Caveat: If you are already convinced that we should fire Steve Spagnuolo at the end of the season, please save yourself a LOT of time by refraining from reading this lengthy post. Wait, don't do that. It might actually have some comedic reading value for someone to take up this difficult stance and try to reasonably defend it.
Where to Begin?
We all have a personal stake in our team. Cursed by my geographical position, which force feeds Packer/Cowboy games to my television, I invest in my team through the annual Sunday Ticket Purchase of over 200 dollars and the common trip to San Diego, Oakland, or San Fransisco (yuck) to watch my team play. It's pricey for a College kid on a minimum wage part-time job, and that's before factoring in the time spent watching the games and buying jerseys/clothing branded with the navy blue and gold.
I stomach these L's through my wallet and my emotions. It hit a new low a couple of Sundays ago, as Pete's Seahawks ripped our O-Line a new one and we wasted another valiant effort by our defense. It really, really hurts to watch these guys continue to play at this level. Watching my Trojans win a big one against an Oregon team on National TV the night prior and then witnessing another debacle by my Rams against another hated Northwest team on Sunday was like eating a delicious donut and having to down it with 10-day rotten milk. As you can see from this terrible attempt at an analogy, we're all running out of ways to describe just how bad this team has been this year.
So how the hell can I still be on the (nearly deserted) Spagwagon at this point? I make the case for his job safety, among other thoughts, after the jump.
Not an excuse, but a damn good reason.
I’ll start with the obvious defense of Spags, the injuries. I’ve heard it. I know it’ll still sound like an excuse no matter how I frame it, but it has to be discussed. I mean, WTF? Some of you may not be surprised when a Ram player goes down on Sunday anymore, but I still grasp my hair and wonder what exactly we fans (and the coaching staff) did to deserve this unprecedented string of misery.
Bookend Tackles? Check.
Jason Smith carted off.
Top 4, and total of 10 (seriously?!) Corners? Check (more on this in a bit).
Most trusted Safety Valve for Sophomore Franchise QB? Check.
Substantial Temporary Loss of Best Player (about 3 games) and Franchise QB (3 games as of tomorrow)? Check.
Pepper in some linebackers, Tight Ends, an emerging Strong Safety, and receivers and you’ve got an unholy mess of epic proportions.
The defense is as follows:
You cannot properly or adequately evaluate Steve Spagnuolo’s performance as a head coach this season.
Much like insanity defenses in the criminal justice system, which count as valuable defenses in particular situations, I argue that too many things out of Spagnuolo’s control have occurred this season to merit complete blame on him and his staff for this mess.
Like Losing Peyton Manning:
Hear me out on this one, because I know it sounds absurd at first glance. The strength of this team last season was the defense, a year where Spagnuolo’s pedigree began to excel by finishing 7th in Sacks and 4th in Fumbles forced. It was supposed to be even stronger this season. In a blitz-heavy defense focused on killing the QB however, your cornerbacks become absolutely crucial. As such, I argue that quality press corners are as important to this defense as Peyton Manning is to his offense.
As a collective unit however, Spags had the set of corners he needed to run the defense he has proven to be effective not just last year, but in New York when they upset the Josh McDaniel’s-led Patriots’ offense. As a collective unit, these corners are critical, and you simply cannot argue that replacing Ron Bartell, BradleyFletcherBradley, Jerome Murphy, and the surprising Al Harris with the likes of Justin King and Josh Gordy doesn’t change/alter the quality(or possible quality) of your defense. Strategically, you simply have to give those corners more zone help. When you’ve been teaching for two years how to build a blitz-heavy D where you rely on corners to stick receivers at the line for just enough time, it simply isn’t plausible to expect the same quality defense that carried the team last year while the coaching staff has been handicapped this way and forced to protect corners who just can’t handle it.
Make no mistake: these were the most debilitating injuries of the season.
Sigh...What could have been.
Reasons to stay, key developments:
If you’re going to rip the guy for every bonehead decision he makes (kicking to Patrick Peterson, although we were told he instructed Donnie Jones to punt away from him), you’ve got to praise him for every positive development. The ones to hang your hat on (since they are the likeliest he had the most influence on) are the development of key defensive players Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, and Robert Quinn.
Long’s 10 sack total ranks 6th in sacks this season and 4th among defensive ends.
Quinn’s 5 sack total ranks 5th among rookies in sacks and is tied for 1st among rookie defensive ends.
Laurinaitis is tied for 2nd in the League in Interceptions among linebackers and 3rd in Passes Defensed. Despite playing behind aging defensive tackles, he ranks 6th in solo tackles. More importantly, he continues to develop as a leader of this defense going forward and seems to be mastering the intricacies of the defense more and more every game.
In addition, 2nd year man Darian Stewart (who may also be gone for an extended amount of time), has posted a nice season through 9 starts with 49 solo tackles, 2 sacks (3rd among Safeties), 1 interception, 1 fumble forced, and 10 passes defensed (6th among Safeties).
Sure, you could argue that these players have simply been good picks and that their development isn’t so much Spags as it is them, but the fact that these players are here in large part because of him. As Van pointed out, Spags has had a large imprint and influence on draft picks. More importantly however, these players have begun to excel in his scheme. I know it is only a few players, but their presence is key for the Rams’ going forward, especially if we can add a talented Defensive tackle in next year’s draft.
The future is bright, and you can thank Steve Spagnuolo for these two.
Oh Continuity, How I love thee…
Let’s see, unless we keep McDaniels as the OC next season, we’re going to be asking Sam Bradford to learn his 3rd offensive system in as many years. Beyond Bradford however, a new offense would require the implementation of the new concepts, terminology, audibles, etc. to every OTHER offensive player on the team. Not to mention the defensive system may change, perhaps regressing any of the foundation I argue Spags has developed with some key players.
"Wait, what offense am I running today? Oh, you just want me to hand-off to Frank? Ok Jim, I think I can do that. That Bradford guy isn't going to be successful till his 7th year at this rate. Hahaha!"
Speaking of Bradford…
I’ve seen him get more passes here on TST than he’s completed all season. Make no mistake, I agree with all of that. But the same excuses used by defenders of Marc Bulger (Historically Bad O-Lines, Bad Receivers after Holt) are now being used to defend Bradford by some of the same people that wouldn’t give Bulger any sympathy. I haven’t forgotten that, and I remain consistent in my argument that no one player, even the Quarterback, can do it alone. Sam is getting more and more gunshy every week, and it isn’t all his fault. I just wish people who didn’t give Marc a pass back then don’t give Sam the pass right now. And it isn’t about the money, because Sam’s guaranteed money was worth almost as much as Bulger’s entire contract was supposed to pay him. Keep it consistent people. It’s a different quarterback but the same failures (no matter what the reasons).
"So this is only cool if you went to West Virginia?"
Regarding Protection, Reasons to tank:
I in no situation wish or hope for a loss for this team. Even if we're eliminated. However, I’ve watched Matt Kalil in person 7 times this season. Based on that that, the #2 pick wouldn't be such a bad thing, even if we have to stomach 5 more Ls. I would spend entire quarters focusing on him and him alone while Matt Barkley completed pass after pass. I cannot recall a time he was beaten. In addition, pretty much every big run play we’ve had this season has been sprung by Kalil mauling two, sometimes 3 defenders on that left side. The guy is bigger than he looks on tv, the footwork is there, and his wingspan is huge. He’s a photocopy of Jake Long when he was coming out (or Joe Thomas). Good genes too (his brother Ryan is a Pro-Bowl Center for the Panthers). I don’t think I’m being a USC homer when I say he HAS to be the pick if he’s available wherever we draft. It’s a shame Jason Smith went in IR (after Saffold did) because I was interested to see how he did if we put him at LT the rest of the season. I just feel that when you start messing with people’s positions, you surrender all the knowledge you gained from watching his tape from college. Smith was a good tackle on the right side when healthy, but it looks like his time in STL is done. Let’s just say Sam would be very happy with Matt on the left side.
Could we see Sam this happy with an O-Lineman as soon as next year?
On the college note:
I hate Jim Harbaugh. I hate him so much that if we win any of these two remaining games against the 49ers and possibly cost him a BYE, I would forgive the Rams for this entire season. I hate the Seahawks with an undying passion, but I hope Pete Carroll rips Harbaugh’s Niners a new one when they visit Qwest Field in a couple of weeks.
Doucheness, thy name is Jim.
Speaking of Harbaugh…
Let’s get this clear: he isn’t waiting in the wings. First of all, people are acting like San Francisco was terrible last year. 6-10 isn’t good, but it isn’t horrible. Their run defense was still ranked 6th overall. Even if you want to credit everything to Harbaugh, and I don’t blame you if you do as their turnaround has been admittedly (begrudgingly) impressive, that doesn’t mean it’s as simple as making a coaching change. Most of you are just so sick with Spags that you’ll go for just about anyone (the names thrown around haven’t been impressive), but it doesn’t mean that whoever you end up choosing is going to do any better. I don’t see another Harbaugh right now. All I’ve heard are older coaches that have been fired already. Is that really where you want to go?
Last note on Spags:
To all of you that complain about his interviews, would you really want him to change who he is just because he’s losing? He’s going to lowball the media (and ultimately us) because that’s just who he is. The only people he chews out are his players (in private) and he won’t throw them under the bus (in the media) like other coaches do when they’re cracking under pressure. I respect that. Be who you are and have faith it’ll turn around before it’s all said and done.
In addition, this team hasn’t quit on him. They haven’t. If you want an example of it, note Quintin Mikell’s TD saving hustle play on Beanie Wells last week. Mikell changed the outcome of that drive from an easy TD to a Field Goal that kept the Rams in the game, but more importantly it’s an example of how the Rams are still fighting for their coach. They’ve just lost too many men to get the results, but the effort is there.
I’m aware this post might not even be relevant as of this Monday or Tuesday (if the Niners embarrass us) if Kroenke just loses whatever patience he has left with this staff and fires Spags. But I at least wanted to point out the various things Silent Stan is going to have to consider this off-season beyond the Rams’ putrid record.
Plus, the season isn’t completely over. I believe we can win tomorrow. Why would I watch otherwise?
Through the good and the bad, always, GO RAMS.