The ugly play of last year's rookie sensation WR Donnie Avery has dominated more than one water cooler conversation among St. Louis Rams fans today (that is where there are enough fans willing to talk publically about their team). Without a doubt, Avery deserves the flack he's getting for an ugly, two-game sophomore slump. Avery's gaffs kneecapped the offense and the entire passing passing game suffered without Avery emerging as the reliable threat he was last year. However, there's another play that hurt the passing game and the offense as a whole: TE Randy McMichael.
McMichael had a rotten day yesterday. The dropped passes were only the most obvious problems in the veteran tight end's game. After catching the first two balls thrown at him, he failed to be much of a threat on the short passes to the middle and in the flats, taking away a key part of the Rams offensive game plan.
After catching the first two passes throw to him, each for 7 yards, the next three passes thrown to McMichael ended up incomplete. The week before his hands were a little better and he caught 4 of 6 passes thrown his way, averaging 11 yards per catch; however, two of those 4 grabs came on 3rd downs with the Rams needing more than 20 yards to convert, i.e. defenders had no need to worry about a short pass to an open McMichael in the middle.
McMichael has never been an elite TE in this league. His catch percentage topped 60% just twice in the past seven seasons. The Rams and fans, myself included, have oversold McMichael's ability as a contributor based on some nice yardage numbers with the Dolphins. He can catch passes short, i.e. as a dump off option, albeit one with a low catch percentage, but doesn't have the homerun threat that a speedier TE would bring on seam routes and other plays.
His skills would be a nice complement with better receivers around him, and that's probably part of the thinking that brought him here initially, when the Rams still had Holt and Bruce headlining the offense. He had Chris Chambers and Marty Booker in the lineup with him during his Miami heyday. Open fields with more room in the middle suit McMichael nicely, and the Rams are not getting that with their current group of receivers.
The Rams can still get some use out of McMichael during his last year under contract with the team, as long as he can cut down on the dropped balls. Pat Shurmur might be best served using Fells more, but he's still something of an unknown.
Ultimately, you can add tight end to the list of Rams needs in the near future.