The St. Louis Rams may finally have found the right offensive coordinator to utilize dynamic offensive threat Tavon Austin in all the right ways.
First-year Rams offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti continues to get Austin lots of work and it paid off with a pair of touchdowns Sunday in the Rams’ 27-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Austin turned a simple screen pass into a 66-yard touchdown with 8:34 remaining in the game and scored on a 2-yard TD run just before halftime.
On both plays, his blazing speed made the difference.
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Is he faster than Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley, who had a 71-yard touchdown run Sunday?
“I’m 225. I can’t beat a guy that’s 180,” Gurley said with a laugh.
“Man, I’ll probably go with ‘Tav’ by a hair,” Rams quarterback Nick Foles said. “But, man, Todd can roll. Those guys are dynamite.”
Austin’s ability to make people miss has the Rams lining him up everywhere from slot receiver to running back. He has run off-tackle and off of reverses, catches screen passes or can beat defenders deep.
Austin leads the Rams with seven touchdowns and is the team’s top scorer with 42 points, one more than kicker Greg Zuelein.
Austin is the Rams’ top receiver wit 24 catches for 285 yards and is the second-leading rusher behind Gurley with 141 yards on 17 carries. He’s also a dangerous threat as a return man.
On the screen pass, there were several 49ers in the vicinity when Austin made the catch, but he quickly left everyone behind.
“It was a screen play, Kenny (Britt) made an awesome block and the O-linemen were down the field blocking with me, too,” said Austin, who had four catches for 98 yards. “I just used my speed and was able to run down and get a touchdown.”
Austin and Gurley give the Rams a formidable combination, two weapons that must be accounted for in the defensive game-planning.
“You have the reverse threat and then you have the quick screen, and we scored on that threat,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “It’s a simple read for Nick (Foles). If the box is loaded, go outside to Tavon and if they’re sitting outside and you’re worried about that, then we hand it off.
“So yes, it’s a good problem from an opposing defensive standpoint.”
Austin likes the way he and Gurley complement each other - and the way Gurley helps the passing game.
“Just because of how the linebacker’s have got to play,” he said. “They just can’t drop back,they’ve got to respect the running and that’s what he’s doing.
“He does all the inside work and I try to get around the ends ... Tre (Mason) had some good runs today, too. We’ll work as a unit and keep it going.”
Brockers overpowers blockers
When the Rams tackled 49ers running back Mike Davis in the end zone for a safety in the first quarter, defensive tackle Michael Brockers was like a human bulldozer. He moved everyone out of his way and hauled down Davis along with linebacker James Laurinaitis.
It started with a punt by John Hekker that pinned the 49ers in the shadow of their goal line.
“Johnny can really flip field position. You can get teams stuck back there and when you do, you have to capitalize,” said Laurinaitis, who credited defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for being aggressive and sending everyone. “Really, Michael just dominated the center. When your nose tackle throws the center back three or four yards and you’re unblocked, it’s easy to run in there and don’t miss the layup.”
The Rams had three more sacks Sunday, giving them a league-high 18 in four home games and 236 overall.
The defense also has allowed opponents to score only five touchdowns on 16 trips in the red zone (inside the 20-yard line). That has resulted in those teams kicking 11 field goals, the highest defensive success rate in the league.
“This defense works hard,” Brockers said. “We always look to dominate because of the way we practice and we prepare. It’s not a shock to us that we’re putting up the numbers that we’re putting up, because we work for it and we work hard.
“ Definitely for right now, we’re on the right path. We just have to clean some things up.”
Rams rookie receiver Bradley Marquez caught his first NFL pass ,a five-yarder in the first half. Before Sunday he had done the bulk of his work on special teams.
49ers injury woes
The 49ers (2-6) already were in deep injury trouble before the game began, playing without running back Carlos Hyde, receiver Anquan Boldin and safety Antoine Bethea. During Sunday’s game they also lost running back Reggie Bush to a knee injury on a punt return, running back Mike Davis (hand), safety L.J. McCrary (knee), tight end Garrett Celek (concussion) and even punter Bradley Pinion (calf).