In the wake of the world banking system's near failure, the rush to find rational solutions quickly devolved into the kind of partisan finger-pointing typical of the more trivial political pursuits, drowning out the rational voices. It's a reminder of just why it's so important to tread carefully and dispassionately when conducting the pathology of a meltdown. So, having had a good night's sleep and a heavy dose of Xanax to kill the rage of watching the St. Louis Rams steal defeat from the jaws of victory, let's go back through some of the key failures in yesterday's loss and diagnose what potential impact they'll have on the Rams moving forward.
Where to start?
This is an area that incites lots of passion among the Rams faithful, and I'm not exactly sure how to approach it. The most glaring area of concern here is with the offense. Not that the first half was just pure genius, but it looked that way compared to the second half.
Facing eight or nine men in the box, the play action passes disappeared along with the slants and screens and whatever grit the offensive line might have had earlier in the game. Finally, on the Rams last possession of the game, one that ended with Mark Clayton's second touchdown catch, the Rams found ways to move the ball, feeding Danny Amendola (the team's most capable receiver) on quick routes in the middle of the field, behind the horde of black jerseys taking away the run and bringing pressure on Sam Bradford.
People hate the dink and dump passing, but it does work when the pass rush is getting to the QB too easily and the run game has been taken away. With that established, the Rams can start taking some shots downfield...if only they had a receiver who could find enough separation to make those plays work (more on the receivers below).
The decision to use all three timeouts late in the game was a little mystifying. I understand using a couple to stop the clock and not allow Oakland to simply burn as many seconds as possible and to keep the defense fresh since they'd been on the field for all but 2 minutes of the fourth quarter.
The coaches, in my mind, are also partly responsible for the lapses in discipline that resulted in 8 penalties for 92 yards, with 5 of those penalties costing 15 yards a piece.
Teams like the Rams cannot afford to make costly errors like taking bad penalties, blowing coverage assignments, failing to pick up a blitz or not getting rid of the ball on a sack. Across the board, the Rams failed in this department, and it made it exceedingly difficult to move the ball. To me, accountability for that starts at the top.
Look at where the penalties came too. The chop block on a second quarter punt was quickly followed by Craig Dahl's unnecessary roughness penalty. Combined, combined those two calls helped move the Raiders from the St. Louis 44-yard line to the 11-yard line, before they eventually kicked a field goal. It only got worse from there, and Fred Robbins' roughing the passer play doesn't need anymore discussion.
A couple of those calls were bunk, but when teams get sloppy they don't get the benefit of the doubt on calls like that.
The Rams have a real problem at wide receiver. Their two best wide receivers are Danny Amendola and Mark Clayton, both fine players but not enough to make the passing game dangerous. And some of this comes back to the coaching, best seen in their reluctant use of Amendola on quick passes over the middle to move the chains.
Clayton has been a good get for the Rams, but he is not the complete package. Both his catches were touchdowns, but he was targeted a total of 5 times. Amendola is by far the team's best receiver. His role will almost certainly have to be expanded. I cannot understand why the Rams weren't throwing to him more often in this game. If nothing else, it might have taken some heat off the other receivers.
Part of the problem is that this group can hardly get any separation in their routes, even with most of the defense's attention focused on stopping Steven Jackson. Laurent Robinson really deserves all the negative credit you can heap on him. Targeted four times, he came up with just one catch, and helped create Bradford's only INT on the day because he could not get away from coverage.
Ideally, the Rams would be seriously considering a move to get Vincent Jackson. In terms of this season, it would make the division race interesting since the NFC West looks like a big joke at the moment. More importantly, it would send a good faith signal to fans who now need a really compelling reason to spend dwindling disposable income on tickets to the Dome. In the seasons ahead, V-Jax would make the Rams much more legitimate.
That's probably not going to happen. So we have to seek other solutions.
Start by getting Brandon Gibson back in the mix. The Rams, ironically enough, opted for special teams and blockers among their actives this week. Gibson would help the Rams in a passing game that needs to utilize those routes over the middle the field. When you lack quality, sometimes you can make up a little ground with quantity.
What about Fendi Onobun? The coaching staff says he's not ready, and I do believe them. However, they need to get him ready because Bradford needs all the threats he can get at tight end. Onobun also has the potential to be a threat with his size and speed, creating mismatches with opposing linebackers and secondaries.
Has anyone signed Keenan Burton yet? If not, the Rams might want to give him a call.
The three areas above are by far the biggest areas of concern for the Rams going forward. However, there are a couple other areas in need of mention.
I really can't say too much negative about the Rams defense. They were tasked with the impossible and forced back onto the field before they could even get a drink of water. However, the defensive line collectively struggled to get pressure on Gradkowski, though he was so quick working in the pocket, they didn't have much chance.
That put more on the linebackers and the secondary. For the most part they did well limiting the damage from Oakland's short range passing game. The biggest concern I have about this group was the sheer amount of yards they allowed to Darren McFadden on the outside. Given that, I can't help but wonder if run stopper extraorinaire David Vobora shouldn't be seeing more snaps.
This group played much better against a tougher Arizona defense last week. Run blocking has to be better. I hate to take Adam Goldberg off the field because he's a real presence with his leadership (did you see who it was arguing the first call that denied Clayton's TD), but I can't help but wonder if the Rams don't need a bigger guy at RT? Is John Greco really so bad that Hank Fraley is the preferred option?
Pass blocking snafus happened here and there with running backs, full backs and tight ends, not just the o-line. Having Bajema and Fells off the field for periods of time hurt the Rams. And Mike Karney...?
The group just needs to have the fire under their asses stoked again. Play harder, play smarter. As does the rest of the team...