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Is Spagnuolo on the Hot Seat in 2011?

Without question, 2010 was a great year for Rams football, even though St. Louis came up one game short from winning the NFC West and entering the post season.

Steve Spagnuolo has seemingly started to put his stamp on a once maligned defense, and has worked with Billy Devaney to bring in the foundation pieces that should bring exciting, competative football for years to come, not just on defense with Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Bradley Fletcher, but also on offense with Sam Bradford, Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith.

With that said, one has to wonder what expectations Stan Kroenke has set for the 2011 squad led by Steve Spagnuolo. Does Mr. Kroenke still believe the Rams are in rebuilding mode, or does he expect a division title in 2011 and a trip to the playoffs?

It took Jimmie Johnson 3 years to get the Cowboys to the playoffs with records of 1-15, 7-9, and 11-5 (playoffs), with a Superbowl title the year after at 13-3. I know you can't compare apples to oranges, but historically it seems year 3 is the sweet spot for impatience to set in.

After the jump, we'll look at some stats, and some pluses and minuses concerning Spagnuolo that could be the deciding factor for 2011.

Strength of Schedule:

2010 31st Strength of Schedule .449: Even though there is no argument the 2010 Rams did improve to 7-9 after going 6-42 the three years previous, you still have to factor in that their 2010 strength of schedule was 31st in the league. Only the Cardinals had an easier strength of schedule, and don't forget, the two split the series. If the Rams could have swept the Cards, they would have made the playoffs and won the division.

2011 26th Strength of Schedule .477: This is where it looks promising, however let's look at who they will face:

Home Baltimore Ravens* 12 4
Home New Orleans Saints* 11 5
Home Philadelphia Eagles* 10 6
Home Seattle Seahawks* 7 9
Home San Francisco 49ers 6 10
Home Washington Redskins 6 10
Home Arizona Cardinals 5 11
Home Cincinnati Bengals 4 12
Away Pittsburgh Steelers* 12 4
Away New York Giants 10 6
Away Green Bay Packers* 10 6
Away Seattle Seahawks* 7 9
Away Dallas Cowboys 6 10
Away San Francisco 49ers 6 10
Away Cleveland Browns 5 11
Away Arizona Cardinals 5 11

Even though the Rams strength of schedule is in the bottom half of the league, 2011 will bring a much tougher schedule than 2010 by leaps and bounds. Not only do the Rams play Baltimore, New Orleans and the Eagles at home, they have to go on the road to face the Steelers, Giants, Cowboys and the Superbowl Champion Packers.

One can argue that to be the best, you have to beat the best. While that is true, you have to ask if the Rams are ready to take that next step and even compete with the best. We'll see.


Spagnuolo Positives:

- Like mentioned above, he has definitely shown he has improved the team from a personnel standpoint and put together the foundation pieces. MLB, DE, QB, LT, RT were definitely the focus his last two years and have been solidified.

- Has changed the mentality at Rams park and made a more "Team" environment. Signs of individual players were taken down, and team photos were replaced. Even the shrubs got a face lift outside Rams park to just change the overall feel and mentality.

- Seems to be well respected by players, particularly the core leaders. Steven Jackson, Sam Bradford and many others have nothing but Kudos for coach thus far.

- Made a defense go from porous to one of the better ones in the league in just two seasons. The Rams ranked 7th in the league with 43 sacks in 2010 (the leader was Pittsburgh with 48, just 5 more).


Spagnuolo Negatives:

- Still needs to improve game managment, particularly near the end of games. Not taking an extra play when time permitted (Jacksonville), as well as pooch punts when in FG range (San Francisco), AND not going for the jugular when having a lead (which seemed to happen regularly).

- Control Freak - however this could be added to the positives. Firing the equipment manager raised mixed reactions.

- Questionable player decisions. In 2010 we saw a lot of players on the field that many of us felt should not even be on the Rams practice squad (see Dockery). And reverse to that, many players we felt should have been on the field gaining experience, were instead on the sidelines or practice squad 9See Marquis Johnson).

- Conservative approach - Pat Shurmur got the blame for the dink and dunk style the last two seasons, however it had been stated that Spagnuolo actually wanted it that way. While we don't know for sure, the hiring of Josh McDaniel will tell us all a lot in 2011.


When it all is said and done, and everything is weighed out, I believe this year's off season is going to be the deal maker or breaker. The Rams have the foundation pieces in place, but now the next test begins... can Spagnuolo fill the gaps and take the Rams to the next level? Is it even fair to expect another big leap, particularly with the lock out, and a new offense coordinator who can't even hand the team his playbook to look at during this off season?

One thing is certain, the lock out is DEFINITELY not helping his situation.

SO, Is this a make or break year for Spagnuolo in Kroenke's eyes?

Let me know your thoughts...