The St. Louis Rams and their fans, mostly we fans, are no strangers to disappointment. Save for a magical three-year run to start the last decade, it's been mostly disappointment for the Rams and their fans. In way, we've just gotten used to it. One Rams team in particular, though, stands as a model of disappointment, according to one look at the ten most disappointing teams of the past 25 years.
Hopefully, all that's changed now. The Rams have what looks to be a solid foundation in place to lead the way, once again, to better times and winning seasons. Of course, they had to do that by overcoming the missteps and negligence of the past administration.
7-9 wasn't supposed to happen in 2002 anymore than it was in 2010, albeit for slightly different reasons. Coming off a Super Bowl appearance with mostly the same group of players, teams just aren't supposed to slip to that level, just like they're not supposed to go 7-9 after winning one game the year before. Sean McCormick of Football Outsiders, writing for ESPN, ranks the 2002 Rams as the second-most disappointing team of the last 25 years.
The Rams returned the same roster that had dominated the league in 2001, and most observers thought they would atone for their shocking Super Bowl loss by winning their second title in three years. It didn't work out that way. St. Louis sleepwalked through the preseason, and the alarm didn't go off even once the games were for real. Kurt Warner played like an Arena League castoff, opening the season with only one touchdown and seven interceptions before breaking a finger on his throwing hand, an injury that sidelined him for most of the season. Warner's DYAR was minus-95, just one year after generating a league-best DYAR of 1,667. The running game also fell off. Marshall Faulk accounted for nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage, but that was down almost 700 yards from his MVP 2001 season. The Greatest Show on Turf was over.
Warner's struggles to open the season are pretty tough to ignore. The Rams lost their first five games that year, with Warner leaving early in week four not to return until week 10. Of course, there were some other factors at play here too. The defense went from the league's third best to its 11th ranked, according to DVOA. It's hard to discount the loss of London Fletcher between the two seasons.
Of course, the offensive line was a real problem, thanks to injuries that put Orlando Pace out for five games and saw two players rotate through at left guard. Warner was sacked nine times in the first three games that season, five times by Tampa Bay in week 3. The season before also took its toll, on Warner and the whole team. Warner was sacked 44 times through the regular season and the playoffs.
The lesson here is depth. The Rams had that with Bulger behind Warner, but it was pretty thin elsewhere on the roster. Not only could they have used better depth on the line, but it was a season in which a legitimate partner or backup to Marshall Faulk was needed...sort of making the case for two backs before it became the thing. The Rams' long-term failure, as we've covered here before, was the result of years and years of poor drafting that left the team threadbare.
The Rams bounced back to 12-4 the next year, but the taste of victory was short-lived. Two seasons of 8-8 were the best they could muster in the next seven years.