This past week, Pekka for Predator Pontiff and I have been talking about what should best be done about this Spagnuolo situation. As you've no doubt seen, Pekka isn't sold on the idea of canning him. While I've slowly been regaining faith, I'm taking the other side (the more popular one, which is "FIRE SPAGS NOW!11!).
Who is right? Who is wrong? You decide. The first set of questions I asked him (Part One), with his answers and my rebuttals. The second set (Part Two) is the other way around, and will be up on the site tomorrow. Other than that, it's a no holds barred slug fest. Hit the jump and check it out!
Does Spagnuolo deserve blame for the offensive problems?
Pekka for Pontiff:
Like most here, I believe that Spags does deserve some of the blame for the offense. I believe that early in the season the play calling was aggressive and the Rams were really trying to win and make things happen on offense.
However, I also believe that he's been dealt a 2-7 off suit with the injuries, the lack of quality receivers (because of their youth, which was somewhat offset late in the year by Lloyd's addition) and the lack of a running game that has any kind of diversity. However, we also have to remember that offense is not Spags' specialty. I'm sure Spags is working on his offensive repertoire; however, he's a new head coach whose expertise is on defense. Thus, I would blame what has happened this year more on McD than Spags.
On the other hand, the injuries have been the single most pervasive factor that has hampered the offense. Not one of our OL is at the position where they started the season and only 2 current OL starters were starting at the beginning of the season. Poor Sam has been bushwhacked by our OL's shoddy play and the play calling has actually become worse in recent weeks. We have completely gone away from our quite successful no huddle offense to bland play calling that couldn't possibly win football games.
What's this mean? To me, it might mean that since we are so bad on offense, we have to move to the least common denominator for play calling just so the guys can learn the offense, and this may be the reason why our redzone play calling has been so questionable. On the other hand, it may be because the coaching staff knows they're going to be given another year and so they're implementing the offense in a manner that they would be if it were the preseason; all is lost, so why not make the remained of the season a training opportunity? The latter is not a popular response, and I'm not arguing that we SHOULD be taking that approach, but it certainly looks and quacks like a duck. Poor drafting has also hurt our offense, which is outlined in the next question
I'd have to agree with Pekka here, to a point. There isn't any doubt that the offense is led by McDaniels. Spagnuolo may be a head coach, but an offensive mind he is not.
Of course, it comes down to whether or not you have the team prepared to play. Is the offense ready? Yes, you can blame the injuries, the constant shuffling of the offensive line or any of the numerous problems the Rams have had. But at some point, you need to see something. The Rams simply don't have anything going for them on offense.
As a head coach, defensive or offensive, there comes a point when you have to put your foot down and say enough is enough. That point came and passed about two months ago, but we never saw a peep out of Spagnuolo except for his ho-hum-everything-is-dandy press conferences. If the team wants to be successful, it's ultimately the head coaches responsibility to keep the team on course. It's Spags job to yell at McDaniels and tell him to switch it up. It hasn't happened.
What changes need to be made for the Rams to be successful?
Pekka for Pontiff:
In my opinion, there are a couple of major changes that need to be implemented. The first is the firing of Billy Devaney. As has been described ad nauseum around here, the past failures of the draft are costing the Rams good young players at this point in time. A large number of people around here are quick to blame Spags, but when one looks closer, the evidence does not support Spags as the cause for our drafting woes. Going back to the 2008 draft, when Billy took over, look at what our draft picks were:
1. Chris Long (Rd1): Stud, great pick.
2. Donnie Avery (Rd2): I don't believe he's in the NFL...if he is, then he's a non factor.
3. John Greco (Rd3): Gone, nothing special by any means.
5. Keenan Burton (Rd4): No longer with the team.
6. Roy Schuening (Rd5): Whodat?
7. Chris Chamberlain (Rd7): Special teams contributor. Good player for a 7th round pick and has played admirably this year in a role he shouldn't be in. But an upgrade could be found quite easily.
8. David Vobora (Rd7): Again, a good special teams guy.
So, in a year that we were picking 2nd overall, we ended up 4 years later with one stud and one special teamer/ below average OLB. That is what Billy Devaney did. Thus, Billy has a track record of drafting flops.
The next year (2009), the first year when Spags was there, the draft was quite a bit better, and it is already clear that we got some really good players, including JL55, Fletch and Darell Scott, who's not great, but an adequate backup / rotation player. I give the management a pass on Jason Smith because of his injuries, which cannot be predicted (they have derailed his short career more than anything) and secondly he was the consensus #1 LT in the draft that year. He didn't have a history of injury in college, and NOBODY saw this coming. Who were the guys that are gone? Brooks Foster (WR), Keith Null (QB) and Chris Whosyermamma (RB). Our 5-7 round guys suck, but note that they're all offensive players. In fact, to all you haters out there who think Jason Smith shouldn't have been taken #2, he is also obviously an offensive player. Thus, Spags hit on all his defensive players, and BillyD/Shurmur/whoever missed on all the offensive guys. Every damned one of them.
How about the next year? In 2010 King Sam was the consensus #1 pick and I love that pick and always will, no matter how he turns out. Next was Saffold and he was also a very good pick in my opinion. Time will tell what he becomes, but for now he's a very good NFL OT. Spags was high on our 3rd rounder, Jeromy Murphy, so I'm expecting that to be a good pick... at least he's gonna make the team next year. Now it gets interesting: Our 4th rounder was Mardy Gilyard. He's gone. 5th was Michael Uh-Oh. He's had injuries too, but even when he has played he has been largely unproductive. Our second 5th rounder was Hall Davis (DE). He's gone. Our 6th rounder was Fendi, a complete waste. Next was Eugene Sims (DE), followed by Marquis Johnson (CB). They're both still with the team. Goerge Selvie (gone after making it his rookie year) is gone and Josh Hull is our backup MLB. Thus we lost 4th, 5th and 6th round offensive players. At the same time, we lost 5th and 7th round defensive players, but also hit on two 6th round guys and one 7th rounder. Also I believe that Stewart was an UDFA from this class, and he appears to be a complete steal.
I believe that it's impossible to judge this year's draft class, but we obviously hit on Quinn and Salas, probably hit on Pettis, and (hopefully) may have hit on Kendricks. Hines (5th), Baker, Nelson and Jabara (all 7th rounders) did not make the team. Recall that after the 2011 draft Billy Devaney described the late round players as "all the same" and that no player was better than another. That's why he went away from anybody's draft board and took the guys he did in the 7th round. Also remember he took Hines, "because he's from Ohio State, and we have to get somebody from OSU every year." Sound reasoning from the GM to be sure.
So I would say that draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, where Spags is undoubtedly an expert, have actually been pretty damn good. On the other hand, our ability to draft offensive talent has been terrible, and I would suggest that this would be Billy's turf, and thus, his fault for our lack of success in the draft.
The next change I feel that needs to be implemented is a complete focus on the offensive side of the ball. I believe that our defense is pretty good right now. Do we need a DT? Of course. Do we need at least one OLB? Absolutely. But for the most part, I believe the defense is good, young, and getting better every year. And that's WITH the decimated secondary. The same cannot be said of the offense. In addition to the previously described poor drafting by Billy Devaney, we went out and got two pro-bowl caliber offensive linemen in Brown and Bell. They suck for us and apparently aren't the caliber players we thought they were. While Smith has potential, his noodle problems make him unreliable, and thus we oughta cut ties with him if possible to recoup some of that cash. Saffold is solid and I haven't noticed Wragge being bad, so we can keep him. The same goes for Dahl (at OG, not RT). But to sum things up, we need to focus this year's draft on the OL, as well as perhaps sign an interior OL. Kalil would look good in blue and gold. But OL has to be our #1 priority in the draft. Sam has looked terrible this year, in part, because he's getting killed. In addition, we need to add play makers. While SJ is a stud running between the tackles, he is not a big play guy. He's a pack mule, not a thoroughbred. We need a guy like LaMichael James who can make big plays every time he touches the ball. Giving Sam that option would help a lot.
McD has got to be given a chance to implement his offense appropriately. The Rams did a trial by fire this year, with limited interaction time between the coaches and offensive players. That didn't bode well for success and that's a big reason why we couldn't score early in the year. The injuries to the WR's and the OL as the season progressed has further hurt our anemic offense. Next year, I envision Sam throwing to Lloyd, DX, Salas and Amendola, where the former two are our big play guys and the latter are reliable safety valve slot receivers. We could stand to add somebody like VJax too. Give Sam a shot to be great. I believe that will be a very good set of receivers who are far more experienced than the receiving corps we have been saddled with this year. To paraphrase, a second year in McD's system and growth of the young WR's will lead to a better offense next year (not including the OL improvement).
The final implementation is PATIENCE!!! When Spags took over less than three years ago, we were an expansion team. Completely void of talent, with the exception of Steven Jackson. Less than three years later, we have some outstanding building blocks for the future. All of hating on Chris Long as a bust? Well now y'all are whistlin' Dixie for him. Like Long as, our core is young, and they will continue to get better year after year. We have to wait it out and give them time to develop. Most of you are expecting for our 2nd and 3rd year guys to be big time play makers and that's just not realistic. JL55 makes big plays here and there, but he's not nearly as good as he's gonna be in the next 2-3 years. It hurts me to watch the Rams suck, but when our guys come back healthy and with a year of experience under their belts, it WILL pay off in spades.
There is no doubt that some of the drafts have been questionable. However, one of the things I'd like to point out right off the bat is that out of the 10 guys the Rams brought in on defense this past offseason (draft and FA) only one has made a big impact, and that is Quintin Mikell. In fact, few are even left on the team. Where is the defensive drafting prowess in that?
Another problem I have with the drafting is that the Rams have had glaring holes for YEARS. Ever since Spagnuolo joined the club, they've needed help on defense. They never once have gone for an impact OLB, even after three years of drafts and FA's. I hardly count Justin Bannan as the powerful DT the Rams so desperately need. The Rams defense has improved, but barely. Three years is an eternity in the NFL. How difficult is it to add one or two players to positions that so desperately need help over a three year period. The defense has some bright spots, but they also still have glaring holes.
As far as the offense goes, McD doesn't even deserve a second year. He's refused to change his game plan to fit the Rams, who obviously do not have the personnel to run his offense. The problem is that the offense continues to lays his giant goose eggs because of his inability to work out something that fits the team. If the Rams still have holes on defense, and need longer than three years to develop players, what makes anyone believe McDaniels can whip this team up into shape in a span of months?
Has Spagnuolo been able to improve the talent of this team, and has he been able to train the players already on the roster?
Pekka for Pontiff:
This question has two parts and I'll start with the latter portion first. First though, Spags had to gut most of the team after he took over because of how bad we were at virtually every position. Of those he kept, I think he has gotten the most out of them. The best example is Chris Long. Haters called him a bust at the outset of this season. But now he's considered one of the best young DE's in the game and is 5th in the NFL in sacks. That's all Spags' doing. Steven Jackson has an A+ work ethic and so Spags didn't have to do anything with him. I thought OJ Atogwe played well last year, suggesting that Spags had a significant positive impact on him (at least he did no hinder OJ's play). And off the top of my head, that's about all the guys who Spags inherited who are still playing. So, yes, he has been able to train the guys already on the roster.
And has Spags improved the talent of this team? Absolutely! Long, Quinn, Laurinaitis, Mikell, Stewart, Fletch and Bartell. Our defense is one of the up and coming defenses in the NFL. Hell, Spags even has two 7th rounders playing OLB for us and I don't look at them as being major problems (of course they can be upgraded, but they're not THAT bad). Unfortunately, the defense has been left out to dry by the offense way too many times this year. I've outlined the problems of the O-line and WR's already, but a large part of the problem stems from the fact that our most talented offensive players have been injured this year. Sam, Lloyd, DX, Salas, Pettis, Amendola, Dahl, Saffold and Smith (who is NOT a bust yet because of injuries, IMO, do not constitute a bust), are all players that point to a bright (lighted may be more like it) future for the offense. Unfortunately, 7 of those 9 guys have been injured / just acquired and so they have not been given the opportunity to gel as a unit. Oh, and they're young and inexperienced and will get better with time. To paraphrase, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that we are a much more talented team since Spags has taken the helm, especially on defense.
Has Spags improved talent? Yes. There isn't anyone who wouldn't say the 2011 Rams are better than the 09' variant. I've already touched on the fact that he still hasn't filled gaping holes that have been around since he came to town. But what of the talent that was left at the wayside? Look at Larry Grant, or Laurent Robinson. It's Spagnuolo's job as HC to work with the team and his assistants to eek out all the talent he can. Neither of those players reached their potential with the Rams. Don't even get me started on Darell Scott, who only shows up for a paycheck. It doesn't matter if the team is more talented, but how much more talented they are, as the coaching staff clearly has not been able to get the most talent out of the team.
Another issue that I have with Spagnuolo is that he's gotten away from his vision. The Rams handed out one year deals like candy at a candy store this past offseason, and it's gotten the team nowhere. The only transformation was the one where they turned a young roster into an old, bloated roster. The Rams aren't a young team and because of that, the idea that they just need some more practice doesn't really apply anymore.
Does Spagnuolo prepare the team on game day?
Pekka for Pontiff:
Yes- the team plays hard for Spags on game day. Has he made some bonehead clock management plays since he's been here? Yes. But he's a young, talented, inexperienced head coach who is going to have his own ups and downs. But one thing that I like best about Spags is that his defensive prowess in my opinion is all that was advertised. Unfortunately, he has been snake-bit this year with injuries that have been insurmountable. Nobody could coach this Rams team to victories this year. NoDAMNbody. We all tasted success last year with a relatively healthy team and we wanted more of it this year. But the OC moved on and we brought in a new OC and it just flat out didn't work very well, especially considering the youth and/or lack of talent by the guys on offense. Should we have had a QB coach? Maybe, but I definitely wouldn't take Rex Grossman or Van Bibber's word for it. Fact is, the management around here has been on a witch-hunt this year and the witch is Spags. Further disturbing is the lack of conscience to present the data objectively.
In closing, I have no idea what's gonna happen to Spags. A new owner could mean a new GM and a new coach just because that's what happens with regime changes. I on the other hand, would just get rid of Billy Devaney. Although a new coach could work because Spags has put pieces into place to make the franchise successful. On the other hand, if a new coach and GM are hired, it could cast us back into the middle ages where we were when Spags started.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Spags clearly has the defense ready. But the team? Not so much. Inconsistency has plagued the Rams since he arrived, and nothing is different now. In fact, the motto, "nothing is different" is so prevalent that I'd assume it's the Rams slogan:
Nothing is different after half-time
Nothing is different in the win-loss column
Nothing is different when it comes to filling gaping holes on the team.
Nothing is different when it comes to the offense seemingly giving up before the game starts.
Injuries are one thing, but they have nothing to do with the amount of missed tackles, blown opportunities, dropped balls, or crappy play that we've witnessed throughout the entire year.
As a head coach, it's Spags job to get the entire team ready. If he wants to wear his coordinator pants, that's fine, but be a coordinator. You can't have your cake and eat it too, Steve.