One big factor in the improvement shown by the St. Louis Rams defense was experience. For the most part, that was the same group of players on the field this year as last year.
Look at the pass rush. This year, defensive coordinator Ken Flajole and head coach Steve Spagnuolo used much more variety up front, different looks and play calls that mixed up offenses and allowed the Rams to take advantage. Also helping the pass rush and the rest of the defense was second year middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Captaining the defense, he would moves things around on the line, adjust the calls and assignments to further complicate things for opponents. The Rams defense wasn't perfect, but it's hard to argue that they weren't successful, especially compared to the year before and playing with a couple of exposed weaknesses.
Bland was the rule for the offense. Short passes and runs up the middle dominated the play calling, making Pat Shurmur's unit the tasteless white bread to the defense's multi-grain loaf. It's unlikely we'll see the same Rams offense in 2011. Rodger Saffold's quote about Pat Shurmur in the Cleveland paper today reveals a great deal about the approach the coaching staff is taking at Rams Park. Here's what the rookie LT had to say:
He takes you back to the simple game so you can understand completely the schemes before you start getting technical. That's something you really need.
Sound familiar? It should because that's exactly what we've heard relative to the Rams defense this season. With a rookie QB, a young group of receivers and a lack of experience on the edges of the offensive line, the Rams dictated a simple game plan. Was that the right thing to do? Answer any way you like, but that's the approach of head coach Steve Spagnuolo. It worked well for the defense, and hopefully, with a little help from the draft and free agency to add some playmaking talent, it will work for the offense next year.
Obviously, Pat Shurmur sticking around would ensure as much continuity as possible, but a like minded offensive coordinator could just as easily start feeding his players the more exciting later chapters of the old Andy Reid playbook.