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St. Louis Rams: Still Seeking A Return Investment Up Front

The St. Louis Rams have a lot of money tied up in their offensive line, and the return on that investment has been disappointing to say the least.
The St. Louis Rams have a lot of money tied up in their offensive line, and the return on that investment has been disappointing to say the least.

The St. Louis Rams are an enigma. Easily the most talented team in their division, the Rams have done nothing but disappoint. A tough schedule obscures the poor play from Steve Spagnuolo's team. Most discouraging of all is an apparent sophomore slump by Sam Bradford, last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

Bradford, known for his accuracy as a prized recruit out of Oklahoma, his 50.3 percent completion percentage bests only Kerry Collins, the QB that Indianapolis was using as kind of a Weekend At Bernie's trick to the get through the season. His QB rating of 73.3 is fourth worst in the league. 

It's not entirely Bradford's fault. His receivers, again, cannot consistent get open. Their struggles with man coverage are particularly obvious. The real problems for Bradford are in front of him; his pass protection might be generously called weak. Some of that is reflected in his learning process of making his own protection calls, as evidenced by a few instances where his running backs or tight ends were way off a blitzer. More troubling is that the offensive line just plain stinks in protection so far this season. 

Bradford has been sacked 11 times this season, third most in the league. Yesterday, Tony Softli at ESPN 101 wrote about Bradford's body language as a sign that he was struggling. How could he not hang down his head? His offensive line, in which the Rams have made a considerable investment, can do nothing to protect him. 

Offensive line coach Steve Loney gets a big part of the blame here. This is his fourth year coaching the Rams offensive line. His time has coincided with the drafting of Jason Smith in 2009, easily the most disappointing of the bunch, and the failure to turn him into a reliable, every down player. In 2009, the Rams also signed Jason Brown to a five-year, $37.5 million contract; Brown has never matched his level of play with the Ravens since coming here. Jacob Bell, signed to a six-year, $36 million in 2008, has been inconsistent during his stint with the Rams. Rodger Saffold, a second-round pick last year, played very in his debut season, but has yet to show progress this year. 

It's a problem, an expensive problem that could get even more expensive if Sam Bradford keep getting hammered by any opposing defensive lineman who wants to take a run at him. 

Unlike the secondary, the Rams' offensive line has no injuries to blame for their struggles, only themselves. Bradford needs to step up and start holding this group accountable. However, Bradford as the team leader raises another set of questions, most importantly is he ready to lead in just his second season in the league? 

The Rams are a young team without much in the way of playoff experience, at key positions. The same can be said for the coaching staff. Their lack of identity and leadership might be a simple function of not having anyone who really knows how to lead a team. 

Whatever the problem is, the Rams need to dig deep and find an answer real soon, up front with the line and throughout the entire roster.