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Thread: 2006 Rams report card
2006 Rams report card
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The offense showed flashes of potential much of the season, before gelling too late in the final four games. The defense often flirted with disaster but came up with more than its share of turnovers and also showed late improvement. And special teams? Well, perhaps sometime in our lifetime, the Rams will find a return game and develop a degree of skill in kickoff coverage. The final grades for 2006 reflect those strengths and weaknesses on a Rams team which got it only half right in finishing 8-8.
QUARTERBACK | GRADE A
Until the Rams go to another Super Bowl, or at least start winning playoff games, Kurt Warner always will be the standard by which all Rams quarterbacks are measured. Marc Bulger will be the first to tell you this. But even the harshest Bulger critic will be hard-pressed to find fault in his 2006 season. By almost every statistical measuring stick, it was a career year. Bulger set franchise records for attempts and percentage of passes intercepted. Bulger also had a career year as a team leader. His comments after the Dec. 3 game vs. Arizona about the team's lack of effort, preparation, and focus got everyone's attention. The team went 3-1 afterward. Maybe that was coincidence, but give Bulger extra points for toughness, too. He was sacked 49 times this season — two shy of the franchise record — and needed pain-killing shots before several games because of a rib injury. But he missed only a few plays all season. This wasn't Bulger's best year throwing the deep ball. But his overall accuracy is among the very best in the league, and his transition to coach Scott Linehan's offense was impressive.
RUNNING BACK| GRADE A
Steven Jackson finally stepped out of Marshall Faulk's shadow. Those who gave up on the Rams' season weeks ago may not realize the monster year Jackson put together as a rusher and receiver. Jackson's 2,334 yards from scrimmage is the fifth-best total in NFL history, surpassed only by Marshall Faulk (2,429 yards, in 1999); Tiki Barber (2,390, in 2005); LaDainian Tomlinson (2,370, in 2003); and Barry Sanders (2,358, in 1997). Jackson was a much tougher runner between the tackles, learning to take what's there instead of drifting or dancing in search of the big play. No back in the league had as many first downs in third-and-1 situations than Jackson (14). His emergence as a receiving threat bordered on the remarkable, but he also benefited from the greater emphasis placed on check-downs in Linehan's offense. Like Bulger, Jackson entered the season facing questions about durability. But he missed only part of one game: the Monday nighter against Chicago, because of leg cramps. Jackson finished with 436 touches, just six shy of Eric Dickerson's franchise record set in 1983. Jackson became a willing blocker in pass protection and blitz pickup, but still needs work there.
RECEIVERS | GRADE B
Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce remain the gold standard for wide-receiver tandems in the league. It still takes two good corners to contain the pair, because focusing on Holt results in a big day for Bruce. Holt failed to extend his NFL-record string of six straight 1,300-yard seasons, but still had 93 catches for 1,188 yards and 10 touchdowns. Holt played the final month of the season with a knee problem that may require surgery. Meanwhile, "reports" of Bruce's demise, fueled by the fact that he missed five games in 2005 with a dislocated toe, were exaggerated. Bruce topped 1,000 yards receiving for the eighth time in his career and 70 catches for the seventh time. His 14.8 yards per catch was fifth-best in the league among receivers with more than 70 catches. Kevin Curtis, the No. 3 receiver, was a forgotten man at times in an offense that used a lot of two-tight-end sets and frequently ran the ball out of three-receiver sets. At tight end, the Rams didn't get as much out of rookie Joe Klopfenstein as hoped, both as blocker and receiver. Overall, there is no "A" grade for this group because of too many dropped passes.
OFFENSIVE LINE | GRADE C
During the Rams' 1999 Super Bowl championship season, the five offensive line starters combined to start 78 of a possible 80 starts. It was 77 of 80 for the 2001 Super Bowl runners-up. In 2006, that figure dropped to 54 of 80 because of injuries to center Andy McCollum (knee), left tackle Orlando Pace (triceps), and right guard Adam Timmerman (ribs). Add the fact that right tackle Alex Barron played the last third of the season with a knee problem that requires offseason surgery, and the o-line had more than its share of injuries in 2006. Even taking that into account, there were too many sacks allowed and too many silly penalties by this unit. Barron has loads of talent but needs an offseason in the weight room to improve his upper and lower body strength. He gets pushed into the backfield far too often by the bull rush. Richie Incognito is a powerful blocker, who plays with attitude. But that attitude cost the Rams the second Seattle game because of a personal foul penalty. Brett Romberg was a late-season surprise who plays with good leverage and savvy. Seventh-round draft pick Mark Setterstrom made a case for himself at left guard in six late-season starts, but still needs to work on his pass-blocking.
DEFENSIVE LINE | GRADE D
The Rams yielded 2,327 yards rushing, the third-worst figure in franchise history. Yes, the Rams' defense rarely played with the lead. Yes, the Rams played 10 games against teams with 1,000-yard rushers, including four games against the league's top three ground gainers: Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Frank Gore. But the run defense was an embarrassment most of the season, and it starts up front. Though he had injuries to both hands, Jimmy Kennedy did not get the job done at nose tackle. It's almost certain there will be another starter at that position next season. Rookie Victor Adeyanju was a surprise at right end, particularly when it came to playing the run, but he's miles away as a pass rusher. Brandon Green is a high-effort player but didn't make many plays. La'Roi Glover had his moments at defensive tackle, but would be more effective with fewer snaps. It's debatable whether Claude Wroten can soak up some of those snaps based on his performance in 2006. Other than the occasional pressure from Glover, there was no pass rush other than what was generated by Leonard Little. Even Little's Pro Bowl-caliber year isn't enough to salvage a good grade for this unit.
LINEBACKERS | GRADE C
The Rams asked a lot from Will Witherspoon at middle linebacker, in terms of run support, coverage, and rushing the passer. He had a few rough moments in coverage against Tomlinson and Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez, but also made some game-saving plays early in the season. Witherspoon has sideline-to-sideline speed, which explains why defensive coordinator Jim Haslett wants to keep him in the middle. Witherspoon occasionally overruns plays, but clearly is the best Rams middle linebacker since London Fletcher. Pisa Tinoisamoa's season never got off the ground. He suffered a dislocated left elbow in Game 2, and that was just the first of a series of injuries. After suffering his second broken hand of the season, Tinoisamoa didn't have a healthy arm for tackling and was placed on injured reserve. His replacement, veteran Dexter Coakley, played fairly well, a pass interference call in Minnesota notwithstanding. Brandon Chillar improved noticeably, developing into a solid two-down player. Raonall Smith looked like a bust as the team's pass-rushing specialist at linebacker, but came on in the final weeks of the season. Overall, this unit must share the blame for the porous run defense.
SECONDARY | GRADE C
One of the bright spots of the Rams' late-season play was the work of the secondary. Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe made some costly mistakes early in the season in coverage and taking bad pursuit angles. But he may have been the team's most improved player from start to finish of the season. He has good range, has potential as a blitzer, and displayed good playmaking skills with three interceptions and six forced fumbles. Strong safety Corey Chavous finished second on the team in tackles behind Witherspoon. Although not a thumper, Chavous is a good box player and provides a steadying veteran presence. Fakhir Brown gave the occasional big play and touchdown, but his overall coverage was pretty good. He's a solid corner whose contributions probably were a bit underrated. Rookie Tye Hill improved his ball skills and coverage as the season progressed, but still needs work on his tackling. Ron Bartell had some rough moments when he took over at nickel back, but flashed eye-opening playmaking skills in the final few games. Travis Fisher was a disappointment at corner before his season-ending forearm injury. Neither he nor Jerametrius Butler, who spent all season in the doghouse, figure to be back.
SPECIAL TEAMS | GRADE C
Jeff Wilkins continues to rate among the team's top place-kickers. His 32 field goals are the second-highest total of his career, and shared the league lead this season with Chicago's Robbie Gould. Wilkins is losing a little distance on kickoffs but remains better than average in that area. The Rams finally have found a punter in Matt Turk, who displayed both a strong leg and good directional skills. Turk finished seventh in the league in net average (38.3 yards), and was tied for 11th in punts inside the 20 (26). That's the good news on special teams. The bad news is that the Rams finished 28th in kickoff coverage, 26th in kickoff returns, and were tied for 25th in punt returns. The Rams allowed three kickoff or punt returns for touchdowns, while scoring none themselves. The Rams have scored only one punt or kickoff return for a touchdown since 2002; more often than not, the blocking was just short of atrocious on kickoff returns. Even with those shortcomings, a concerted effort was made to improve the coverage units this season. The same can't be said about the return game, particularly in finding return men who can make a difference. Other than the punter and place-kicker, this unit once again was more liability than asset.
COACHING | GRADE B-
Linehan's reaction to the season's worst loss — the 15-0 offensive meltdown Nov. 19 in Carolina — helped salvage the season, as well as define his first season as a head coach. For one, he didn't overreact, maintaining his focus and his even-handed approach. For another, he took the extraordinary step of handing over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Greg Olson. Linehan did so as much to have more insight and input on the entire team, as to get the offense back on track. The move was extraordinary, because Linehan's play-calling helped get him to St. Louis as a head coach in the first place. The move paid off. Not only did the offense flourish, particularly over the final four games of the season, but Linehan became a true head coach on game day. Linehan's motivational skills still seem to be developing. For a good chunk of the season, he appeared reluctant to play younger players. But at the end of each day, the good began to outweigh the bad. Much was expected from defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, but the overall defensive performance must be viewed as a disappointment. It's clear that Haslett was two or three playe
Re: 2006 Rams report card
where was it said tha Haslett wants to keep Spoon inside?
i think Jackson deserves an A+ as well
Re: 2006 Rams report card
I would have figured the D line for an F.
Re: 2006 Rams report card
Id give the Secondary a B, they are ranked 8th in the pass
Re: 2006 Rams report card
Re: 2006 Rams report cardBRUUUUUUUUCE
Re: 2006 Rams report cardNo back in the league had as many first downs in third-and-1 situations than Jackson (14).