Let me tell you about a bad football team. A team that consistently struggles to put first half points on the board, and finds itself halfway to a blowout every halftime. A team that has to rip up the playbook every game because they are pathologically unable to establish the run or protect their quarterback. A team that has some talent on defense but continuously loses on fundamentals, like lining up right or filling the right assignment. A team that, even when they catch a rare break, manages to fumble it away. A team that seems stuck in a perpetual organizational rebuild and is only mentioned by the national media when (a) something embarrassing happens, or (b) the topic of LA's football stadium project comes up.
Okay, now let me tell you about TWO bad football teams.
The 2013 season is only a quarter of the way through, but a theme is already emerging. The gulf between the haves and the have-nots is yawningly wide, and there are a lot of bad football teams being called the have-nottiest of the have-nots.
The 0-4 Jaguars might just be the very worst of the lot. And yet I'm damned if I can find too many things that this 1-3 Rams team are clearly better at doing.
Dull Offense Without a Deep Threat: Check, and Check.
Coming into 2013, Rams fans thought this wouldn't be an issue, not with the added speed of Jared Cook and Tavon Austin to what Chris Givens and Daryl Richardson were already offering.
Jared Cook, week 1: 7 catches, 141 yards, 2 (almost 3) TDs. Since then: 10 catches for 99 yards and no scores.
Chris Givens, week 10 of 2012: five consecutive games with 50+ yard plays. Since then: zero.
Last year's big-body draft pick, Brian Quick, continues to be invisible.
Multi-threat weapon Tavon Austin: 6.2 yards per catch, worst in the NFL among receivers with 20 catches. Has dropped 3 of 23 catchable balls. Has carried the ball 4 times for 10 yards.
Sam Bradford: we've already broken down his depressing return to the land of check-downs and dump-offs. Frequently called a robotic passer with a maddening tendency to stare down receivers and hold the ball too long. Avoids mistakes and big plays alike.
Offensive line: heavily invested in with free agent dollars, with little return. Just signed what they thought was their franchise left tackle, but he looks like damaged goods.
Running back: if we had one, I'd be the first to let you know. As a team, the Rams are averaging 2.6 yards per carry, 2nd-worst in the league.
For the Jaguars, the picture isn't any brighter.
Marcedes Lewis, the Jaguars' one-time big-play threat, had a contract year for the ages in 2010, catching 10 touchdowns and signing a $35 million dollar deal that set the precedent for Cook's payday here. Since that signing, Lewis has caught 4 total TDs. He has played only one game in 2013 and caught zero passes.
Something called "Cecil Shorts" is arguably the team's most productive weapon, a fourth round pick from Mount Union who has emerged as the shining star of the 2011 Jaguars draft class. (Blaine Gabbert and G Will Rackley have not.) Shorts had a healthy 17.8 yards-per-catch ratio in 2012, and a team-leading 7 touchdowns. This year, that average has been knocked down to 13.0, and he is without a score.
Last year's big-body draft pick, Justin Blackmon, was invisible for most of 2012. He scuffled until Jacksonville changed quarterbacks, at which point he had half a breakout season. However, after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, he is one strike away from a year-long vacation. He has yet to take a snap in 2013.
Multi-threat weapon Ace Sanders: the team's second-leading receiver with 162 yards on 14 catches. Has dropped 4 of 18 catchable balls. Has carried the ball once for 3 yards.
Blaine Gabbert: Robotic passer with an arm coiled to release as soon as he hits the back of his five-step drop. Cannot see coverage and frequently throws balls up for grabs. Frequently finds himself in third and longs, and just as frequently targets an underneath receiver with little chance of making the sticks.
Offensive line: heavily invested in with high draft picks, with little in return. Just traded their franchise left tackle to make room for this year's #2 overall pick.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Looks like vintage Steven Jackson, circa 2009 Rams, when he was literally the only player defenses had to key on. As a team the Jaguars are averaging 2.3 yards per carry, worst in the league.
Uncoordinated Defense with Gaping Coverage Holes: Check, and Check.
Jeff Fisher is known for his defensive identity after years in Tennessee. Gus Bradley is known for his defensive identity after years in Seattle. I think you can see where this is going.
The Jaguars are giving up 387 yards per game, at a 6.0 yards per play clip, and have allowed 32.2 points per game.
The Rams are giving up 387.2 yards per game, at a 6.1 yards per play clip, and have allowed 30.2 points per game.
Paul Posluszny and James Laurinaitis are both big white dudes from the Big Ten playing middle linebacker in ways that deeply displease the graders at Pro Football Focus. TJ McDonald and Jonathan Cyprien are highly-drafted safeties thrust into starting roles and getting picked on. (McDonald was playing slightly better, but is now sidelined with a broken leg.) Josh Evans and Rodney McCloud are draft afterthoughts who have been pressed into duty in the defensive backfield.
Schematically, both teams have massive problems to address. The Rams just added another thirty minutes apiece to the highlight reels of DeMarco Murray and Frank Gore. The Jaguars just gave up a fifty-yard run to Donald Brown. DONALD BROWN. Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck both had off days against the Rams and Jags last weekend. Combined final scores: 72-14.
Ability to rush the passer: Well….
Honestly, the Rams' front four is pretty much the only unit on either side of the ball where one team should have a clear advantage over the other. But that said, the Rams have only nine sacks on the season, well off their league-leading pace from last year. The Jaguars, who have struggled for years to generate an effective pass rush, have eight.
So what we're talking about is a true Face/Off. These teams are so similar in their badness that it's almost scary. If the teams switched uniforms at halftime, how long to you think it would be before anyone figured it out?
Now, being a Rams fan, this is the part where I have to admit a bias toward our team's untapped potential. And to be fair, the Rams did show in the fourth quarters of weeks 1 and 2 more quality football than the Jaguars have shown all season. They even managed to steal a win in a close game over the not-good Cardinals, while the Jags puked up their chances in a close game against the really-not-good Raiders.
So if it comes down to "Which team can perform better in garbage time?" … the Rams might just win in a blowout. Garbage time is the one thing you can pretty much count on seeing this Sunday.