And so it goes. The St. Louis Rams lost their 14th game of the season, taking a commanding lead for the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. It was another thrashing, but the overmatched Rams played hard for 60 minutes, reminding us that this group of young players - many of them nothing more than second stringers in reality - believes in the direction of the franchise and the vision instilled by their head coach. Yes, it's another loss - all losses are frustrating - but there is hope for the future of this team.
The future for Steven Jackson started today, as the Rams lone playmaker on offense rode the pine with a bum back. Jackson has become a sparkplug for the Rams, emerging as a not only the face of this team but its voice too. It's hard to watch the Rams without Jackson, but the team made the right call here, benching their bruised and battered superstar rather than play him behind a makeshift offensive line that didn't do well opening running lanes last week or this week. Playing Jackson today would have exposed him to greater risk for injury and potentially compromising his availability for next season, when the Rams hope to be a more competitive team. It probably would be smart to sit Jackson next week too; smart but joyless. I doubt the Rams would have scored any more points had Jackson been playing today.
Besides, it gave the powers that be a chance to evaluate the runners behind Jackson to see what they bring to the table before an offseason that includes backup running back near the top of the needs list. It was hard to tell just what Kenneth Darby or rookie Chris Ogbonnaya brought to the table with the offensive line having such difficultly opening running lanes. Darby didn't do himself any favors today. Ogbonnaya, I tought, looked intriguing, averaging a very respectable 5 yards per carry. We'll get into the evaluation part soon enough here at TST.
The player of the game for the Rams was Chris Long. The sophomore DE fit right in on the left side, making it a long day for Cardinals RT Jeremy Bridges, who was filling in for Levi Brown. Long had a sack and a forced fumble on the same play, but the stat sheet does a poor job illustrating just how well Long played. Number 72 has come on strong in the second half of the season. Next year, he should be starting on the left side, and if the Rams do draft Ndamukong Suh, they could have an elite unit up front. Of course, even if they don't draft Suh, getting some talent to play with Long on the DL should do wonders for a unit that genuinely played well today but were just plain overmatched.
Keith Null still looks like a rookie. This Rams offense is bad no matter who they put under center. I am, however, still impressed with his ability remain collected. Null suffered behind the slapped together offensive line and Alex Barron, getting sacked 4 times and never having much time in the pocket. Clearly he needs more time in the offense and some talent around him, particularly at WR. Is he the QB of the future? Whoa, one step at a time. He's definitely earned the right for some significant reps in camp, but any coronation ceremony should wait.
It's hard to be too tough on anyone that's been under center for the Rams this season considering they have so few options to throw to. Randy McMichael is one of the more established players on the team, yet he continued to show that he simply doesn't have much left to give. His hands have never been anything to be impressed with anyway. When you get to see Larry Fitzgerald (who had an off day), Boldin, and Breaston, it's clear just what exactly the Rams lack at WR. Our best players at that position - GIbson, Amendola and Avery - are nothing more than role players. They're not capable of carrying a team and making things happen for the offense. If the Rams had any other pick in the first round other than the top pick, we'd be talking about which wide receiver we should select.
I feel bad for Danny Amendola. His costly fumble on a punt return was a rare black mark on what's been an otherwise impressive debut season.
Alex Barron isn't a good enough left tackle to be playing with a bunch of replacements on the line. We had all better hope and pray that Jason Smith gets healthy for next year.
As for the game itself, what else is there to say? The Rams can at least hold their heads up and legitimately say they gave it their all. But when you're matching up Danny Gorrer to Anquan Boldin, you can't expect results, and that, to me, sums up the Rams 2009 season. A good offseason in which GM Billy Devaney can add talent to the right parts of the lineup will make the Rams competitive...it can't come soon enough.