A House of Cards in a Windy Room - A Look at the St. Louis Rams: Part 4

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 2: James Laurinaitis #55 of the St. Louis Rams returns an interception against the Washington Redskins at the Edward Jones Dome on October 2, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Redskins beat the Rams 17-10. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

 

  We cheer them. We revile them. When they're injured, we feel their pain. When they score a touchdown, we crown them kings. For those that love the game of football, players and their teams become a part of a fan's very soul...

  These same players live in a world that can give them an emotional whiplash, and not just a physical beating every Sunday. They live completely in a "

What have you done for me lately?" environment that seems absolutely absurd to those low born few who don't enjoy America's #1 sport. To even make it to the NFL, a player battles long odds. How long? Well, a kid who plays high school football has a less than a one tenth of a percent (.008%) chance of making it to the NFL. Add in the tough social environment some players grew up in, and the fact they made it to the NFL borders on a miracle. To make it to the NFL, a player has to have been among the very best in college. They were treated like celebrities at their Alma maters. Then the NFL Draft comes along, answering the dreams of 224+ college players out of a pool of over 53,000 of their fellows (0.42%)

  The St. Louis Rams have players on their current team roster that were stars in college. All-Americans, All-Conference... The Rams have players with the pedigrees to succeed, but sometimes it just doesn't work out that way...

    ... So today we'll take a look at a few players and a couple of positions that stir both joy and emotional vitriol in Rams fans. The logical place to start is with a position that has come under a bit of heat of late. OK, maybe more than a little heat? That's right, we're going to take a gander at the Rams wide receivers and to get that stomach acid churning right out the gate, I threw together a little comparison chart. The stats are courtesy of NFL.com and ESPN.com...

 

                                     Wide Receiver Statistics

           Player

Games

  Receptions

 Yards  

 Average

TDs

Gibson

4

        13

  171

13.2

1

Walker

4 (3 GS)

        11

  139

12.6

0

Alexander

3

         8

  196

24.5

1

Curry

0

         0

    0

  0

0

Pettis

2

         6

    40

  6.7

0

Salas

2

         5

    48

  9.6

0

Amendola(IR)

1

         5

    45

  9.0

0

2011 Totals

***

       48

  639

13.3

2

Wes Welker

4

       40

  616

15.4

5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Kind of staggering isn't it? It makes me miss Danny Amendola even more than I did before compiling this data. It also has me wondering why Curry hasn't at least been given a shot to drop a pass? I mean fair is fair, right? Curry has played well on special teams thus far, so why not?

  I've made no secret of my opinion that I believe the Rams wide receiver coach, Nolan Cromwell, has some explaining to do. I truly believe a lack of fundamentals and technique are the core issues at wide out, especially with rookies Greg Salas and Austin Pettis. I realize that coaching can only take a player so far. The thing is, if it were just one or two receivers playing poorly, I could put it down to poor play and leave it at that... The problem with the Rams receiver core is that every one of them is playing like they were second string wide outs for Guam A&M, not great NCAA football schools. Whatever is happening with these obviously talented players, it has to change. When I picked Wes Welker to compare our SEVEN wide receivers too, I purposely didn't chose a proto-typical #1 WR because none of the Rams WRs are true #1s. 

  I also think that the season ending injury to Danny Amendola has had a much greater impact than I previously believed. I can see how, with McDaniel's new offense, an Amendola type player was so critical that the Rams devoted two draft choices to ensure against possible injury to the feisty wide out from Texas Tech. Insert your groan here Rams fans, because the players who were supposed to step up, stepped in something. 

  Coaching problems shouldn't affect a player like Mike Sims Walker. If anything, he should have stepped up and helped the less experienced players learn the game. MSW has not only failed in that, but on game day too. I did find it odd that Jacksonville fans weren't all that upset by his leaving the team? 

   Brandon Gibson is one of those guys you really want to succeed, but you just can't see how he can. He has decent #2 wide receiver skills that just won't fit the #1 WR mold no matter how hard he tries. Couple his position misfit with an offensive line not giving Sam Bradford enough time for routes to develop and you get a Gibson that is underachieving by default. If the Rams draft a true #1 WR in 2012, they may very well have the #2 WR already in house for a balanced receiver core.

   Sam Bradford is in some serious trouble. Physically talented, the University of Oklahoma star quarterback had an amazing rookie year in 2010. Many in the NFL world thought he was on the verge of stepping into the quarterback elite. Instead, his offensive line has offered him up like a human sacrifice. He's been absolutely pounded into the turf so far this year and is starting to show signs of trauma due to the 18 times he's been sacked this season. Sam isn't completely blameless though, and how he adjusts to his situation will be telling indeed.

   First, Bradford is in dire need of a full time quarterback coach. He also needs to have the same offensive coordinator for more than a single year. He went from having an offense tailored to a rookie quarterback last season, to an offense that would confuse Steven Hawking. Added to his current nightmare is the new responsibility of calling out protections, which is a skilled refined by experience that Bradford just doesn't have right now.

   The second year quarterback is also starting to show some flaws in his overall ability. One of those flaws has a possibly frightening portent. I went back and watched some footage of Sam throwing the ball last year. What I believe I saw, in comparison to his throwing motion this season, is that he's dropped his arm ever so slightly at the point of release. It makes for a "flat" or lower arc pass. This is solely my opinion OK? But I think he may be having shoulder joint issues that could very well be the result of the pounding he's taken. If I'm right, and I really, really hope I'm not, this can also explain his fumbling the ball. The shoulder actually affects hand grip strength.

  The amount of time Sam spends in the pocket is a broader issue with no clear course to solving the problem. The offensive line holds the majority of the blame for the sacks Sam has endured, but not all. Receivers not getting open is another reason, but failing to check down his receivers is all on Sam. He also seems to have a tendency to over focus on a situation or problem at the cost of new events unfolding around him, which is natural for any second year player. It will be Bradford's learning curve duration that will ultimately tell the tale as to whether Sam has what it take to step up to elite status.

  The offensive line is patch work gone a rye. I've mentioned the cause and effect of the Jason Smith draft pick in earlier parts of this article. His failure is nothing new in the NFL, and won't be the last high draft pick that fails to materialize. The biggest problem is the ripple effect it's having across the entire team. High draft picks are a precious commodity. If the Rams have to spend another first round pick on an offensive left tackle, it will have cost two firsts and a second round pick to fill the position. Rodger Safford showed promise last year, but he's just not the long term answer at left tackle. I honestly think Safford could be All-Pro at right tackle.

  Right now, I see two offensive linemen that deserve their positions at the moment: Jason Brown and Harvey Dahl. Safford is serviceable at left tackle, but he's no match for the great right defensive ends he's faced this season. Smith has already been dragged in the dirt enough, and Bell is playing like a guy just collecting a paycheck. Adam Goldberg is depth and pretty shallow depth at that, so the Rams are looking at committing major portions of financial and draft assets very soon. 

   The Rams defense has definite issues against the run. I place a great deal of this problem on the outside linebackers failing to maintain seal and contribute inside the tackles. Brady Poppinga is a down hill player. He lacks lateral movement, and often bites hard on miss direction. He also is a marked man by opposing offensive coordinators for passes to running backs in the flat. Ben Leber has done well enough, especially in pass protection. He just adds little to the improvement equation. James Lauriniatis makes them both look like also-rans. JL55 is the lion king of the Rams defense. 

  Defensive tackles are an area that I'd thought had been improved with the addition of Justin Bannan. He and Fred Robbins are getting game planned every week to great result by opposing teams. James Hall is one of those players I wish could be five years younger. He's not, but don't ever think this guy doesn't give every last bit of himself on every play. Chris Long is a star waiting for a cast of characters to join him. Robert Quinn could very well be great if someone can teach him to stay on his feet.

  The worst part of the Rams defense is going to get a pass from me. I can't ever remember an NFL team having so many players go down to injury at a single position. Starting with training camp to today, SEVEN corner backs have been injured to varying degree. My only comment will be about Justin King, and that is why couldn't he have been one of the SEVEN. Quintin Mikell has proven an excellent free agent acquisition. Craig Dahl and Darian Stewart are suffering from dual duty; splitting responsibilities to help out the remaining dismal corner backs.

  So there you have it. My somewhat dubious observation about the Rams as a whole. If you take away from this and the preceding three articles that I'm being a fair weather fan, you'd be oh so very wrong. What I tried to say and convey, hopefully matches what many may already be thinking. Each in their own way, to be sure, but meant in a heartfelt way for a team we all love and want the best for at all times. Can my, or anyone's grousing make a difference? I'm leaning toward NO. But putting voice to observations helps me, and others, express thoughts, hopes and dreams. So Stan, Billy, Steve and the many Rams players, grow a pair and stop by to say hello to fans that will always cheer you on. Even now...

  Tomorrow, I have a special guest that will join the clamor that has been "the House of Cards" series in Part 5. I'm also working on an interview for next week with an amazing author friend whose going to stop by TST for some general football chat. Until then...

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