Since the hiring of Jeff Fisher and Les Snead in 2012, our Rams have undertaken an unbelievable transformation. We have only retained 4 starters from the Devaney days (Sam, Harvey, CLong and JL55). We went from a 2-14 team - with very little talent - to a very young and talented team that's very competitive in the most difficult division in the NFL. To put into perspective how devoid of talent we were, in 2011, we had as many starters taken in the first two rounds of any draft (5) as we had starters who went undrafted (5). Snead's vision of a team is "built not just win, but to experience sustained success long term ", and it's being ingrained on our long suffering fan base. Les Snead's philosophy of rebuilding is "We've got to do this rapidly and tenaciously. You've got to go get it. You can't be scared. You can't just say: "OK, we're the Rams and over the last 4 years we're the worst team in football, so woe is us, its always going to be that way." He's a passionate person, and he'll instill this mantra in everyone. His office has "persistence, explore, generate, and implement" written on one wall, "Understand how to, and then go build, plus develop, plus coach to thrive" adorns the other wall. I know that we all have a deep belief that Les Snead will be a driving force for the Rams to be relevant, competitive and fun to watch again.
In recent weeks, during the trials and tribulations of the early season, we have started to express doubt in other facets. I have been a vocal critic of Jeff Fisher, and the rest of the coaching staff. Even while we experience a bit of success, I have questioned the direction of the team. My issues with the team have been more focused on the offense, and how the style of play does not - in my opinion - take full advantage of the physical gifts of the players on our roster. Our system that we have shown over the last few weeks has been successful, and I should be happy with that, but it just seems like a waste of talent to have our 8th pick in the draft being relegated to a special team player. He should be on the field more then a third of the snaps. What do I know?
Another area of play I have been critical of, is the defense and how I feel we should play faster and more aggressive. The defensive scheme has not put us in the best position to win. I hold the defense to a higher standard then the offense for a couple of reasons: The amount of experience our coaching staff has as defensive teachers and the players are as talented as they are young, we only have 3 starters not drafted higher then 73rd. Finn is our most senior starter and he is only 29 years old. We have invested four first round picks, 2 second round picks, and a 3 third rounder on our defense, then filled in the gaps with free agents. Les Snead said that we will build this team up from the bottom through the draft and phase out the overpriced veterans. We have a championship caliber core of defensive players. We have franchise bookend pass rushers as our anchor to penetrate and disrupt. We have our shut down corner, and an enforcer in the secondary. We have our defensive play caller, and a young athletic dynamic play maker at outside linebacker. We cannot honestly hope to have a star at every position, but this has all been supplied in the last 18 months, so what is this gonna look like in 3 more years?With all this talent, with all the experience the staff has, why are we not the most dominating defensive unit in the NFL? Heck, we're not even top 10?
The coaching staff is a very highly respected group of coaches and former players. Dave McGinnis is the glue that holds the staff together, he has 28 years of NFL experience and assists in all phases of the game, he had a key role in guiding our defense last year when we had our coordinator suspended. Mike Waufle runs the Defensive line and they don't come any better then him, he enters his 16th year coaching the defensive line, 8 of those times he teams have finished in the top 10 in sacks. Its hard to complain about anything these two great coaches do, so I won't, but there are some culprits we will get into. Timothy Walton, draws the most ire from the Rams faithful, its well deserved or is it? I wish to make a few points that may offer us hope and eventually sing the praises of coach Walton. Most of the issues with our defense can be attested to the secondary, they play too soft, they are not aggressive so why is this? Have we made any other coaching moves besides Walton, could anyone else be to blame for this? Chuck Cecil is in charge of the defensive backs and is assisted by Brandon Fisher. Cecil is a long term assistant to our HC, and Brandon is Jeff's son. Chuck Cecil as a player was a hard nosed, old school safety, he enforced across the middle of the field and his coaching style is just as tough. He has put his direct influence on the units he has coached. He teaches to play football how he played, up to the whistle and maybe a second after. He teaches his players to play to the limits of the rule book. I love me some Chuck Cecil, but when was promoted to Defensive Coordinator his units faltered and went from being ranked 2nd in the league before his promotion to 28th the year he took over to 15th the following year. Brandon Fisher is very much different, he has been coaching for only 3 years, and its his second year with the Rams. His first year coaching was spent with Jim Schwartz and Tim Walton in Detroit. Both Chuck and Brandon wish to limit big plays, all this while developing the young cornerbacks. One name we never hear about is Dennard Wilson, I know very little about Coach Wison, other then his title is defensive quality control. His job is to break down film on the opponents offenses and helps with the installation of the defensive game plan. Wilson also assists with the secondary. He has been doing this for 2 years, and before this he was a scout for the bears for 4 years.
What does this all mean? We have according to the Rams official website a Head Coach who is a former db, db coach, defensive coordinator, we have an assistant HC who is one of the most respected coaches in the game, our Defensive Coordinator must be a smart man, or knows someone because he has shot through the coaching ranks. He has only 5 years of NFL experience but in those 5 years he has gone from from an assistant secondary coach to the defensive coordinator. Before he got his chance in the NFL he had only 13 years of college coaching experience. This lack of experience is scary, but exciting at the same time. He has not been compromised by old school coaching standards, he is a new school coach that has climbed his way to the top very fast, there must be something to it. In the talks we had with Detroit fans, they hated Walton and blamed him for a lot of their issues, but beyond the numbers there is a hidden gem. Last season Walton was given the title of third down package coach, and he coached that package very well. Detroit had the 27th ranked defense, but when it came down to 3rd downs, they held the opponents to 36% good enough for 10th in the league. The defensive rank was so low for many reasons and none were larger then the rate at which the offense turned the ball over. Detroit turned the ball over 33 times they were -16 on the year. You simply cannot be a successful defense when the offense puts you in a bad position. So yes, Walton was an assistant coach to an abhorrent defense, his secondary was put to the test, they played 11 games versus playoff teams, they allowed 63% of passes to be completed but for only 3569 yards, good enough to be ranked 14th in passing yards . There are some very good things and some very bad things when you examine the numbers from Detroit. Most of the damage statistically happened during an 8 game losing streak exacerbated by an injury depleted secondary, they started 12 different players. Again I ask what does this all mean for the Rams moving forward?
I wrote a fanpost last month and in it I found a troublesome trend between Jeff Fisher and new defensive coordinators. Jeff Fisher in his 16 years coaching the Oilers/Titans switched defensive coordinators only 3 times, and only when they took jobs as head coaches. The year where a new Defensive Coordinator came in the defensive numbers fell off the planet. The rankings would eventually come back to form within a few years, but it seems as if there was a year or two of porous play, but in the end, Fisher always chose the right person for the job. When Fisher chooses a defensive coordinator he is choosing a partner, its a long term job prospect and the person usually matches the personality of the team. Coach Walton is young and energetic and smart, this is something new for Coach Fisher though, Walton did not play for Fisher, Walton did not coach or intern for Fisher, Walton got the job because of a reference from Jim Schwartz. This means that there are aspects of Walton that we are not privy to, that Coach Fisher prizes.
I am guilty of being a fan and wearing my emotions on my sleeve. The season started and our defense was not what any of us expected. Brockers was not the Brockers we seen coming on at the end of the year, CLong was not the dominating edge rusher with a motor that never dies, JJ was not ball hawking and scoring touchdowns, we were without Dunbar, we were concerned about the play of our safeties, the only players that stood out until recently were Robert Quinn and our rookies, Tree and TJ. Then there was FInn, I can not explain it, I will not try to. Maybe he is hurt, maybe he is trying to do more then he should. There are probably a million reasons why we do not have the same defense as we did last year, but with that said, not all things are bad. We are doing some great things. We played very well last season, but 7-8-1 is not good enough. What changes can we make? After the first season of the Snead/Fisher/Demoff administration some deep soul searching went on behind closed doors and they explored what we did well, and what we need to do to take it to the next level. Offensively we needed to become more potent, we needed to be able to score quickly, we can no longer have a grind it out offense, we need to score sevens instead of threes. In the offseason we did everything possible to become more a more potent offense.
So what defensive soul searching took place? I am now convinced that behind closed doors, in a dark cigar smoke filled room a decision was made that our defense will be designed to compliment the offense this season and assist it along its maturation process. No one will admit that we will not be coaching the defense to dominate, but to keep these young men moving as a whole in one direction. As our young men learn how to play, our coaches will adjust accordingly. The strategy to me is simple, we are in a youth movement, we are not just playing to win, we are playing to grow, this is a long term process. Every player we have signed or drafted since Snead/Fisher/Demoff got here is part of the plan. We are going to play it safe, we are not going to rush any players development. These young men are being groomed not individually, but as a whole, as a team. We are going to take some lumps and it must be understood and accepted. We have turned over almost an entire roster in 18 months, and did it through the draft. We will be getting even younger as contracts for Harvey Dahl, Langford, and other veterans come up, they will not be re signed, they will be replaced with players we drafted and developed. We are not playing as fast as we have seen in the past because I think we are spending more time learning to play the game. The players are thinking about what they are doing and this slows them down, eventually they will speed up as the game slows down. We have made a strategic decision to draft players who have 1st round talent, but due to some reason be it off the field issue, or they are not NFL ready, whatever the reason is, we get them later on in the draft for a steal. These young men come to the Rams thankful for the opportunity and angry they were passed over. We take this chance because of the experience of the coaching staff, the stability of our coaching staff and front office, because of the depth of coaching. Our coaching staff with the exception of Coach Walton has been with each other for years. The continuity of our coaches dating back to the Titans organization allows these young men to be taught with 1 voice, 1 voice that comes from 22 different coaches. This is a great learning environment for our players. They are teaching fundamental football, basics, and it is being engrained.
We all know that penalties happen because of many reasons, but discipline or lack of discipline is usually the main reason given. Penalties have a huge impact on the outcome of a game, they are the secret yards. As we learn to play aggressive we will be penalized more until we learn to play at the edge of the rule book. Jeff Fisher expects his teams to play at the fringe of the rules, to play tough, to play physical, to play controlled aggression.
Turnovers are the biggest factor in how a season turns out. Its rather simple mathematics tells us that historically if your turnover margin is positive that will equate out to wins. A turnover margin of +1 gives you a victory 68% of the time, +3 will lead to a victory 95% of the time. Can you coach turnovers? There are just too many variables in the passing game to demand interceptions on a regular basis, but you can teach a player to create fumbles. Coach Walton watched the Chicago Bears defense for his whole tenure at Detroit, he watched them average 18 forced fumbles a year the last 5 years. He has seen the impact that has over the season. I seen a statistic the other day that made me think about how good of a job Walton is actually doing. We have forced 14 fumbles this year, in 6 games. It is becoming contagious, we have had 7 separate players force at least 1 fumble. Last year we had a pretty good defense and only forced 12. Last season it has been said we were a much better defense, but our turnover rate was -1, this season our supposedly worse defense has a +6 turnover margin. This mentality, the controlled aggression, the forcing turnovers its being engrained and is slowly showing up on the field.
The part that must be difficult for this team is having our veterans held back while the new guys get caught up. Its a steep learning curve. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be for a player like CLong to have a hip injury that has obviously slowed him down and be asked to play a scheme that is not as aggressive as he is accustomed to so that the defense as a whole can learn to play as one unit. Tim Walton is doing a wonderful job, it is only week 6 and he has us in the mix of things in the toughest division in football with the youngest team in football. He has done this with 2 rookies starting at very important positions, and having them make an impact. He has worked through some adversity having a player suspended the first 4 games, and having to prepare an undrafted rookie free agent and a washed up veteran to fill that role. He has faced adversity by losing one of his safeties early in the season. He has faced adversity having to field a secondary that has very little experience outside of Finn and having to face one of the hardest schedules in the NFL. We will have to play 7 teams with an elite wr. We will have to play 10 games against teams that have their franchise qb in place. We will have to play 7 teams with an all pro caliber tight end. We will have to play all these games with no excuses, we will have to play all these games with unreasonable expectations. Tim Walton is doing a great job all things considered. I hope that he is our coach long term and cannot wait to see this defense under his tutelage develop over the next 5 years.
Our expectations must be tempered and understand that we were bad for 10 years, and its only been 18 months since Snead/Fisher/Demoff started this process. In 2014 we can expect even more changes,we will be even younger,we will have even more talent and even more expectations. We must not cast blame on anyone without fully understanding the circumstance. Demoff has a job to do, that is to allow Snead the money to obtain talent, Snead needs to provide that talent to Fisher, Fisher needs to surround this talent with the right teachers/coaches so that the talent reaches its potential. Walton and Schotty have to take these players, regardless of their skill level and create a scheme that puts them in the best position to be successful. So far we have ridden a roller coaster of fan emotions, we have been blown out of the water and embarrassed a couple times, we have had an amazing comeback, we have had a comeback fall short, we have pounded out 2 victories, one of them a very tough opponent on the road when it was a must win game for them. We are 6 games into the season and one thing is becoming apparent to me, Tim Walton is not the reason we lost those games, Tim Walton has created an environment that our young team can learn and thrive in and at the same time be competitive as we develop an identity. We are playing a team concept, not an individual concept and this will prove to be successful over time. We have been down so long we just are impatient and if we stand back and look at how things are going we should all be overjoyed at what is actually going on.