This team is not an 0-3 calibre football club. But we deserve this 0-3 start.
There is far too much talent on this roster to be 0-3 right now, and the first two weeks were proof that we could beat anyone in the league, except that we haven't learnt how to.
Week 1, it was all because of 'drops' and our receivers 'sucking', according to the majority of the fans. What we need to do is stop focussing on singular issues that are a part of a defeat. If there's one thing we should all know, is that Football is the ultimate team sport. Everyone is dependent on each other to do their jobs. We all knew which CBs we were going against, and as such McD designed an offense that would exploit the weakness of that D (run defense and LBs) throwing against those CBs consistently is asking to be beaten. Of course, when the WRs are open and in position to catch the ball, a drop is entirely unacceptable, but we need to remember that the Rams are not the only team that have WRs who drop the ball. It's just magnified because we're looking for it. If someone doesn't make much of an impact week 1 vs Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, think rationally and say, let's wait until week 2.
If you want to look at one contributing factor to our Week 1 defeat, look at how good the Eagles were on offense. Michael Vick was free and despite the correct gameplan, he was able to execute and we were not. As has been said ad nauseam, any other QB back there, and Vick would have been sacked 10+ times. To say that now he is struggling and is getting injured, while he looked amazing vs us, is not because we were so bad that week, but because he played free Week 1, and in subsequent weeks he's been bottled up and ignoring opportunities to make plays with his feet. In addition to Vick's natural playmaking ability, you must look at the speed they have at every position, thus making coverage an almost impossible task for more than 4 seconds. Vick can buy 4 seconds with ease.
On offense yes the drops were bad, and if caught would have changed the game, but you've also got to look at protection and... let me say it.... Sam Bradford. He played well week 1, but showcased a few worrying tendencies that were forgotten in Week 2...
Week 2 vs the Giants was the definition of beating yourself. It seemed that we were entirely unable to remember the fundamentals of football. For some reason, I struggle to attribute that to coaches. At the end of the day, the game is won and lost on execution.
So why didn't we execute?
I hate to use this card, but I believe it was the stage. Especially with Salas. Due to the injuries incurred vs the Eagles, we had to rush players into roles they quite simply were not ready for.
We can then say, "oh, why weren't they ready??" and it is logical to attribute that to several well documented things.
1. The Lockout. - The effects are being felt across the league, but most noticeably here. We relied on a QB just off his rookie season to teach a new offense to a collection of rookies, second year and third year players. The fact this offense is one of the most complex and has an entirely different verbiage and terminology from the older one, does not help this. On defense, this is not applicable, and will be examined below.
2. Limited talent. - This is something that must be looked at. Before the draft, Billy Devaney stressed the importance of acquiring 'playmakers'. I believe, looking at this draft, that we only got two. Robert Quinn. And he is still a work in process and Lance Kendricks. The long term benefit of these two picks can not be expressed right now, but the upside is astronomical, and may make us a fixture in the playoffs in a few years. The other draftees were all later round picks that are specific role players.
What is most noticeable here is that we are relying too heavily on rookies to save us this year. We can draft two playmakers, but if they're rookies, we can't depend on them to make plays immediately. We have every right to hope that they do, and many rookies do, but it is the expectation that makes us question them more.
These expectations are harvested due to a lack of faith in the entrenched starters. This is the crucial element that we often overlook. At WR, we are relying on the development of talented players too heavily. I think that if we had a bonafide starter at WR, a vet, then the pressure would be off these guys to develop NOW. This would allow them in a few years or later in the season to show their worth. This is why Clayton proved to be so valuable early last season: He was that veteran presence that made us not expect greatness from our WR corps now. His return will be needed, but will also be too late.
The answer is simple: Money, team ethos and overrating players because they play for other teams. Burress is as effective and has the same role as Danario Alexander, but with a larger pay packet, a few more years behind him and a criminal record. Not what Spags is looking for for this team. Lee Evans is too one dimensional to warrant his wages and a roster spot in this offensive system. Anquan Boldin would unlikely have been shipped to us when he was due to the division rivalry. Vincent Jackson was being held to ransom by the Chargers, and no matter what we tried, they weren't going to let him go - unless it meant cutting off our legs.
The only veteran I saw on the market that I was surprised was not signed by us, was Braylon Edwards. Cheap, good character (mainly), out to prove people wrong, incredibly talented, versatile and experienced enough to do Clayton's job until Clayton returned.
Signing Mike Sims Walker was a good get, and he has a chance to be effective for us, but in time.
On defense, we need players like Atogwe, who command respect, play well, and make plays all over the field. I cannot, and will not, ever understand how we let him go. Mikell and Atogwe together at Safety would be a huge difference, and would be greatly beneficial for the youngsters at CB, who can rely on two stalwart vets as their fall backs.
Losing Ron Bartell was catastrophic, and proves how valuable he was/is to this team. Besides Bradley Fletcher, we have only role players at the CB position. At Safety we have one excellent player in Mikell, and several young developing or role specific players. Darian Stewart would be greatly benefitted from a continued gradual exposure to a starting role. Dahl is so appalling in coverage, it is absolutely horrifying we employ him for anything BUT run support. James Butler should be given more playing time. Yes he's old and not the future, but he only makes plays when on the field. Butler and Mikell at safety looks like a more comfortable starting duo than Mikell and ?.
So before I digress even more, I must clarify: 'Limited Talent' does not mean bad players, but good players that are role specific FOR NOW, being exposed in increased workloads.
Week 2 then, is evidence of the above two being pitted against a veteran, home team on Monday Night Football. We outplayed them, but were beaten because of the lockout and limited talent - and a mass of brain farts.
Sam Bradford looked quite simply tremendous and the WRs showed up, but a strong DLine closed down the run game, and poor playcalling in the redzone scuppered many valuable opportunities.
The injuries were crippling.
Week 3 I did not watch, due to being airborne, but having watched everything I can see on NFL.com all I can say is that it was defensive weaknesses magnifying offensive futility - against an elite defense.
At CB, Justin King was embarrassed. How he has the starting job over anyone else on this roster, is wrong. The fact that he is playing off coverage all the time, is also wrong. This system relies on physical play from the cornerback position, and to give a WR, regardless of who it is, that much room to operate, is unforgivable. For the first time I must challenge Spagnuolo's system and say: "If a CB is a liability, why is the Safety above him still being used on blitzes?" Sometimes I feel that we must swallow our pride and adjust the system to cover up for our weaknesses.
At LB we are just too slow. Laurinaitis is a beast and the heart of our defense. Poppinga, Kehl and Leber are just too unathletic to be relied upon in the NFL. Regardless of system requirements: if your LBs can't catch an NFL running back, or an NFL Tight End, they will be victimized and will be a liability. You add this to a lack of discipline with regards to filling their gaps and overpursuing, and you wonder how on earth they're still here. Furthermore, if an athletic OLB overcommits or overpursues, at least they are able to get themselves out of that problem thanks to some speed or agility. Once an unathletic LB overcommits, they are out of the play, and more pressure is placed on the inexperienced secondary. This is to me, the sole reason why our run D is so awful. It is either a TFL or it is a huge run, and the law of averages say that if you hand the ball off enough against our D, one run will be a big one. I want to see Jabara Williams play. Not start, but be involved.
Protection vs the Ravens was shambolic. I don't know if changes were made to the lineup or whatever, but we have an 80 mil QB who when given time, as evidenced vs the Giants, can shred secondaries. Too often I was seeing numerous men on the line be beat and have clear paths to the QB.
This is where some constructive criticism of Sam Bradford must come.
He recognises this himself, so I don't doubt it won't be remedied, but he needs to utilise his quick release and get the ball out quicker. Losing Amendola does not help, but I feel Sam is playing within himself trying to make plays like Roethlisberger and prove people wrong that he is not a dink and dunk QB. We need to design some more plays utilise his mobility to give him some more time, make his progressions easier (he is smart, but simplification isn't necessary a bad thing) and allow us to stretch coverages. Sam needs to trust his WRs a bit more, and gun it if there's a fraction of space, and let the WRs do what we all know they can do.
For me though, the most glaring difficulty the Rams offense is facing, is the Rams' porous defense.
Too much is being asked of a work in progress. This offense is being required to participate in shootouts. We aren't there YET.
Obviously, red zone inefficiency is unforgivable, and regardless of execution, I have not been impressed by the playcalling down there. McD needs to draw up some better plays for & Goal situations. We need screens, fades, roll outs, draws, tosses, end arounds, pique routes, drag routes and we need variation.
Injuries have made a bad hand worse. Poor officiating has shot us in the foot. Other teams have still won games despite similar bad luck...
We have the talent to be 2-1, 3-0, 1-2... but we are what our record says we are. 0-3.
We need to get healthy and we need to rally around our leaders, get our heads out of the sand, fix the issues and never give up.
PS. Anyone else disgusted at how the Ravens were still passing with 5 mins to go, 3 mins to go etc.?
I don't know what they were trying to prove there.