Explaining to people that you run a web site dedicated to the St. Louis Rams almost always results in an awkward conversation. I've been doing it since the 2006 season, but the make up of that conversation hasn't changed.
Tinged with disbelief. Once said, I can go in any number of directions, depending on just how argumentative I'm feeling. Something completely unexpected happened last week. Rather than question why anybody would spend a spare second for the St. Louis Rams, someone asked what I though about the Rams, their budding superstar quarterback and their earnest head coach.
Stumped, a month's worth of posts poured out of my mouth. Sensing that a trip wire had been set, my partner in casual conversation simplified it for me, asking what I thought about the Rams' 2010 season.
It's not an easy question, not for someone that's written no fewer than half a million words about last season. However, when you put something under the microscope, it's easy to miss the bigger picture, the widescreen shot. The central narrative themes of the Rams' 2010 season are visible in almost whatever lens you use to look at the team.
Disappointment and elation. That's the water cooler summation, the meta view of the Rams surprising 7-9 run last season. Not even the most naive fans expected a 7-9 run this time last year, much less a week 17 unofficial playoff game that would determine who would from the NFC West would get thrashed at the hands of a more talented team in the real playoffs.
But there were the Rams, dinking and dunking their way into our hearts, reminding us that losing football was not, in fact, a way of life for their long suffering fans.
We laugh about preseason football, but Rams fans got their first taste of a new era during those four games. Debates about whether or not Billy Devaney erred in skipping on Ndamukong Suh for Sam Bradford with the top pick disappeared after he showed fans just what kind of talent he had. Hell, even the small contingent that wanted to draft Jimmy Clausen in his place went silent. Elation. Preseason football is preseason football, but the nucleus of something bigger stood out to Rams fans. Beating the Patriots was particularly cathartic, especially after Bill Belichick kept his starters in the game into the fourth quarter.
The season opened with disappointment, thanks to consecutive narrow losses that really shouldn't have been. Week 17 made for a disappointing bookend to the season. In between were the dizzying highs and harsh lows. Elation and disappointment, yeng and yang.
Weeks 1 and 17 actually have much in common. Those two losses tell the story of who the Rams were last year, and what I ultimately thought about the team.
Most obvious was the inexperience of up and down the roster and on the sidelines among the coaches. Sam Bradford made a couple of textbook rookie mistakes, including a throw into triple coverage and a missed safety blitz that got him sacked. A green streak was evident throughout the roster. A young group of receivers struggled with the speed and coverage of veteran defenders; there was a reason that Mark Clayton was such an asset.
Inexperience and a more general sense of not-quite-ready-for-prime-time was there in the season's final week as well, a prime time game to conclude the NFL season. Witness the blown coverage that allowed Ruvell Martin to make a 60-yard catch on the Seahawks opening drive. Bradford and the offense failed to get any rhythm going as a group for a variety of reasons, dropped passes, forcing throws, stuff runs, etc.
It wasn't all inexperience. Talent, or a lack thereof, was just plain missing in some well-documented cases. That theme is a fairly easy one to see, one we talk about often here through a number of posts dealing with the draft and free agency.
On the sidelines was a coaching staff still feeling its way through uncharted waters, not at all unlike the young roster they oversaw. Chris Collinsworth questioned Spagnuolo on live television in that final week of the season for his decision to not challenge Laurent Robinson's out-of-bounds catch. So did fans, and it wasn't the first time that we openly wondered why Spagnuolo let a ruling on the field slide by as is while standing on the sidelines stoically.
In spite of that, there was never any doubt that Spagnuolo inspired anything less than the best from his team. Even in the middle of the lockout, not having seen the guy for months, the head coach's influence is still visible among his players, going forth and quietly grinding it out to be ready once the doors finally open.
Spagnuolo's cautious approach was never more evident than the dink and dunk passing game, designed to develop his rookie quarterback, the future of the franchise, in a controlled manner, even at the short-term cost of winning some games. Hiring McDaniels in January, Spagnuolo signaled that he is willing to take more risk in his third season as head coach and Bradford's sophomore season. The dynamic between those two is one subplot to keep your eye on this season.
Finally, you can't talk about the 2010 Rams without mentioning resolve. Even with the lack of experience and talent in spots all over the roster, this was a team that fought to the bitter end every week. Pair that with an improved roster and the results will be there. You can't have a winning football team without the kind of resolve that these Rams possess. Sure, plenty of other ingredients are required, but that sheer will to win is the foundation it all stands on.
Good things are born out of suffering; it's one of history's oldest running narratives. The Rams and their fans have suffered for a long, long time. 2010 gave us a taste of better things ahead, but it just wasn't the time. There was still a little more purging of old ghosts to do.
Over the coming weeks, myself and the other TST authors will be going back through the 2010 season, the highs and lows, with an eye on the themes that will define the Rams of 2011 and beyond.