Scary as it may seem, this Rams offense has made progress. Okay, feel free to read on once you’re done face palming at the concept of this offense being an improvement.
Writers Disclaimer: Be prepared for the tone of this article to swing from positive to negative, hopeful to panic and back again.
The first two weeks of the NFL season were relatively encouraging for the St. Louis Rams. Under new head coach Jeff Fisher and his glorious moustache, the Rams were competitive in week one, losing a tight game to the extremely talented, Detroit Lions, then pulled out a close (while scoring 30 points….I know, right) contest against the Washington Redskins and the quarterback the Rams traded them this offseason. (Well, sort of.)
Sam Bradford is a more polished passer and decision maker than he was in 2011. In three games, he's thrown only two fewer touch downs than in ten total games last year. While at the same time showing the accuracy and touch that made him $50 million guaranteed back in 2010.
Of course, If there's one thing about Sam that really sticks in my craw, one which has consistently been an issue for Sam Bradford in the brief NFL career (other than the constant pounding and scampering for his life issue), it's that he has yet to master the skill of looking off defenders. And by yet to master I mean, even remotley learn, seriously how he got away with this at Oklahoma is beynd me. He stares in the direction he's throwing, with laser beams from the eye balls at the guy he's throwing to, only at the guy he's throwing to, it's as if he has the red dot from a rile painted on his WR as he shouts at the defense, "Hey, guys, number 16…Danny Amendola! Yeah Danny, the tiny white guy right there! Yeah, that guy! it's coming to him! Seriously I'm throwing it to 16 why are you not covering him! You should get a man on 16! Because, that's where this ball is headed…NOW"
At this point, I'm honestly not sure if Sammy Franchise is ever going to figure out that the players on the other team can totally see where he's looking. We made excuses his rookie season because he was a rookie. We made excuses last season because of the lockout. Complex system of Josh McDaniels, Bradford didn't really have an offseason to learn said complex system, etc etc etc. Now, though, I'm beginning to think this is just a skill which is going to elude Sam. There were times last year I wondered aloud (or maybe not aloud, but by typing, you know?), if we had already seen the best of Sam Bradford. I'm going to wonder that again right now. I'm wondering if Sam Bradford is going to end up in the David Carr class of QB, a classic case of arrested development. I hope not. But, I can't say I'm at all confident he won't.
Consider that the interception thrown against the Redskins was a simple case of not seeing the defender. And it did come in the end zone, making it that much more costly, worries me about how Sammy Franchise is seeing the field. I mean honestly, how did he not see that. Hell, Brett Favre wouldn’t have thrown that high on pain killers. Okay well maybe Brett would have but you get the idea.
One of his picks against the Bears was a short, quick throw to Danny Amendola that was deflected off the defender and into the hands of Major Wright who took it 45 yards for the score.
Jeff Fisher can talk through that glorious moustache all he likes about how the Bears got a lucky bounce on the throw by Sam Bradford, but that's just not cutting it, at least not for me. The fact is, it was a bad throw, and worse yet it was a telegraphed throw.
Still, look at Sam's numbers. He's averaging 220 yards per game through the air, and has thrown four touchdowns. Let's not forget about his quarterback rating, an average 85.4, deflated by a terrible day in Chicago. So if you take out this past weekend when Bradford was sacked six times, he's had a very solid start to the season.
Which leads me to this…
Through three games the two pain points that need to be addressed are as follows: the offensive line, or as I like to call it, the line-whose-play-is-offensive-to-watch, and the running game.
Sam was hit 15 times against the Bears, six of them sacks. It's unfortunate that injuries have prevented the Rams from having the same offensive line together for three games.
I'm not exactly surprised by that, of course, but it's still painfully obvious in watching. And just painful to watch, too, come to think of it. Bradford doesn't have the time he needs to make better choices, and the lanes for the Rams' backs to run through weren't there against Chicago. Jeff Fisher’s MO is to never use high round picks on offensive linemen, believing it's an area of the team that can be coached up, but I'm not so sure. You can only coach the talent you have and you cannot coach away injuries. The Rams need talent protecting their ginormous quarterback investment. I don't care where they get it from; they just need to get it. Soon. Maybe use some of the 37 picks they have in next year’s NFL Draft and beef things up a bit.
The o-line has been decimated up by injuries in the first three games of the season, notably to T Rodger Saffold and C Scott Wells. Wells is the key piece, as he was placed on IR after breaking his foot in the opener according to Adam Caplan. To say Bradford is routinely pressured is to say the sky is routinely blue, but against the Lions and Redskins, he was able to minimize the damage. Against a Chicago secondary that held Brandon Gibson and Amendola to less than 100 total yards receiving, Bradford didn't have the time in the pocket to make quick decisions. Two crucial drops by Gibson did not help either.
All that taken into consideration, the offensive line still sucks something fierce.
The running game has been no help either. Steven Jackson played through a mild injury (benching), but that's not enough for a complete pardon. Less than 60 yards on the ground total for the Rams yesterday is a failure.. Six zero. The Bears' defensive line is really good, but that effort is just not good enough. Period. As Will points out, the running game became an afterthought which is inexcusable.
Steven Jackson just doesn't look good right now. Never known for breaking huge runs with blazing speed, but his longest run through three contests is 12 yards. In addition, he's averaged 3.4 yards per rush. Yes, he didn't play for the majority of the game against Washington, but when he has played I haven't seen that spark that he's had in the past.
Is Daryl Richardson ready to step in and play a major role in the running game? The answer here you are looking for is yes, yes he is. But there is no indication from the Rams that a decision like that will made soon, so Jackson will need to change his ways because Sam Bradford needs a supporting cast in the backfield. The offensive line play does nothing to help a guy like Jackson.
Sunday, though…well, Sunday was a big, ugly reality check for Rams fans (and hopefully for the Rams themselves); Sunday showed everyone watching just how far the Rams still have to go before they can be considered a quality NFL team, much less contenders for anything. Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco have all shown to have top ten defenses this year so this play will not hold up in what is not the rugged (still feels weird to say) NFC West.
In the end as has been the case, the defense has played well enough to win. The offense, though, just doesn't have the firepower to match up to the defensive effort. And against a talented defensive squad like the Bears, every failing of this offense was on full display. The first two weeks of the season were enough to start the Kool-aid flowing, making us all think the Rams were close to turning the corner, if they hadn't already. Sunday, though, we got a staunch reminder of all the reasons this may not be true just yet.
The Chicago Bears handed the Rams their second defeat of the season by the score of 23-6, and to be honest, it was more disheartening than the story the score tells. As I watched the Ram defense give the Rams offense chance after chance to get back into the game. My emotions checked down from excited to encouraged to exasperated as it became clear the Rams had absolutely no weapon of their own to compete with.