Well, this should be a fairly easy one. At 1-7, it's safe to say that the St. Louis Rams have underperformed. Actually, underperformed is inaccurate. The Rams have been huge disappointment, unable to play anywhere near expectations. As for the reasons why, nobody really knows. We hear things, we can pinpoint problems on the field, but a 1-7 record points to a systemic failure.
There are a handful of things we can point to that have been major factors in the Rams' failure this season.
- Preparation - It should be pretty clear that the lockout had a significant impact on the team. Nowhere has this been more obvious than on offense. Quarterback Sam Bradford was asked to step in and learn a new offense in just his second year in the NFL, as well as pick up the additional duty of making his own reads and protection calls. That's not an easy task. Throw in the fact that the team made a huge mistake, in my opinion, in not hiring a quarterbacks coach, leaving McDaniels to work with Bradford and the rest of the offense (and keep in mind that the other position coaches were new to the offensive scheme too, just like the players). The defense struggled with a lack of preparation too, though many of us didn't think they would.
- Injuries - I don't wonder if the rash of injuries didn't have a little something to do with the lack of preparation. Whatever it was, key injuries hit the team pretty hard. The loss of Steven Jackson for a period early in the season hurt more than I think we acknowledge. No Danny Amendola certainly hurt Bradford too. That said, good teams have to overcome injuries. The Rams' cornerback play has significantly improved after looking awfully rough for a time there without Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher.
- Schedule - You want to be a good team, you have to play good teams. The schedule is not excuse, in my mind, so much as it is a compounding factor. Poor preparation and the injuries made these matchups even more difficult than they already would have been.
- Talent Acquisition - Once again, the Rams failed to address key needs at the beginning of the season. They finally added a running back behind Steven Jackson, and Cadillac Williams has been acceptable, except for some really dumb plays. Jerious Norwood has been a bust. It's too bad. Neither player brings enough to the table anymore to present a real threat to defenses. Without Steven Jackson, they were inadequate solutions. With Steven Jackson, they don't offer any kind of second dimension to the offense. At wide receiver, the Rams did not do enough to bring in the kind of weapons they needed, only getting Brandon Lloyd after it was too late to matter. The Mike Sims-Walker addition was another free agent bust. When the Rams lost Jerome Murphy in training camp, they needed to bring in another corner, one of the more established veterans out there, especially since both Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher have lengthy injury histories. We can talk about late-round draft busts all we want, but the free agent record has been mixed, at best.
- Coaching - There's no bigger issue plaguing this team. You can blame the lack of talent, the injuries and all those other things, but the bottom line is that the Rams should have been playing better than they have through the first part of this season. The lack of execution and mental lapses from this team are just too hard to overlook. That's a leadership issue. Steve Spagnuolo and his assistants are the ones with the ultimate responsibility for making sure players are playing at their best. That's simply not happening, and it will now most likely cost some people their jobs.
For the first half of the season, I don't know that there's any other grade I can give the Rams than an F. The record is one thing, but how they got there is an entirely different story. After watching those games, I don't know that I'd even give them a pass on effort.
Now, let me turn this over to you. What grade would you give the Rams and why? What do you see as the biggest problem(s) that have kept them in the tank this season?