I often remind myself of those words when life starts to become too complicated. When even the most mundane tasks become unnecessarily overwhelming. “Keep it simple, stupid.” It has even, at times, become a mantra. This brings me to an analogy, which may resonate personally with some of you, and intellectually with others.
I used to be quite a good golfer, when a relaxed personal schedule allowed more time for recreational pursuits. I am now a weekend warrior type, at best. The odd time I go to the driving range now, I still typically manage to hit the ball fairly well, not worrying too much about the “swing thoughts” drilled into me during the few golf lessons I have had. I mostly use that time to enjoy the weather and let the pressures of everyday life melt into the background. Those times provide a sharp contrast to the experience of playing 18 holes. For some reason, when I get on the course, everything changes. Those “swing thoughts” that escape my consciousness on the range surge to the forefront of my mind, and everything goes to hell. “Tuck your knee.” “Keep your elbow in.” “Sweep the grass on your backswing.” “Follow through.” My mind gets clouded with so much junk that I am rendered incapable of simply swinging the club. I get so frustrated after only a few holes that I forget that I am outside, with friends, supposedly enjoying myself. I try to “fix” my problems mid-round—change grip, shorten backswing, etc.—which seems only to exacerbate said maladies. I then run for the nearest beer cart, in an effort to drown my sorrows, and guess what… Voila! Problem solved. My mind is clear, my intent is renewed, my natural swing emerges, and fun ensues (I am not endorsing the practice of players drinking beer on the sidelines, mind you. Although, at this point, it couldn’t hurt, could it?). I forget about all the things I am doing wrong, and most importantly, remember to keep it simple, stupid.
My point is that the current Rams roster is full of NFL talent. The WRs still know, in theory, how to catch the ball. The O-Lineman still know, again in theory, how to block. There is, of course, the matter of being less talented, older, and slower, but that is not what is ailing the Rams right now. Right now, as I see it, what they lack, is remembering how to play football. They are forgetting what they love about playing football. They are forgetting the talent, in whatever capacity they possess, that got them to the NFL. The ripple effect of this dismal start is affecting their ability to play the game. The ripples are affecting every facet of this team. But the thing about ripples is, they work both ways. Run route, see ball, catch ball. Ball snapped, get out of stance, pummel guy in front of you. Ball hiked, drop back, read 1, read 2, read 3, nobody open, throw ball away. The “fix”, then, is not to work harder trying to jam a square plug into a round hole, but to round off that square peg, thereby removing some of the extraneous matter negatively affecting success, and ease it into place. Keep it simple, stupid.
Is this an overly simplistic assessment? Yes. But at this point, I believe it is the only thing that will get the ship righted. Will it translate to wins? Maybe, maybe not. But it will lead to better football. The coaching staff is obviously to blame—if not entirely, at least in large part—for this. Having Sam make line protection calls, for example, is obviously not working. Let Jason Brown earn his money and worry about that. Sam, I’m assuming, has enough swimming around in his head that the last thing he should be thinking about right now are protection calls. Simplify the offense and just let these guys play football. Spags talked about there being no problems with the schemes, rather the execution of said schemes. While I don’t know that I entirely agree with that assessment, it is true in the case of drops. Sam is hitting open guys and they are simply dropping the ball. Again, is that because they forgot how to catch? I don’t think so. I think it is because their minds are filled with so many “catch thoughts” and negativity that they are being rendered incapable of simply catching the ball. Did the O-Lineman forget what made them more successful last year? Again, I doubt it. What I see is a line being asked to do things they are simply not comfortable—or capable right now—doing with a QB that is being asked to wait longer for guys to try, and often times fail, to get open. Play to your strengths and work with what you have. Keep it simple, stupid.
Life is not fair, and we, as Rams fans, know that perhaps better than any other fans in the NFL universe. Losing Bartell, and now Fletcher, is catastrophic. Losing the top 3 CBs would be such for any team. But I don’t think the defense has been the biggest problem. I think the defense is being asked to keep this team in games, while the offense flounders, and again… the ripples. Could the FO have made better decisions in the draft and free agency? Absolutely. But again, that is not what is standing in the way of success for THIS team. The roster is, what the roster is. Hindsight is not going to solve this puzzle. If I could talk to one member of the Rams right now, who I think can get this team playing better football, it would be Josh McDaniels. Stressing defenses is all well and good, when you have the players to do it. 5 and 7 step drops and waiting for the receivers to get open works, when you have the players to do it. Having your QB make line protection calls works, when he is not also worried that said receivers won’t get open and that he is going to get blasted by opposing rushers. The ripples of small successes will breed growing confidence. Confidence breeds success. Right now, success must come incrementally. It must come in the form of allowing the players to be who they are, not what you wish they COULD, theoretically, be. It must come in the form of working with what you have, and not trying to force things for the sake of a particular system, or ego.
Anybody who has ever learned how to drive a stick shift knows, getting it into first gear is the hardest. There are so many moving parts that getting them all synchronized can be simultaneously challenging and frustrating. Every now and then you get that car into first gear, and into second, and life is good until… red light. Start over. Stall. But once you “get it”, really “get it”, moving into second, then third, and so on, is a breeze. This team has yet to really “get it”. They have shown glimpses of second and third gears, but overall, nothing is synchronized and it just looks sloppy. Stop trying to get OUTof first gear and focus on really understanding how to get INTO first gear. Once that happens, the rest will take care of itself. How to get this team into first gear? Pound the ball. Get the tempo up. Short routes. 3 step drops. Helmet-on-helmet blocking. Football 101. And most importantly… Keep it simple, stupid.