4th-down

Season-ending Reckoning For The Rams

The season has entered its fourth down. It’s time to punt.

Let’s plant a marker down here, shall we?

Twelve weeks in, Sam Bradford’s ankle (read: his offensive line) is apparently too tetchy for him to continue the season, and AJ Feeley just reached his expiration date. So it’s Tom Brandstater time, or so it appears, and you can pretty much throw out whatever happens next in any evaluation of this Rams team. 

So let’s take stock of where we are, right now, and bookmark this page for any postseason reflections on this Rams team. Because these last four upcoming games are going to be about as meaningful as the next four installments of the Scream franchise. Only scarier.

Record: 2-10
The season started with a six-game losing streak, and finishes with a three game one. Those last three are particularly disappointing, as they cover the tail end of a ridiculously soft November schedule, and drop our division record to 0-4.

The turning point for this team came following Week 8’s shocker over New Orleans, when the Rams had finally appeared to figure out how to put everything together. Bradford came back from his injury layoff and the transmission fell out of the offense with an audible clunk. But after taking it to the superior Saints, we held a slap-fight with the measly Cardinals. In a last gasp to reassert some sort of dominance, Spagnuolo decided to go for it on 4th and 1 late in the game. And failed. Overtime. Punt. Game. Over. Season. Over.

Offensive Stats: 

  • 284 yards per game (31st)
  • 11.7 yards per game (32nd)
  • 28% 3rd down conversion rate (32nd)
  • 98.6 rushing yards per game (27th)
  • 185.4 passing yards per game (28th)
  • 43 sacks in 12 games (32nd)
  • 11 offensive touchdowns (32nd)
  • Average time of possession: 27:54 (27th)
Keep in mind that these stats are only going to get worse with Brandstater, if that’s possible. I mention this to forewarn any Josh McDaniels apologists who might try to say that his numbers were deflated by whatever atrocities happen in these last four weeks.

This is a truly awful offense that never built any one area of excellence, never maintained any sort of schematic consistency, never gave its team or its fans any kind of sense that a foundation was being built. Sometimes there’s granite under the muck and the mire. Not here. 

What’s worse, even if the Rams wanted to keep McDaniels, I’m not sure he’d want to stay. Not with the team facing a complete demolition and rebuild on the offensive line — the key reason why his vertical offense failed, and will continue to fail, here. 

Arguably, if you gave Bradford and McDaniels more time — and i’m not talking about the offseason, or more practices, or more years together, I’m talking about an extra 2 to 3 seconds in the pocket on every single play — this relationship could bear fruit. But there’s no way we can expect that to happen, not with this lineup. 

Defensive Stats:

  • 366 yards per game (23rd)
  • 24.7 points per game (25th) 
  • 39% 3rd down conversion rate (19th)
  • 157.8 rushing yards per game (32nd)
  • 208.4 passing yards per game (8th)
  • 33 sacks in 12 games (T-5th)
  • 87.3 opp. passer rating (23rd)
  • 27 opp touchdowns allowed (16th)
I throw passer rating into the mix for the defense because otherwise that lofty 8th ranked pass defense seems anomalous. Yes, they were surprisingly good despite being able to fill an entire casting call for The Walking Dead from their IR list. But opponents could still put together an above-average passing day on the Rams if they wanted or needed to. Thanks to our inept offense and run defense (do these themes sound familiar?), they rarely did.

Again, these numbers are only going to get worse. Our defense is going to get left on the field for ridiculous amounts of time, and the storyline we saw against San Francisco — hold strong early, wear out late — is just going to be repeated. 

Those who like Spagnuolo as a defensive coach (and I’m one of them, most of the time) will point to the continued hard effort being given by his team. And that is commendable. And it should recommend him well to a future position as defensive coordinator. But the offense’s woes fall partly on his shoulders as well, particularly in their lack of ability to sustain success from week to week.

The Rams have reverted strongly to “Spagball” since that win over the Saints, and it has killed any momentum the team might have built. A recurring theme of this team under Spagnuolo is that they do not handle winning well.

If this team experiences the slightest amount of success, Spags’ first thought is to safeguard that success, to cherish and protect it at all costs. There is a constant fear of losing, a fear of negative outcomes that floods any thoughts of continuing to be aggressive, continuing to take the fight to the other team. You simply cannot build a winner in the NFL that way. 

Special Teams Stats: 

  • 22.3 avg kickoff return distance (28th)
  • 12.3 avg punt return distance (4th)
  • 23.2 avg opp. kickoff return (14th)
  • 11.4 avg opp. punt return distance (21st)
  • 78.9 FG% (15 of 19) (26th) 
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The one area where the Rams’ improved young depth has paid off is in our special teams, and even this area of the team let us down this year. Not so much in the every day plays, but in a few key breakdowns that will be remembered far more vividly than any of the good things they did. 

Under coach Tom McMahon, and with Spags’ roster full of grinders, our special teams play in general has improved from awful to adequate. But the lack of a weapon on the offensive side — except for one scintillating Nick Miller punt return, perhaps the highlight of the second half of the season — is all too apparent without Danny Amendola on the team.

So Where Do We Go From Here? 

That’s a topic for another day.  

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