You're forgiven if you thought this Rams team would be different. You're forgiven if you believed the hype. I did too. But now, after watching Murray get free runs inside and out for 175 yards and set up an easy day for Dallas; after watching Sam Bradford get ragdolled for six sacks and eight more hits behind our rebuilt offensive line; after watching the penalties pile up, the hype train has derailed. AP Photo / Tony Gutierrez
"I can't explain it," Rams coach Jeff Fisher, on how poorly the team played Sunday.
— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) September 22, 2013
We can, coach. The Rams are being coached to lose.
In our pregame note, we worried that the Dallas defense was going to make life more dangerous in the pocket for Sam Bradford. By pressing our receivers at the line, they made Bradford stand in the pocket longer. And Bradford's 193-snap sack-free streak, longest of his career and one of the longest in the modern NFL, was more of a function of his ability to quickly distribute the football than a testament to a leak-free offensive line.
What is frustrating to watch is that, schematically, the Cowboys are playing the same basic defense as the Rams. Just without the cornerback pressure at the line. As difficult as the Cowboys made life for Bradford today, the Rams defense could me making life that difficult for all opposing quarterbacks.
But they won't. The cushion provided to receivers — to the Dez Bryants and Devin Escobars alike — is a fixture on gameday. And if it's a fixture on gameday, it must be a fixture in practice. If Jeff Fisher and the Rams are committed to the youth movement, they need to go all in, instead of coaching softness into their players.
That softness seemed apparent throughout the defense. The Rams were soft in their attack across the defensive front, allowing Murray — who had one of the lowest yards-after-contact ratings in the league so far — free running lanes. The myth of the "bend-but-don't-break" defense has been exposed by two halves of football against superior offensive teams.
In consecutive weeks, the Falcons and Cowboys have outgained the Rams 440-179 in the first half. They have given up 23 first downs and earned only one. The myth of "bend-but-don't-break" is that yards and first downs don't have to lead to points. But the scoreboards read 21-3 and 17-0 at the end of those two halves.
When the defense can't get off the field, it creates an extra burden on Sam Bradford and the offense. The burden of constantly having to dig out from these leads is like an extra pass rusher or an extra man in coverage, neither of which the Rams need. Bradford is additionally burdened by having his offensive gameplan shoehorned into a huddle-run-huddle-short-pass-huddle-short-pass-punt mold. Throw in the home-cookingest referee crew in football, and the Rams are essentially playing 11-on-14 football.
In just four days, one of the two bullies of the division will be meeting us in St Louis, desprate to avenge a winless streak against the Rams. Four days is not a lot of time to get this train back on the rails. Especially not when the blueprint for attacking all three phases of the Rams has just been laid out in Dallas.