Rams’ Offensive Struggles — Picking Our Targets

You’re angry, you’re frustrated, you want the Greatest Show back. But it’s long gone, has been for years. Go on and point fingers, Rams fans, you know you want to. But remember that pointing the finger at someone else also means pointing one at yourself. (Or something like that. I was never very good at those Mom homilies.)

VanRam over at TurfShowTimes has a very thought-provoking piece this week on the slow start (again) of the Rams offense this year, comparing this season to the last three. We were expecting (or hoping at least) to see big changes in the Rams on the field, to reflect the big changes we saw in the front office. But this quote captures the situation pretty succinctly:

Enter Spagnuolo, Devaney, etc. They inherited the wreckage of a franchise in a deep state of decline…think Afghanistan after the US ran the Taliban out. The Rams team they took over had too many holes to fill in just one season.

But as we look at the team, can we say that each player or position group is getting the most out of their ability? Can we say that the coaching staff is applying the best strategies? Or is there still room for the kind of improvement that will lead the team to a better win total than years past?

And if there is room for improvement, who do you point to as the most severely underperforming person or group on this unit? Or to put it bluntly, who just pisses you off? A full breakdown is after the break.


The Primary Targets:

Marc Bulger? He’s too quiet. He’s not tough. He wilts under pressure. He’s no Kurt Warner. And once he got paid, he stopped caring about winning. Does that pretty much sum up the basic arguments against him?

And yet, this season he has played through pain, delivered throws on target, and showed a fiery side that few believed he still had. (He still isn’t Kurt Warner, but outside of some sort of Face/Off scenario, that isn’t going to change.) However, despite the image makeover, the offense still runs through him and the offense is still one of the 3 or 4 worst in the the league.

Some rational arguments can be made against Bulger’s performance: He isn’t testing defenses deep. He isn’t recognizing defenses and audibling into better plays. He rarely challenges his receivers to make a play in tight coverage, preferring incompletions to high-risk throws. He doesn’t do the little things (i.e. play fakes, pump fakes, escaping pressure) as well as the upper echelon of quarterbacks.

No matter how you look at it, it’s hard to argue that the Rams have their “Franchise Quarterback” on the roster right now. On the other hand, you could argue that Bulger, or the quarterback position in general, is not the biggest problem on this team. But that’s missing the point. You’ve been watching the Rams, and football, a long time now, and you know what a real quarterback looks like, and Bulger ain’t it.

Are you a Bulger-hater? With every snap you envision his boyish face and you spit in disgust. You refuse to be led by someone so effete. You crave strength and trust and a strong father figure. You can put up with a lot of flaws, and even a few slaps upside the head, as long as your man doesn’t cry or try to get in touch with your “sensitive” side.

Steven Jackson?
The complaints against the inarguable “best player on the Rams’ offense” almost always boil down to a critique of his style: For such a big, strong guy, why isn’t he a punisher? Why doesn’t he run like a Frank Gore or an Adrian Peterson? You know, run right over them! The second major complaint is that he’s always hurt.

He doesn’t always hit the holes as quickly as you’d like, but then again, his yards-per-carry average is still a very healthy 4.8 through three weeks. It’s easier to argue that he hasn’t gotten the ball enough, than to argue that he hasn’t done enough with his opportunities, but I won’t stop you.

You look at Adrian Peterson and imagine him in blue and gold, and start to tear up a little.

Are you a Jackson hater? You might be a connoisseur who loves a great painting but would revulse to see the artist at work — drunk, slovenly, unpredictable. You like things to be orderly, predictable, and high quality. You like spending money as long as you get to show it off later. And you’re not a racist, all of your friends just happen to look just like you.

The Offensive Line?
Bernie Miklasz put it best in an in-game tweet against the Redskins, saying “The Rams have invested millions of dollars into the offensive line, and so far the stimulus package is failing.”

The progress being made in the trenches is hidden by the still-obvious signs of failure: Still too many penalties. Still too many sacks and pressures being given up. And big question marks around our first round pick Jason Smith. What have the millions invested in Smith, Brown, and Bell gotten us? How much rope does Richie Incognito have left before his ridiculous antics force the Rams to cut him?

It’s often said that you don’t notice the offensive line until something goes wrong. So the fact that you even know their names, much less hear them in your nightmares, is a bad thing.

Are you an O-line hater? Perhaps you crave cleanliness and security. You’ve been working the same job for the past several years, and you’re really good at it — you’d fear promotion just as much as a layoff. Changes, when they come, are best buried or ignored.

Donnie Avery and the Receivers?
The NFL is a passing league, and you’re only as good as the make-you-miss talent you can put on the field. This group of undersized creampuffs carry defensive backs around like bad colds — they just can’t shake ’em. It’s pathetic, really.

It’s a shame about Laurent Robinson, at least he was willing to fight for a catch. But you really miss the young Big Game Torry Holt, the days of the bob-and-weave, and you even miss slow, old Ricky Proehl and his “First Down!” celebrations. At least he could hang on to the ball. Hell, you’d take Chad Esteban OchoCinco over the group we’ve got now, at least we’d have some fun on the field, right?

Are you a Donnie hater? You might be a player, in every sense of the word. You play pickup football and have some pretty decent moves left. You love the chase, and can bring the trash talk as good as anyone. You’re ultra-competitive and hate getting beat during the game, but if the guy who beat you plays the game straight up, you give a pound of respect. But you can’t stand a guy with no hustle and no game, whether he’s on your team or not. You’re willing to give a speedy kid a chance, but you’re still wearing your 81 jersey until he shows you something.

Pat Shurmur?
Come on, even an idiot knows you don’t run on every single first down, Shurm! Jesus Christ, Shurm, what the hell are these guys doing out there? Goddammit, throw the ball deep every once in a while why don’t ya? And why isn’t the ball in Jackson’s hands every series? Isn’t he our best player?

Jesus, they should fire this guy yesterday and bring back Martz, or someone! Somebody who knows what the end zone looks like. I’ll tell you who they shoulda got is Pete Carroll, no matter how much it cost. Or Mike Leach, even. All the Rams need is somebody with two brain cells and they’d be better than that Linehan garbage, I thought, but this is even worse!

I was listening to Mike and Mike and they called the Rams “pathetic” and it burns me up, but I can’t argue with ’em. I called in and said they should have traded for Brandon Marshall and drafted Mark Sanchez, and gotten a real coordinator who can take the fight to the other team. And they agreed! I mean, what can you say to that?

Are you a Shurmur hater? You get together in large groups to watch the games — friends or strangers, it doesn’t matter — and you have no problem talking back to the TV. You study the game, or at the very least you play the shit out of fantasy football, and there’s no denying you know what you’re talking about, even if you never played the game. Hell, the Rams should hire you! You really, really wish they would.

Jay Zygmunt?
You look back on the legacy of this team, the massive pile of suck that was piled on this roster by years and years of ineptitude, a house divided making decisions based some unknown logical maze of internal politics and ego-tripping, and it’s no wonder the Rams are still struggling. They got lucky with the Steven Jackson pick, but almost screwed the pooch with the disastrous contract negotiations last season.

The only thing you hate more than incompetence is prideful incompetence. If the complete house-cleaning of the last offseason hadn’t happened, you’d be watching this season with one eye closed, and keeping this team at arm’s length.

But changes did take place, top to bottom, and any farmer can tell you that sometimes you have to burn the fields to restore fertility to the soil. You can be patient, for at least a little longer, while the new team takes shape. But you’re hoping for something positive to latch onto soon.

Are you a Zygmunt-hater? You are a highly intelligent, and dare I say good looking, person. You are capable of seeing the big picture, and perhaps you might even be able to write a pretty decent Rams blog. Also, you probably would still vote for Obama, you commie.

Mike Martz?
As an offensive coordinator, Mike Martz offered the ultimate sugar rush to this town, catapulting the team from the darkest depths of suck to instant glory. He spearheaded a perfect storm of events at a time of cataclysmic change in the NFL — no one outside of Tampa at the time was talking about “cover 2” defenses. It was a time of innocence and bliss.

As head coach, Martz offered the ultimate hangover from the ultimate rush. It was clear that big-play offense was still the only concern the Rams had, and anything else — from pass protection to special teams to tackling on defense — was allowed to wilt.

But worst of all, his mentality infected the whole organization, and the fan base, too. St Louis had such a sudden rush of awe attached to them through the Rams, but like a tablecloth slowly and clumsily pulled away, that sense of awe and everything else piled on top of it got dropped to the floor. Linehan was only hired as a “responsible” response to the Martz era, and look at where that got us. That the Rams are still feeling the effects of this hangover is only an indication of just how powerful that Martz addiction was.

Are you a Martz hater? Like ex-Catholics, revolutionaries and social workers, you can’t help but rail against authority figures, both real and imagined. You single-mindedly hate single-mindedness, and don’t notice the contradiction. Keep fighting the good fight


Really? Are you even a Rams fan if you don’t hate some of them?