Both of the St. Louis Rams coordinators found their way into the NFL's coaching rumor mill this season. There was supposedly grumbling about OC Brian Schottenheimer earlier in the fall. DC Tim Walton's name came up in late season hot seat rumors. But Jeff Fisher quashed the rumors the Monday after the Rams ended their seventh consecutive losing season, telling reporters that he was not planning to make any staff changes.
Each coordinator's situation is unique, and with coaching staffs still in flux in the wake of Black Monday, there's always the possibility more moves could be coming.
Walton, the rumors went, was pushed aside with the Rams defense struggling. Fisher took a more active role in calling the games, and the unit improved down the stretch, thanks in large part to its pass rush from the front four. In Walton's defense, this was his first year as an NFL coordinator and he had to work through a secondary hit hard with injuries and lacking a true coverage safety.
The most disturbing part of Walton's first year was the lack of progress from Janoris Jenkins. And a unit that took way to long to catch up to where it was last year, when it lacked a coordinator at all.
Then again, Walton's situation on defense is different. He's working with a group of very experienced coaches, including two former defensive coordinators in secondary coach Chuck Cecil and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis. It sort of makes you wonder what happened behind the scenes. Why did an experienced group of coaches struggle this year? When you look at the lagging development in the secondary, that raises a red flag for the position coaches at least as much as it does Walton himself.
Walton's got much of the blame when the defense struggled this year ... such is the life of coordinators in the NFL. They're the ones responsible for pulling together the work of all the different groups in that unit, so it's only natural. But pull the camera back a little. Fisher had to step in for him, so the rumors went anyway. Maybe the question to ask doesn't have anything to do with soft zones versus press man. What I wonder about is group dynamic. Was Walton able to pull together the work of his position coaches? Was there friction from a group of assistants he inherited? Is that why Fisher reportedly had to step in?
More importantly, what does it matter now? It doesn't. All that matters is that the issues, whatever they were, get ironed out heading into the 2014 season. Fisher chose to stand by his man, and he'll be judged on that decision in 2014.
Now this is the one I suspect people feel the strongest about. Fired by the Jets, the Rams picked him up as part of the coaching changes in 2012. Since then he's mostly underwhelmed, mirroring his time in New York.
We're used to hearing about the talent gap the Rams have on offense. And while nobody's going to confuse that unit for the 2013 Broncos, Schottenheimer's had more players to work with than other teams that have managed to find better results. A lack of creativity has always been the knock on Schottey ... just like it was for his father (the difference being that his father was a fairly successful head coach).
The Rams averaged 21.8 points per game in 2013, a full three points better than 2012 and the franchise's best offensive output since 2006. Still, that was only good enough to rank the Rams offense 21st in the NFL, which is hard to overlook when you think about how much money the Rams have invested in their offense.
And that's my real issue with Schottenheimer: he doesn't seem to know how to get the most out of his players. The Rams dealt up into the top-10 picks in the draft to get Tavon Austin. While the rookie had his own struggles, he usually looked like a square peg in a round hole with this offense. The front office signed Jared Cook to a gargantuan $35 million deal, with $19 million guaranteed, and he failed to produce consistently, disappearing at the first sign of contact from a linebacker or defensive back.
This current period of relatively flat salary caps has made teams especially dependent on young players, rookies, and most of the teams that will take the field this weekend have a very good track record of finding a way to adapt their young talent to the professional game. That's just not the case with the Rams offense (the lone exception being Zac Stacy who has a fairly straight forward job as a running back). And that's a cardinal sin in today's NFL, not getting immediate contributions from your rookies or expensive free agents.
I'll have more, lots more, on this in the future, but the biggest concern for the Rams going forward is their offense.