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Evaluating Haslett

I'm leaving the poll on the right side of the page up for a little while longer. The question of who will be - and who we want to be - the Rams head coach next year is far from settled. When and if the picture becomes clearer I'll update it with the appropriate names.

One thing I notice in the poll, that's had all the turnout of a congressional election, is that Haslett has just one vote. That's surprising. I really figured there'd be more support given what he's done with the defense this year, but there are some good arguments against it too. I wonder if his past record as a head coach hurts him a bit or the presence of marquee names like Cowher and Scottenheimer are just far more attractive?

There's an interesting thread on the STL Today Rams Talk forum making a case against Haslett for HC. The main argument is that Haslett hasn't turned around the defense quite like we've given him credit for, i.e. it's still ranked among the league's bottom third. Compared to defensive turnarounds like the Redskins, Colts, Titans, Bucs and Giants from last year to this year, the Rams defensive improvement doesn't seem like much. It's a sticky point. There are, however, a few outside factors influencing those other turnarounds. Stats note: I'm going with DVOA here.

The Redskins and Titans benefited from marquee free agent signings and key first round acquisitions. The Colts have had a turnaround season from Dwight Freeney to help them. The Bucs have Monte Kniffin, a proven commodity with a defense, and the Giants brought in LB Kawika Mitchell and DT Russell Davis to buoy their defense. The Giants ranked 13 in total defense last year (-1.7% DVOA) and rank 11th this year (4.4% DVOA), so the total improvement isn't that big of a leap anyway.

The Rams spent some money in the free agent market, but most of it was on offense. James Hall was the biggest catch on defense this offseason, and while he's had a good year, injuries have hurt his overall level of production. The draft brought Carriker and Ryan, who have made an impact for sure. However, early season suspensions and injuries took their toll on the Rams backfield, which played well for the brief window when everyone was on the field, but will suffer without Tye Hill now. Also, don't discount the offense's role here. They coughed it up so much this season that the defense has been left on the field for extended periods of time to be ground down, throwing off the team's balance.  

Lastly, look at the improvement in the rush defense. Rank-wise, things haven't changed all that much. The Rams ranked 30th in the league last season against the run and rank 25th this season. However, their final DVOA last season was a poor 11.3%, but has improved to 0.2% percent. Basically, the run defense has gone from a serious liability to average.

What's made Haslett more impressive in my mind this season has been his response to the injuries on his defensive unit, injuries and suspensions that is. We've said this again and again, the defense has played quite well since the bye week in spite of a loss to the unit's Pro Bowl DE, Leonard Little. Now, is that head coach worthy? No, not in and of itself, but it does add an impressive line to his resume. Whether or not we want him as the Rams head coach remains to be seen.