Another week, another pitiful Rams showing. While we continue to wait for the talent that was so highly heralded by the lot of us in the preseason, the on-field product continually leaves us wanting, complaining, and forming angry mobs.
The one bright spot I found in this week's performance is this: Answers
In weeks 2 and 3, we played against teams that we didn't see in 2012... So while we could speculate as to the true issues, I personally couldn't put my finger on it.
However, in week 4 we played against the 49ers... a team that we're more than used to seeing. We played a better game than the score indicates, especially considering the score was 7-3 close to halftime, but a poor game nonetheless.
The big missing link on this offensive unit is: A Running Game
This isn't news to anyone. Our running game has been atrocious all season. All season except for the first half of week one. While Richardson only finished with 20 carries for 63 yds, I seem to remember him finding room to run in the first half. Perhaps that is what predicated the explosive plays that have been so lacking the past few weeks.
However, without a running game, our offense will continue to struggle. Even watching the Broncos play... whenever there aren't enough men in the box, they run the ball... This opens up their dynamic passing attack.
But is this issue a result of poor running back play, poor offensive line play, or poor coaching?
The obvious answer is some combination of the three... Steven Jackson is no longer on this roster... There's no question that we take a step down in talent after losing a player of his caliber. Our offensive line isn't opening up holes... Even on draws, there isn't any space available to run. And we aren't utilizing the right personnel at the right time... Especially under-utilizing Lance Kendricks.
While I haven't seen Lance Kendricks' snap counts, he's played wonderfully this year. We should really run more 2 TE sets, because Jared Cook obviously can't block to save his life. However, this means that Austin will be on the field less, which no one wants. A quick note on Kendricks: He has 13 targets, and 11 catches... which brings me to the next point...
RELIABILITY SUPERSEDES ABILITY
Bill Belichick made this statement in response to cutting Tim Tebow...
It doesn't matter how much raw talent a player has... If they aren't reliable, it isn't good to have them on the field.
There's your answer to why Austin Pettis has been getting snaps. I've loved his play. Yes, he may be the least physically-talented receiver on our roster, but he knows where to be and what to do... Plus, he continues to make clutch catches.
Brian Quick is being brought along at just the right pace... He's getting more snaps now than he was last year, and will continue to see growth as he proves himself.
A final note about the offense: Tavon Austin will succeed - eventually
He's going through the exact same thing that Isaiah Pead went through last year... He's trying a bit too hard to hit the home run on returns. This kid is gonna start making plays, it's just gotta start with the first one. Once he starts to get some confidence after he makes a few people miss, he could explode... We've gotta be patient though. Plus, it's difficult for any OC to properly utilize a player that he's only had a couple of months with. Tavon is still learning the ins and outs... He'll get there.
Now onto the defense...
I've been absolutely appalled by our defensive play calling... The one time that we SHOULD have used our 10-yd cushion was on the 3rd and 19 play in which we went cover 0 and gave up a touchdown to Anquan Boldin... I mean... Come on!
However, patience is once again key... Tim Walton is in his first season as a DC. If you were perfect at your job the first four weeks, congrats... most people aren't. Also, it's not every week that you have to face the caliber of receivers that the Rams faced in the first three weeks... Let's name off a few:
These are household names... They're elite, and any corner will struggle against them... Ask Darrelle Revis.
Something is off with Finnegan, but he is still a leader on this defense... I'm not sure if the tough mudder training really took it out of him or what. I have faith in him to rebound.
Our safeties are struggling... They're still liabilities, and until they're upgraded through experience or an influx of new players, they'll continue to struggle... I'll be upset if we don't fix the problem this offseason or sooner.
Our linebacking corps is getting there... Ogletree is doing what we want a rookie OLB to do: He's making splash plays... He makes mental lapses, yes... But he's making plays. He's also the last player to pick off Peyton Manning, need I remind you. I'm hoping to see more of Armstrong in the coming weeks, as I'm sure many of you are.
Our defensive line is wonderful. Teams took note following the Cardinals and Falcons games (in which the run was stifled) and started changing things up. We've constantly been beat by counter runs and other junk plays, due to our overpursuit. This has been a problem with this bunch for a few years, and needs to be corrected. It's completely mental, and not a physical lack of talent. Our struggle vs the run is something I also blame on our safeties.
I say all of this to once again point out: Reliability supersedes ability...
Two years ago, our team had almost no ability... and we lost a lot of games.
Last year, our team started to gain ability, but still had reliability... When on the field, Danny Amendola was as reliable as they come. Although he had lost a step, Steven Jackson was as reliable as they come. That leadership isn't replaced overnight.
This year, we have far more ability, but we haven't found reliability yet. Much as Tom Brady has struggled with his new toys (albeit their team is 4-0, due to wonderful coaching and stellar defensive play), there will be significant growing pains with this squad. We'll have losses snowball and get out of hand, and some games will look atrocious... However, we'll also have games that our guys come out hungry and ready to go, and look unstoppable... Unfortunately, we haven't seen any of that yet.
But, like it or not, most who are still here are in it for the long haul.