39 Reasons Why the Rams Are Not the Worst Team in the NFL

Dear respected sirs and madams making your weekly Power Rankings: Now that the Rams have won a game, please consider this list of reasons to rank them #31 or higher and save us loyal fans some small amount of face. Why 39 reasons? Let’s start at the top:

  1. As he showed today, Steven Jackson (#39) is a beast among men, a difference-making playmaker in the mental and physical prime of his career. Without him, the other 38 reasons are largely irrelevant.
  2. More on SJ: Last offseason was wrecked by his contract negotiation. This offseason, aware of the winds of change surrounding the franchise, he talked of transforming himself into a leader. And I was as skeptical as anyone else. After all, words are cheap. (My job as a blogger is words, and let me tell you, words do not pay well!) But he has shown true patience and leadership through these adverse times, and deserves credit for his dedication to team as well as to his physical gifts.
  3. The Rams won a game, and beat a team — while not a great team — ranked higher in your very power rankings.
  4. The Rams came by their win honestly, with a gritty defensive effort and a notably improving offensive line. They are no longer shooting themselves in the foot with penalties, and limited their turnovers.
  5. The talentless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
  6. The heartsick Cleveland Browns.
  7. The hard-luck Kansas City Chiefs.
  8. The hopeless Oakland Raiders.
  9. The rudderless Washington Redskins.
  10. The Rams are, right now, better set in the long term than each of the aforementioned teams. There is no real pride in being ranked #27 as opposed to #32, but among the worst teams, the Rams are better positioned to make the leap into the top ten in the coming years. A competent talent-evaluating GM (Billy Devaney) and effective money man (Kevin Demoff) who are on the same page as their coaches goes a long way toward making this leap.
  11. At quarterback, the Rams admittedly have serious issues. Bulger has played worse in successive weeks, and since his shoulder injury, has noticeably toned down the aggressive tenor of his play that we saw in weeks 1-4. No one in St Louis is advocating his return for 2010. That said, he is far from the worst starting quarterback in the league.
  12. Bulger > Derek Anderson
  13. Bulger > Jamarcus Russell
  14. Bulger (now) > Josh Johnson/ Freeman
  15. Bulger > Jake Delhomme
  16. Bulger = Matt Cassel. Both are whip-armed quarterbacks who excel in the “right” situation: with obscene talent at WR, a simplified set playbook, and a stout offensive line. Both are markedly overpaid. But for St Louis, it makes economic sense to cut Bulger after this season. Cassel is stuck in KC for a while — but not long enough for KC to create the “right situation” for him to succeed.
  17. The Rams have real depth at offensive line, something they’ve lacked for years, and a true asset to any rebuilding team. They lost their most physical blocker in Richie Incognito prior to the Lions game, lost Jacob Bell during the game — and Jackson averaged 6.7 yards per carry, and Bulger wasn’t sacked once. All-position veteran Adam Goldberg and Mark Setterstrom, the last remaining asset of the 2006 NFL draft, filled in well. If anything else happened, the capable John Greco was ready.
  18. Trading Will Witherspoon was not a white flag of surrender. It was a part of Devaney’s continuing effort to make this team younger, and get more offensive playmakers into the lineup. Admittedly, Witherspoon still has playing time in the tank. But his loss was not a sign that the 53 Rams on the roster, or their coaches, were ready to give up.
  19. Some of Devaney’s free agent player acquisitions: Danny Amendola, James Butler, Craig Dahl, Jason Brown, Jacob Bell, Laurent Robinson, Ken Darby, Mike Karney. Not a lot of star power, but a lot of NFL character and ability to contribute positive plays. You draft star power, and use free agency to fill gaps with players who fit your system. Scott Pioli doesn’t have a market on the technique.
  20. The Rams deserve a little love. Even the NFL.com game recap of this week’s win starts with the words “Rams Lose“.
  21. Steve Spagnuolo, we think, is the right man for this job. As Bernie Miklasz points out, it is still far too early to judge Spagnuolo harshly. But it’s easy to judge what Spagnuolo isn’t: a bully, a blowhard, or a bum.
  22. Spagnuolo > Eric Mangini, who is paving his own way out of Cleveland.
  23. Spagnuolo > Raheem Morris, who is simply overmatched.
  24. Spagnuolo > Jim Zorn, the lamest of lame ducks.
  25. Spagnuolo > Dick Jauron, who bet his job on a terrible offensive system, then fired his offensive coordinator.
  26. Spagnuolo > Wade Phillips, the sleeping warden.
  27. Spagnuolo > Tom Cable … need it be said?
  28. Spagnuolo’s staff, we hope, will grow into their roles. The Rams’ coordinators in nearly every position have been promoted a level up from where they were a year before, or at any other time in their careers. As commenter CoachConnors put it, it’s “a massive undertaking, almost experiment in simulatenous learning curves.” But given the decision to tear down and rebuild from the very foundations, it makes more sense than hiring big name coordinators, and not giving them tools or lumber to work with.
  29. Pat Shurmur is still wrapping his head around the rhythm of playcalling, and has seemingly been hamstrung by Bulger’s decision-making (he rarely appears to make it even to his second read, happily trading an incompletion for a new down). The good news is that Shurmur seems to have learned how to call #39’s number. And the Rams have done increasingly well in their scripted first 15 plays.
  30. Ken Flajole loves to blitz, but doesn’t have the personnel to do it. However, the fact that the Rams have even an average run defense with our glaring lack of talent at defensive tackle or outside linebacker is a testament that something he’s doing is working.
  31. He deserves to be much higher on this list: James Laurinaitis deserves rookie of the year honors.
  32. More on Laurinaitis: he personnified “team first” by getting to every minicamp, well before his contract was done. He dove into the playbook with the intention of not only starting, but captaining the defense and making the calls, an admirable task for a rookie. And since the first preseason game, he has done exactly that. He is one of only two Rams (Atogwe is the other) to be on the field for every defensive snap. He is nose-first into running plays, and while his pass defense is not as strong, he has shown the work ethic to get better every week. As a rookie, he leads the Rams in tackles, and is on pace to hit 100 on the season. Coincidentally, so did Brian Urlacher.
  33. James Laurinaitis > Aaron Curry, in terms of every-down impact. (Curry is still a worthy player, and I’d love to have both in STL.)
  34. James Laurinaitis > Brian Cushing in pure tackle numbers, though Cushing is another fine player.
  35. James Laurinaitis > Brian Orakpo, who hasn’t benefited much from the Albert Hayensworth signing.
  36. James Laurinaitis is being outshined right now by Jairus Byrd, the interception-happy cornerback in Buffalo, but this week’s bread at CB is next week’s toast. Just ask Tye Hill.
  37. The fans are still coming to games here in St Louis. We aren’t known as a football town, but we are a city that is faithful to our teams when they are forthright with us. The St Louis Blues tried to BS the town during the contentious pre-strike and pre-sale roster dump, and lost attendance. But new ownership and leadership came forward and played it straight with the team while they steadily rebuilt through patient drafting and shrewd dealing. And fan support is at a fever pitch now. It’s early now, but Rams fans are responding to the new leadership in St Louis in much the same way. Add some wins, and we are at a fever pitch for the Rams, too.
  38. St Louis fans > Jacksonville fans, Detroit fans, and are more appreciated by their team than Redskin fans or Raider fans.
  39. Didn’t think we could make it to 39, did you? Aren’t you proud of yourself for reading this far? The 39th (but not last) reason is perseverence. These Rams have it. They will still be fighting on every last down when a lot of these other bottom feeders have given up. So make yourself look smart, and jump on the bandwagon now.