The St. Louis Rams And Their Troubling Lack Of Identity

Just another anonymous St. Louis Rams football player.

St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo had little to say following his team's third consecutive loss, this week falling to the Baltimore Ravens. Really, what could the coach say? His team laid an egg, losing by thirty points to the Ravens and putting forth another terrible effort. See if you can detect a similar refrain in the talking points.

It's not about how you start, it's how you finish.

and...

When you get in a situation like this, all you're worried about is winning a game. That's it. Don't worry about stats, standing, nothing. Just worry about winning a game. This year, the next team on the schedule is Washington, so that's what we'll focus on.

The first one was Spagnuolo after the Rams loss to the Giants last week. The last was uttered moments ago following the Rams loss to the Ravens. 

There really is nothing left for the coach to say. Epic meltdowns are not Spagnuolo's style. Still, it's a troubling refrain because is rings hollow at this point. The Rams were going to start shaping up after last week's loss. They did not. All of the foibles and follies from last week continued this week, right off the bat. So now, when you hear the head coach talk about focusing on the future instead of the past, it's hard to take it very seriously. 

Spagnuolo revealed something even more troubling in his post game comments, confessing that the Rams were surprised by Baltimore going for the deep strikes early in the game. Huh?

With Justin King starting at cornerback and coming off a lousy game against the Giants, the Rams had to know that King would get picked on this week. The Ravens were without Lee Evans, not exactly a state secret, and they used rookie WR Torrey Smith in his place. Any armchair quarterback could have seen the possibility of the Ravens going for the deep ball. They had to be prepared for that possibility. Making things that much worse, the Rams still had no answer when they came back to Smith for a similar play. 

Being surprised is one thing, being completely unprepared and failing to respond is another matter all together. 

The Rams loss today versus the Bills' win over the Patriots to open the season 3-0 makes for a frustrating juxtaposition of two teams that were once on similar trajectories. Perennially in the AFC East basement, the Bills showed signs of life last season under head coach Chan Gailey. Going up and down the rosters, it's hard to look at the Bills and think of them as a more talented team than the Rams.

So what gives? To be honest, I don't really know. Ryan Fitzpatrick, a former Rams shipped off under Scott Linehan, has become a real leader for his team. He takes chances and bounces back when those breaks don't go his way. It's hard to think of him as a more talented player than Sam Bradford, but he has been around awhile. Chan Gailey is a long-time NFL veteran who has been a head coach before his stint in Buffalo. I don't really think that the Bills' drafts have yielded significantly more talent than the Rams drafts have, and they lost some key players in free agency this year. 

The difference comes down to those unquantifiable intangibles. In Buffalo, you see a team bursting with desire. After getting a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter, the Patriots picked off Fitzpatrick and quickly turned in another touchdown to get a two touchdown lead. On their next possession, Fitzpatrick threw another interception, and the Pats led 21-0 in the second quarter.

Now, think about what happens to the Rams in similar situations. In the first two games, we saw how the Rams respond to killer turnovers, coming back onto the field lifeless and to unsure of themselves to move freely. There's the difference, and it starts with the leadership. Spagnuolo has a tendency to close up, to get back to the same dull basics that have defined the Rams week in and week out for the last two seasons. But it's more than just a matter of the playcalling. Never do you see the Rams look meaner or more focused after gaffs like that or even facing a lopsided deficit on the scoreboard. It's almost like they've started thinking about the next game rather than scratching and clawing their way back into this one at any and all costs. 

Last week, Bernie Miklasz from the Post-Dispatch called the Rams a "dumb" team. I understand his point; the mistakes this team makes are inexplicable and inexcusable. However, there is far worse crime being committed here by the Rams' coaches: the failure to give this team any kind of identity. Other than ugly losses, what defines these Rams? I challenge you to think of any personality trait that applies to this team. Whatever fight or spirit the Bills have is completely lacking from the St. Louis Rams. Whatever ability the Bills have to play each play like it's their last, the Rams are missing. It's not that they're dumb, they're crippled by a lack of self realization. Identity and the intangibles matter in a league where anything can happen on any given Sunday. 

Until these Rams know what it is they want to be, they will never be a winning team. It's a damn shame too, because the Rams do have the kinds of players that could really make this team something far more than it is. 

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