Prior to last Sunday's embarrassment, this would probably have been much easier to write. And the loss to Green Bay a week ago, doesn't make it any easier. In happier times (pre-week 7), we could point to this team as a shining example of steady improvement. The cumulative results of a massive rebuild headed in the right direction. A team on the cusp of serious contention, not only in our own division, but in the league, as a whole... Enter the New England Patriots, who were more than willing (and able) to knock us down a peg and remind us all that we were indeed a rebuilding team. Message received... loud and clear.
Well, here is my overview of the state of affairs in St. Louis. I've watched every second of every game this season, so I'd like to think I have a pretty decent handle on what's going on. Feel free to discuss, disagree and debate, it's all good. This is but one man's impression. I'll start with the offense, with the D to follow shortly.
Quarterbacks: I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time on this one, as there really isn't a whole lot to say, anyway. Sam Bradford is battling out there. Save for a few miscues, here and there, he's doing a fine job with what he has. Although he's got 8 TDs to 7 INTs, he's completing 61% of his passes, which is better than we can expect of him, considering. Bottom line is, this guy needs help, badly. Better protection and better WRs would go a long way in helping this kid's career take off. Without help, he's doomed to fail in this league, through no fault of his own. Now, of course this isn't to say he's infallible in all this, but he's FAR from being "the problem" in St. Louis and, to be honest, it sickens me when I see people scapegoating the guy, for lack of a better explanation. Too many people are taking the easy route and magnifying what he's done poorly, as an individual, instead of looking at the big picture of what he's doing with his team. That's something I'm not going to be able to talk the nay-sayers out of, though. So, I try to keep my "Bradford opinions" to a minimum. Grade: B-
Runningbacks: Well, it seems, as of 7:33pm EST, Steven Jackson will remain a Ram. However, the guy who was once the only thing the Rams have had going for them is slowly being phased out of the offense. Let's face it... the last 6 years of placing the offense squarely on his back, certainly did his body no favors and he's finally showing signs of slowing down. He just doesn't have the same burst he used to. He's not playing with that same fire. You can still see it in his eyes, but no longer in his play. His career isn't over... but his status as a "feature" RB, very likely is. It appears he'll soon be reduced to a situational guy, at best and (provided he's still a Ram) we're gonna see more of that part of his game, in the second half of the season. His successor already appears to be in a Rams uniform, though. 7th round rookie, Daryl Richardson, has shown tremendous ability, thus far. I wouldn't say the guy is 100% ready to take the torch from a great like Jackson. But, it appears that he's going to sooner, rather than later. He's besting S-Jax in average (5.4 YPC, to 3.7), receptions, receiving average and plays over 20 yards. In short, he's more versitile than Jackson and is out-performing him. As I've said before, when either of them runs into the line, as of late, I'm more confident that Richardson is gonna come out on the other side. And that's saying a lot. Even rookie, Isaiah Pead has been slowly worked more into the mix, as of late. This new blood isn't a pair of Pro-Bowlers, just yet. But, they are the future backfield of the Rams.... the near future. Points off for being so young. The line isn't helping their cause either. Grade: C+
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: We all know the tune in St. Louis, when it comes to pass catchers. There's Danny Amendola... and those other guys. Well, truth be told, "those other guys" have made a marked improvement. Most notably, rookie Chris Givens has developed into a legitimate deep threat in the NFL. His double-move is near flawless and his speed is matched by few DBs in this league. Brandon Gibson, while still streaky, has become much more consistent in catching the ball and has displayed excellent hands and body control, at times. And, while he's not quite ready to take on the workload, Austin Pettis has stepped up as well, in keeping Amendola's spot warm. That being said, Bradford still lacks a true #1 target out of this bunch. Steve Smith has been pretty much invisible. Brian Quick rarely sees the field, and when he does, he shows just how raw he is. Every TD can't be a 50 yard bomb to Givens, or Gibson. Those plays are predicated on the threat of something more. Once defenses realize there isn't anything more, they'll take it away. We clearly learned that lesson yesterday.
At TE, Lance Kendricks is so hot and cold, it gives me pneumonia just to watch him play and Matthew Mulligan is a blocker and minimum contributer. And of course, there's the redzone troubles... with all of them. These guys need to learn how to work their way down the field consistently. To sustain drives and to help contribute to the success of their QB. Thatincludes inside the 20 yard line.
When I see good WRs in good offenses, I see guys that run clean routes. Guys that get separation from DBs and don'trequire a perfect throw every time. Guys that know how, when, and where to sit in the holes in zone coverage, or cut off routes and come back to assist the QB. Guys that, when required, will get physical and go up and challenge a defender for the ball (off the top of my head, I can recall at least 2 of Bradford INTs, that were a result of lazy WR play). Why is it that we never see any back shoulder catches in St. Louis? Because our WRs are incapable. Granted, Bradford isn't the best when it comes to "throwing WRs open", that is supposed to be something that happens sparingly. It shouldn't be a requirement on every pass. Save for Amendola, I don't see any of these traits in ANY of our guys as of right now. But, they do give me a bit more hope than before the season started. They're "better"... but that's not saying much. This group needs a lot of work. Their improvement brings them up from a failing grade. Grade: C-
Offensive Line: Is there any real, fair way to judge the O-Line this season? Aside from Harvey Dahl, the line has been a mashup of desperation re-signings, free-agent castoffs, and 3rd stringers with little, to no NFL experience. In all honesty, even with as much Rams football as I watch, I rarely know who's playing where up front, at any given time. Hell... I didn't know who Shelly Smith was until halfway through the Packers game, a week ago. We're all excited for the return of Scott Wells, but he has yet to play a regular season snap in a Rams uniform. How do we know he's even going to be any good? Rok Watkins was promising... but we all know how "promise" goes around here.
So far, this "line" has been sucessful at one thing... keeping Sam Bradford alive. Not necessarily upright... but, alive... barely. They have moments of brilliance, particularly in the running game, but those moments are fleeting. Credit where credit is due, though... Considering the parts he has to work with, offensive line guru Paul Boudreau, has been masterful in keeping this Frankenstein unit somewhat competitive. Until we get some first string talent that can stay out of the infirmary, this unit will continue to be an achilles heel. Bradford will remain under seige on every snap, the RBs will be required to make things happen on their own and the offense, as a whole, will continue to suffer. GRADE: D-
After doing (and re-checking) the math, this offense grades out as a "C" overall. Which is actually a LOT higher than I expected it to be. Part of the reason may be that the Rams can move the ball, but can't seem to hit paydirt. At least, that's the only explanation I can come up with. I have a feeling I'm giving way too much credit somewhere here, as well, and off the top of my head... I'd be more inclined to call it a "D" instead. It is what it is, though. And what it is ain't pretty. Obviously this offensive unit is a lot further away than we need to be, in order to field a competitve team. While we do get a lot of key players back after the bye (Scott Wells, Rodger Saffold, Danny Amendola) I'm not so sure it's going to make much of a difference. The only way THIS unit, in it's current state, becomes any better, is through coaching. Every thing else is a personnel issue. Talent... we just don't have enough of it in the right places. These are the growing pains involved in a rebuld, though. We can't, all of a sudden, have tremendous expectations of a team that only won 2 games last year and ranked dead last in offense, in the process. The path is there, and we seem to be following it. But, it's a long one. At least... a lot longer than expected.