entrenched with our system to think there's going to be wholesale changes."

As for issues on third down, Boras said Wednesday, "We started on it last night. We're going to work on third down tonight as a staff and introduce it tomorrow. I'd be lying to say I had all the answers right now. I'm kind of holding on, just trying to figure out first and second down right now. We understand the inefficiencies we've had on third down and obviously, we need to improve on that. The way that happens, if that happens I should say, obviously, Todd has the ability and everybody on offense and they all know that, if we convert third downs, everybody has more opportunities to get touches. So, that's going to be a big focus going forward tonight and tomorrow when we put it in."

On third down, the Rams have converted a league-low 24.5 percent iof their opportunities. Since the NFL made the statistic official in 1972, only three teams have had a worse third-down percentage of the season: Tampa Bay with 24.4 in 1976 and Dallas and San Francisco with 24.0 in 2002 and 2005, respectively.

SERIES HISTORY: 83rd regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 42-39-1. Since the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, the teams have played just seven times and only once in St. Louis. That game, in 2006, was won by the Rams, 41-34. The Lions won the other six games in Detroit, including the most recent ones in 2010 and 2012.

GAME PLAN

--Rob Boras is the new offensive coordinator, but the plan won't change significantly. There will still be the effort to run the ball and get the ball in the hands as much as possible of RB Todd Gurley and WR Tavon Austin. Case Keenum will be the starting quarterback, and the hope he will be more efficient than Nick Foles.

--Defensively, it will be a challenge to slow down the Lions' passing game with a battered secondary. CB Trumaine Johnson is trying to come back from a thigh injury and CB Janoris Jenkins is in the concussion protocol. The only other cornerbacks on the roster are Marcus Roberson and Lamarcus Joyner. Sunday against Arizona, with both Johnson and Jenkins out, FS Rodney McLeod was forced into man coverage on WR John Brown and gave up a 68-yard play. Even with a healthy Johnson and Jenkins, it would be tough to contain WRs Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Rams LT Greg Robinson vs. Lions DRE Ezekiel Ansah.

Robinson has struggled at various times this season, and has been called for eight holding penalties. The offense will likely have to give him help against Ansah, who is second in the NFL with 12.5 sacks, just one behind Houston's J.J. Watt.

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