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Rams v. 49ers grades (Christmas edition)

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My wife isn't much of a sports fan. She can match some cities with their team mascot, and she knows a couple of players from the major sports, and, because she follows celebrity news/gossip/crap, she knows people like Tom Brady and Tony Romo and Tony Parker from their connections to the entertainment industry.

At the end of the first drive in the final quarter, after Josh Brown kicked his third FG of the game to give the Rams a 16-3 lead with 11:40 to go in the game, I turned to my wife and said, "I still kind of wish we would've lost today. It would help us in the draft next summer." She scrunched her face at the television and asked, "Do they know how much it helps them if they lose?" I laughed and replied, "Of course, babe. It's not like they don't monitor every facet of their entire organization." She scrunched her face even harder and said, "Then why don't they try to lose?" I trotted out the classic rebuttals of pride and playing every game like it's your last and the ethical purity of competition; I could see this was not the answer she was looking for.

Then in one of those moments that only the non-fan can inspire, she looked at me and said, "You care about the Rams and you want them to lose. If they cared, wouldn't they want to too?"

So today, I want to thank the St. Louis Rams for blowing a 16-3 lead by allowing the San Francisco 49ers to score touchdowns on their last two possessions for one reason: because they care about the organization as much as I do.

Christmas-ized grades after the fold.

QB: B+

Marc Bulger played like his salary today. A rare performance from Marc with the current unit. He distributed the ball completing passes to 7 different receivers (not to mention he caught a pass himself). A 52.7% completion percentage, 227 yds and a TD is a stat line that we would have prayed for many weeks this season.

For his performance, Santa should give Marc Bulger: a set of weights. Marc needs to work out this offseason and get himself ready to bounce back from the disappointment of 2008 next year. The constant targeting of Donnie Avery and the TD pass to Burton should indicate the direction in which this passing game is going.

HB: A-

Steven Jackson surprised many of us today by playing through his injury and leaving his effort on the field. It was an impressive day for SJ who tallied 108 yards on a season high 32 carries. I really don't know why it took until week 16 for the Rams to lean on SJ this heavily. Added to this grade was the continued development of Kenneth "The Kentucky" Darby (that's a horrible nickname. I shouldn't have typed it. I apologize.). Darby was the leading receiver today catching 5 passes for 57 yards. The grade rests at an A- as opposed to higher because of the lack of points. Touchdowns are everything, and we're just not getting them from the running game.

For their performances, Santa should give Steven Jackson and Kenneth Darby "Gold in Dem Dar Hills" (better?): massages. Jackson has been dealing with nagging injuries for what seems like an eternity and Darby has to be hurting with the poundings he's taken after the last two weeks. They deserve some rest.

WR/TE: C+

An improvement on last week's C-. Another receiving TD (from Keenan Burton), and a combined performance of 9 catches for 111 yards from Torry Holt and Donnie Avery. Most importantly, Avery showed the kind of play he'll need to repeat more often throughout a game next year. This game definitely convinced me that next year, he can be a threat every week, regardless of who he's facing. My only concern is his hands. He seemed to rely to often on his body to corral balls, and with his speed, he needs to be able to catch balls in front of his face and use those wheels to rack up the YAC. Also of concern was Burton's technique. The timing on his routes seemed to take him out of many plays. On occasion, he has been thrown to but that timing has made a reception impossible. Today's aberration was due to a fly route that Burton ran and was able to make a good play on the ball for a TD. Hopefully next year, Avery's and Burton's development will help them get Bulger over the 300-yard mark more than just once a season, like this year.

For his performance, Santa should give Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton: The ability to enjoy practicing. A lot of our offense will depend on these two next year. Here's to hoping they get as much time as possible to accelerate their progress as football talents.

O-line: B-

Three sacks today, and two of those were on play design rather than poor blocking. Still, Bulger was often uncomfortable in the small pocket and running lanes were very thin. SJ ran for 108 yards, but only averaged 3.4/carry. That means a lot of very short gains. The reason I put them in the B range was the changes on the line. Haslett seemed to be giving certain players tryouts along the line today. Mostly everyone seemed to perform. And what Rams game would be complete without a penalty from Alex Barron and Richie Incognito? That is not the kind of consistency I'm hoping for.

For his performance, Santa should give Richie Incognito: trade value. In today's game thread, I argued that Incognito is a talented blocker. I really believe that. The Rams ran a play to the right side to either Jackson or Darby, I don't remember, but Incognito was able to block two guys at the same time and allow the ball carrier another 5-6 YAC. It's not his on-the-field skill that I want to get rid of; it's the distraction his persona has created. Let's be real: offensive linemen should not be heard from. Like kickers and punters, offensive linemen don't often get credit. This isn't going to change...unless you have someone like Incognito to attract negative attention. It's just not worth keeping his talent at the expense of the distraction he creates.

D-line: B

More solid work from the D-line. Nothing the statistics will reflect, but Shaun Hill was definitely unsettled for 90% of this game, and much of that credit should go to the D-line and LBs. I also would note that Victor Adeyanju is one hell of a run stopping DE. He's no good at rushing the pass, but as a run-stopper, he's well above-average. I wonder if maybe this offseason, he'll be able to get some time at DT. Nothing to that speculation, though. Just personal rambling.

For his performance, Santa should give Chris Long: a starting spot at LDE next year. He's shown the desire to play on every down and the commitment to play every second of every down. His future is more important to this organization than Leonard Little's, and he has earned a shot at taking over the premier position for defensive ends on the depth chart. Unlike Isaac Bruce, Leonard Little should be retained. He is still able to produce for this team and he deserves to go out a St. Louis Ram.

LB: A

To me, the best game by far our LB corps has played all season. Pisa Tinoisamoa was all over the field today, racking up 9 tackles and 2 sacks. The other LBs held their assignments and even provided solid coverage. For a few plays during "The Disintegration", they misplayed their zone coverage assignments. But I can't give this group less than an A today for what they did.

For his performance, Santa should give Pisa Tinoisamoa: the gift of consistency. When he's on his game, he's as good of a weak side LB you'll find in the NFC. Today, he was on. I've always wanted Pisa to be the icon of the defense, in the Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher mold. It might be to late for him to assume that mantle which is a shame. Injuries kept Pisa out for spells in '06 & '07, but in '04 & '05, he piled up 95 & 94 tackles in a full 16 games, respectively. This year, in 15 games, he's already gotten 92 tackles. He's a great talent, we just need him to showcase that talent each week.

CB/S: B+

A+ all game, and then the last two drives. What happened? Breakdowns in the 8-15 yard range and then the home run to Josh Morgan. O.J. Atogwe exposed what I've said for weeks: he's a phenomenal talent when it comes to takeaways, but he's not a good pass defender. Easy interceptions on bad throws and forced fumbles are what you can count on Atogwe to provide. Coverage on receivers are where he fails. Van is obviously disappointed that he went for the interception on the big play instead of trying to knock it down, but that's what Atogwe does: try to get turnovers. When it works, it changes the game. When it doesn't, well, it changes the game, just in the opposite way. Bartell was lights out today. Great coverage. He's really turning into a dependable CB. Even Fakhir Brown looked good.

For his performance, Santa should give Ron Bartell: a long-term contract. The bust of Tye Hill has been compensated for in the steal Bartell has grown into. He is far and away our best CB and someone we need to keep around for a long time. He's just 26 years old and has blossomed in this, his 4th year, into a special corner. At the beginning of this season I was hoping it would be Tye Hill who came into his own. I was very, very wrong. In the middle of the season, I wanted us to see if we could sign Nnamdi Asomugha this offseason (hell, I wanted us to sign Nate Clements before last season). Now, I'm not sure that's even a top 3 priority, compared to a MLB, a young TE, an OT and C.

That's it for this week. I'll rewatch the last two drive either tonight, or tomorrow. I have the day off, so I might get to it early. So I should have a diary up on what happened there either tomorrow or Tuesday, and then a draft watch diary up in the post-Christmas timeframe.

Which brings me to my final gift:

For our allegiance, Santa should give TST fans: a real GM. I still contend that the problems we are having as an organization are due to poor personnel management. A real GM would make sure we have a real head coach (not saying that Haslett isn't one. Linehan wasn't, though) to get this team in order next year. A real GM would give us a draft to be excited about. A real GM would give us a sense that the team is moving in the right direction, a swift departure from the Zygmunt era where nothing was moving in the right direction, and we were always looking for the silver lining. Santa, I'm not asking for wins, or the playoffs, or media attention, or anything special. Just a GM who knows how to evaluate talent and get that talent in a Rams uniform. Thanks.

- 3k