A No-Win Situation for Spagnuolo: Richie Incognito

Coach Spagnuolo,

Let me start by saying that I don’t envy the situation you find yourself in, but I admire your determination to face it head on without complaining, without making excuses. Watching the Rams crumble apart at the very foundations over the past several years has been painful, more painful than this 1-12 start to the season has been so far. Today’s misery is the direct product of years of people in our team’s leadership turning a blind eye to their problems. Our hope for the future rests with you and Mr. Devaney, and your steadfastness to attack these problems directly, without rancor but with a quickness.

As a Rams fan I want the team to win, or at least compete, every week. And I recognize that to compete, the Rams need an infusion of both talent and toughness. And Richard Dominick Incognito Jr, “Richie” to his friends and enemies alike, has both in spades. But, as he showed you in the season’s first game, his impulsiveness and lack of discipline stand in the way of harvesting that talent.

You showed a stern patience with him that game, benching him for a series, giving him a “time out” as would a proper parent to a wayward four-year-old. He, in turn, responded by toeing the line for a series of games. “Hooray,” we cheered from the sidelines, for if you could get something positive out of this enigma of a player, it would be a testament to your approach, a building block of faith. But it was a cautious cheer, because we know the history of this Richie.

After taking steps forward, bit by bit, the offensive line really gelled and became a force in the Jacksonville game, a game that was very nearly won. Incognito contributed positively to that game, but was then lost to a foot injury. After a step back against the otherworldly Colts, the line excelled in games against Detroit and New Orleans.

No doubt Richie stood on the sidelines during those games and had to be burning to play. He has a noticeable enthusiasm for the game, a pure burning desire to hit someone. It’s an attitude common to some of your favorite defensive linemen from the Giants, I’m sure. It’s the attitude that you’d love to harness.

But this week, in only his second week back, he has apparently forgotten all that you’ve taught him. All the discipline, all the self-control. Most importantly, he forgot how to play “team-first.”

First Quarter, your Rams were digging themselves out of a massive hole, pinned inside your 5 yard line. Null was finding his receivers, and you had a makeable 3rd and 4 coming up, when Richie spears his man with his helmet. After the whistle. 3rd and 4 becomes 3rd and 19. The drive is killed. What can you do? You bench him, talk to him, try to get his head on straight, impress upon him how much you need him, and send him back out there.

And then, three drives later, he does it again.

That’s strike three. But what now?

He can argue, and he certainly will, that he was baited by the other team, that the refs always look for his number when trouble starts, and so on and so on. He can tell you that he’s innocent. What that tells me is that he is not willing to do what you must — face the problem head on.

As long as the rest of the NFL knows what Richie doesn’t — that he can be baited into stupid plays that kill his team — he will continue to be a liability. A liability that you just can’t afford.

We watched Dick Vermeil try to be a good parent to another troubled headcase, Lawrence Phillips. But all of his “good parenting” went down the well, and nearly dragged Vermeil with it. Ultimately he had to draw the line, and make the best decision for the team. As Peter King chronicled, it began with a benching:

Vermeil calls Phillips and tells him that he isn’t sure what he’s going to do, but that this accumulation of black marks will have some consequences. “When you go to practice today,” Vermeil says, “you’ll go out as Jerald Moore’s backup.”

The coach sees no difference in Phillips’s demeanor. He doesn’t get the apology he wanted. Finally, he says, “Lawrence, tell me something. What would you do if you were me?”

Phillips thinks for a moment. “Coach,” he says, “I’d cut me.”

We doubt that Richie will be so kind as to make this decision for you. But it’s a decision that must be made now, with a cool head and an eye toward the team you are trying to build. What’s best for them?

Respectfully, I think it’s best to move on.

Will from RamsHerd