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Fixing the Rams

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Good news.

The bye week, with the exception of a few hours squirreled away for the One Big Game (OBG) on Sunday, affords us amatuer coaches a chance to figure out just went wrong with the Rams in the first half of the season, the very same activity sort of interim head coach Scott Linehan and his staff are working on. So, grab your pencils, put on a pot of coffee, polish up your helf-moon specs. and pull the telestrator up close; it's time to solve the Rams problems.

By the way, once you've arrived at a solution you're encouraged to send your resume and a short report explaining your findings to the HR department at One Rams Way...

The offensive line is a huge problem, so this excercise can only go so far in working around that fact. However, the Cleveland game offers a faint sliver of hope for the Rams to scratch a notch or two on the winning bedpost.

Setting aside the injury issue, turnovers have done the most damage to the Rams...and Linehan's career. To wit:

Turnovers per drive .247 (31st)
INTs per drive .172 (32nd)

Taken from the offensive drive stats at FO, this represents two possible outcomes of an offensive drive, the two most negative outcomes of a drive. Obviously, the turnovers includes INTs, but both numbers are plenty shocking. More than any team in the league, the Rams turn the ball over via interception. As I've said before, I'm not smart enough to tell you the exact formula correlating turnover ratio with win percentage, but the 0-8 record is plenty believable without that mathematical inference on these numbers alone. It's also worth noting that the Rams have the second most offensive drives in the league, 93.

Then there was the Cleveland game, where the Rams threw just one interception, in a scramble of desperation at the end of the game. What was different this time? I went back and watched the highlights at NFL.com to get some answers. (Luddite alert, my 90s TV viewing habits haven't allowed me a DVR, mostly afraid I'll watch too much TV.) Anyway, watch the pass plays. The Holt TD, two plays earlier by a 25 yard pass to Holt, a play that was extended by a roughing the paser call against Cleveland.

Both plays were simple routes and a quick, but careful throw from Bulger, who never dropped back by more than a few steps, stayed in the pocket and threw as soon as he took his drop steps. Quick and careful execution, it's almost over simplified, but those kind of plays have made Bulger and Holt and Bruce a lot of money over the years.

Now, with a banged up and makeshift O-line, those kind of plays aren't always going to be possible. (Oh, I dread playing the Steelers and their Eleven Angry Men rush attack). Bulger had just enough time to find his receiver and make his throw behind the duct tape and bailing wire line and Holt ran a quick hook route for the TD. Cleveland's defense gets some credit, but the Rams executed and minimized their chances of throwing INTs by keeping Bulger from dropping too far back and hesitating and having his favorite receiver run the routes he knows best. It won't work every time and tough defenses are still giong to play havoc with the line and the QB, but it should at the very least keep the offense from providing free points to opponents off the turnover, bringing the Rams at least slightly closer to winning.

Watching the highlights, you're forced to see the awful 4th and 1 late in the game that the Rams failed to convert for what likely would have been a game winning drive. Watch it again. The runner is obviously coming through the middle; a decision likely made based on Steven Jackson's success going through the middle and into the end zone for one yard in the first quarter. But look at the play, the middle was the hardest place to run. Cleveland had the box stacked with nine defenders, but the left and right sides of the field were open, wide open and ready for Brian Leonard to dance through. On third down they ran off the left tackle, Alex Barron... On fourth they came back to the middle, but they should have gone around the right end, that was protected enough for at least a short yardage run and possibly soft enough for breakout, as Leonard would have only had to beat a single defender in the first four yards of a run.

Go to the stats, they confirm it. The Rams rank sixth in the league with 4.83 average line yards on the right end. In the middle, they average 4.07 line yards (19th in the leagu), but Romberg was out of the game as was Incognito, making the middle ripe for exploitation from a Brown Box Stack (that's probably not the official name for that particular defensive play).

The call on the third down play right before wasn't any better for a team desperate to win and needing a HUGE third down conversion. They tried running Leonard through the left tackle, where they average just 2.72 line yards, by far their worst spot for ground gains. The chances for success would have been much higher with a run at either end, or even trying the middle on third down. Steven Jackson, because of his ability, can compensate to some extent for poor play on the line, but they weren't running Steven Jackson on those plays and the calls should have been adjusted accordingly.

And their you have it, the poor play calling that we've seen at the most inopportune times that plagues the 0-8 Rams. Maybe poor calling isn't the best description; both the calls on third and fourth down are pretty much standard operating proceedure in the NFL. A lack of creativity in the play calling may be a more apt description of what we saw, and have seen all season. It's the same thing we saw in the preseason, when supposedly they were protecting the magic secrets of the playbook.

We've been calling for more variety and more chances in the play calling all season. For a lot of people that's meant no huddles, trick plays, etc., but it's simpler than that. Stepping outside the bounds of tradition when appropriate, such as not running up the middle on 4th and 1 with your second string running back behind your third string offensive linemen, is all they really need to do. Finding the right plays for the right people, is going to take some more work, lots of time in front of the video machine, etc. Hopefully, that's exactly what Linehan et al are doing this week, walled off in the coaches emergency bunker beneath Rams Park, trying to firgure out what went wrong and what they can do to fix it.