Rams squander new opportunities, goodwill with familiar losing effort

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a glut of draft picks, new leadership and lots of promises, the St. Louis Rams just can't seem to change.

Outed.

Outcoached. Outworked. Outgunned. Outclassed. Outmanned. Outplayed. The 2013 St. Louis Rams were outed in prime time, in front of a gaggle of team legends and a reasonably crowded Edward Jones Dome. San Francisco won the game, obviously. But Jeff Fisher and his coaching staff deserve the game ball.

Unable

Unwavering. Unbending. Unable to make even the most modest adjustment from week to week. Fisher and his three coordinators appear to be thoroughly confused by what their players and what opponents are capable of.

For the two weeks leading up to this game, San Francisco's opponents kept Anquan Boldin in check by pressing him at the line and sandwiching him in coverage. Not the Rams. Defensive coordinator Tim Walton's game plan started with Janoris Jenkins manned up on Boldin. It worked at first. Then Cortland Finnegan took over "coverage" on Boldin. Did Walton and his defensive backs not see the game tape?

Brian Schottenheimer's offense stayed true to the game plan that hasn't been working. The Rams refused to throw the ball down the field early. They tried to run a little more, but continued missteps by a pulling guard and Daryl Richardson's inability compromised that.

The special teams did what they've become so good at: penalties.

All week long, the Rams sent out missive and missive that this team had put the Dallas game behind it. This team was ready to rebound with a tough showdown against a division rival. Instead, Jeff Fisher, his coaches and the best and most experienced players on the team were unable to do adjust or answer anything the 49ers did.

Unwilling

More frustrating than the losses, is the unwillingness of the coaching staff to change its approach. Every drive, offensive or defensive, it's soft zone, short routes and a few plodding runs sprinkled into a bitter mix. The final product is incompetency.

All of the tactics that have been successful in limited deployment for the Rams -- the no-huddle, press coverage, etc. -- get sneered at by the coaching staff. Those are things to be used sparingly, in their minds.

There's a view inside Rams Park that innovation is inconvenience.

It doesn't matter that dump offs to Tavon Austin aren't working. Fisher cautioned against the no-huddle because it COULD give the opposing offense the ball back faster ... faster than the usual three-and-outs from the Rams offense. And double covering a receiver? Why that might mean a safety is out of place on some other play instead of out of place on a play that might keep the defense from "disgusting" fans.

This is Jeff Fisher's 19th season as an NFL head coach. By now, he should know as well as anyone how drastically, how often the game evolves. It's not clear that he does.

Fisher's experience, dedication and commitment to building a winning football team was THE selling point for the team's new $7 million per year head coach. But after four games, it's fair to wonder if ossification isn't a better word for experience in Fisher's case.

Unbelievable

The Rams ratcheted up the personnel moves after hiring Fisher and GM Les Snead. They signed Cortland Finnegan to a five-year, $50 million deal. Scott Wells was brought in for $24 million. This year, they lured Jared Cook to town with a $35 million deal, with a stunning $19 million guaranteed. Jake Long set a new record for longest MRI before the Rams signed him to a $34 million deal.

All of those additions were going to help put the Rams over the top, and some of those players even paid short-term dividends. But this season, Finnegan can't cover, Wells can't block, Cook retreats into his shell at first contact and Long looks like the second coming of Jason Smith.

But the move that defined the new version of the franchise was trading the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the RGIII pick, to Washington in exchange for a boatload of picks to restock the roster with young talent. Sam Bradford was all the quarterback they needed, a line of thinking the deal hinged on from the start.

Then came the marketing push. All of those moves were sold to an exhausted, shrinking fan base and the community as the first giant leaps toward building a winner.

Slick commercials, friendly social media and a tightly controlled message promised a new, improved Rams team.

Meanwhile, the team sent a $700 million poison pill to the CVC, plans for a renovated Dome befitting such an important pillar of the local scene. The CVC declined, as expected, and now the Rams are free agents after the 2014 season. The Rams want fans to believe in the team without any kind of assurances that the team will even be here by the end of Sam Bradford's rookie contract.

The Rams still have plenty of positives working in their favor: an extra first-round pick next year, a talented roster, an owner-friendly CBA, a friendly media backwater and the goodwill of patient fans. But they still can't seem to pull it together on the field.

Fans want to like football in St. Louis, but there just isn't much to like about it.

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