Recap: Redskins 17 – Rams 10. If You Want Blood…

    “It’s Criminal. There ought to be a law. Criminal. There ought to be a whole lot more.”

There are lots of valid questions after this awful loss to the Washington Redskins. “How did the Rams manage to lose this game?” or “How can the Rams keep making the same damn mistakes week after week?” or “What was I thinking giving up a beautiful afternoon to watch this?”

But the question of the day is this: Did the St Louis Rams just play their last game of the Steve Spagnuolo era?

If Stan Kroenke was on hand to hear the tenor of Rams fans who attended the game, the profound anger, the rage of someone who has been cheated out of their money, the answer might be yes.

The talk all this week and next will be about “accountability.” Who deserves to be held responsible for this mess, and whose heads must roll in the process of cleaning it up. After four weeks with absolutely no improvement in the sloppy errors that are killing this team, Rams fans are out for blood. The question is whose, and who holds the hatchet.

    “You get a nothin’ for somethin’. Tell me who can you trust.”

The biggest non-producers in this game were the Rams’ offensive line, who didn’t even rate the courtesy of a failing grade from Brennan’s gradebook. Protection was awful, even though Bradford appeared to be making protection calls well enough that nobody came unblocked. The blocks that were set were simply beaten, over and over and over again. Bradford’s tendency to hold the ball and look downfield is exposing a brutal weakness in the offense — his line simply cannot sustain a pocket for longer than two seconds.

The line struggled more the closer the team got to scoring position. Multiple times in the first three quarters, Bradford dragged the team across the 50, only to see drives turn back around, forced backwards by sacks, by penalties, or both.

Then after James Laurinaitis and the defense had given the Rams a miraculous, arguably undeserved opportunity to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, protection broke down completely. Laurinaitis’ interception and runback gave the Rams the ball on the 19. Bradford was pressured into an incompletion, then sacked and sacked again. Down a touchdown, less than five minutes left in the game, forty yards away from tying the game, they punted.

Should we mention that this is the highest-paid offensive line in the game? Yes, I believe that deserves a note.

If you want blood, you got it: Fire OL coach Steve Loney, and bench RT Jason Smith.

The Rams’ receivers and their now comical allergy to catching the football come a close second. Only two receivers had been drop-free in the first three weeks: Mike Sims-Walker and Austin Pettis. In pointing this out pre-game, I jinxed the hell out of both of them. Sims-Walker dropped his first three passes and fell down on a fourth that prompted a mad scramble by Bradford. He finished with one catch on six targets. Pettis then followed that by fumbling a pair of punts that he foolishly declined to fair-catch. Both times.

The two weren’t alone in their ineptitude. Michael Hoomanawanui dropped a gorgeous pass down the seam as three defenders converged on him. Lance Kendricks struggled again with drops, letting a touchdown through his hands that would have started the Rams’ comeback with a seven-spot. Instead, we settled for a short field goal.

Bradford’s trust in this bunch has almost completely evaporated. That what happens when 15% of your passes (23 of 151) have hit someone’s hands and been dropped. Despite having one of the better catch rates on the team, Gibson saw only one target. He kept feeding other receivers, but by the end of the game Pettis had emerged as his only reliable option.

Fans turned on Sims-Walker big time in this game, which is unfortunate since he had been the most consistent producer through the first three games. But with this much blood in the air, fans are ravenous.

If you want blood, you got it: Cut [insert your goat here] when Mark Clayton returns from the PUP. Might as well fire Nolan Cromwell while you’re at it. With this many drops across the board, the position coach has to take resposibility.

The large and mystifying holes opening up all over the board in the run defense continued, as the Rams seem wholly unprepared to defend anything that isn’t a straight-ahead run by a slow-footed back. Cutback runs, bootlegs and any other play that changes direction or changes pace are catching this defense flat-footed and out of position. With more creativity in their play-calling, the Redskins could have put this game far out of reach early. As it was, each score felt like it counted for double-weight.

The Rams had essentially contained Tim Hightower and Roy Helu Jr, so Shanahan gave the ball to Ryan Torain. Two plays later he had broken containment and torn off a 39-yard run for a touchdown. He finished with 135 yards on 19 carries, despite not touching the ball in the first quarter.

The breakdowns are continuing and systematic and appear to get worse the more creative the Rams get with their blitzes. Clearly something is just wrong here, whether it’s scheme or talent or a mismatch of one to the other. What makes this worse is that the players chosen were supposed to be an upgrade over the ones that had made the Rams respectable again.

If you want blood, you got it: Fire Ken Flajole, bench Brady Poppinga and Fred Robbins, elder players who have been far from effective, and start younger counterparts in their stead.

Overall, the team continues to show an alarming lack of urgency and purpose, and came out flat in the third quarter after getting booed lustily off the field at halftime by an angry crowd. (When was the last time a Sam Bradford team was booed off the field? High school football? Peewee? Never?)

The mistakes that plagued the team in week 1 are getting worse. The confidence of this team is shot, and whatever ie being taught on the practice field is not carrying through to gameday. Something fundamental about this team seems to be broken.

The well of trust that fans placed in this team has been fouled, and its Kool-aid bringing waters are now undrinkable. (The team’s ill-advised “Ram Rules” campaign and its spin-off attempts at pumping up the crowd are not helping.) This will be a long, long two week break with a seemingly hopeless matchup coming up next. Someone besides the fans has to stand up call this sorry team out, and demand more from them. 

If you want blood, you got it: Fire coach Spagnuolo, elevate Josh McDaniels, and put Billy Devaney on notice that this season needs to turn around fast in order to keep his job. 

    “Blood on the streets. Blood on the rocks. Blood in the gutters. Every last drop.”

Of course, none of these reactionary moves guarantees any kind of improvement from the team. And knowing that, not every fan wants blood.

I stood in the concourse as the crowd’s ugly mood continued early in the fourth quarter, and watched the faces of the quiet ones, the fans who were simply heartbroken and confused, as they shuffled toward the exit. These Rams were supposed to be bringers of hope, not more embarrassment. 

I sat next to a woman who is a four-year breast cancer survivor, the kind of woman the team was supposed to be honoring with their pink shoes and towels and ornaments. She and her husband are season ticket holders in the 400-level seats, have been since the beginning. She doesn’t want blood. But she asks, “Don’t we deserve something better than this?”