Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist | Posted: Monday, October 11, 2010 9:37 am
Good morning to you. Let's get this thing going:
* Perspective: I was pretty harsh in my initial reaction to Sunday's 44-6 destruction at Detroit. I thought the Rams reacted poorly to adversity. I thought they stopped competing. Not in a voluntary "We Quit" type of way. But when that game began to avalanche on the Rams, they just lost energy and they lost heart. It happens. I was surprised that it happened to this particular team, though. Because one thing I counted on from them was to give us a relentless effort, no matter what. That part was woefully lacking.
But here's where the calmer perspective comes in: a lot of NFL teams have days like this, when everything blows up and their Sunday turns to smithereens. A few weeks ago the NY Giants were busted 31-10 at home by Tennessee, and the Giants looked lost. The newspapers were filled with talk about the coach being doomed. Well, the Giants have won two in a row since then, and they're looking great. They rebounded. Another young team, Tampa Bay, was crushed by 25 points in a loss to Pittsburgh but pushed that away and defeated Cincinnati Sunday to go to 3-1 on the season.
Look at the Arizona Cardinals. This is a flawed team, and those problems were ripped open in horrible losses to Atlanta (41-7) and San Diego (41-10). But the Cardinals haven't freaked out, haven't cowered. They went back to work. And the Cardinals upset defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans on Sunday. Arizona is 3-2 and leads the NFC West. That's because the Cardinals have developed some survival skills. The Cardinals have been able to put hideous games behind them and move on.
That's what the Rams must do now. The massacre in Motown is over. The question now is: how do they move forward? How will they handle it? This is an important part of the character development of a young team.
*Leadership? OK, the question must be asked: where was the leadership heading into this game? Look, if we're going to praise the coaches and Steven Jackson and Fred Robbins and O.J. Atogwe and other veterans for keeping the young players' heads and egos in proper working condition, then it's fair to wonder why the Rams were unprepared for what awaited them in Detroit. I do not mean to single out those guys specifically; my point is more general. I just have to question why the fellows did not have the same mindset that we witnessed in the wins over Washington and Seattle. I get it; the Rams had won two in a row and were soaking up the praise, with everyone talking about contending for the NFC West and all of that. But how in the world does a team that's been the joke of the NFL for several years take such modest success and somehow conclude that all they have to do to get a win in Detroit is to show up and get dressed? The coaches and the veteran players flunked the leadership test. Period.
* The Rams coaching staff, defensively, wasn't nearly as aggressive as they should have been in getting after Shaun Hill. If you can't pressure him with four, you have to go with more blitzes. The passivity was strange. And when the Rams did blitz, in the red zone, the Lions exploited the Rams' weird decision to cover Calvin Johnson 1 on 1. Generally speaking: When Hill gets his feet set, he's a solid QB. If you make him move, he's terrible. The Rams let Hill get set. In four games in his career Hill has completed 62 percent, with 9 TDs and 3 INTs and a rating of 100.3. He's the Rams' version of Bud Norris.
* Let's talk about the onside kick to open the game: I didn't like it, I didn't like it at all. And had it worked, I would have smiled at the Rams' good fortune. But even if successful, that doesn't mean I would agree on the soundness of the strategy. Because I don't. I simply do not understand this call by head coach Steve Spagnuolo. He came into Detroit with a defense that was allowing 13 points per game and playing well. That defense was beginning to form the kind of personality you want to see on that side of the ball. So kick the ball off and make Detroit have to earn their way up the field on a long drive. Put them in some third downs, make a stop, and get off the field.
Yes, I know that the Rams defense could have made a stop even after Detroit recovered the onside kick. To an extent, they did, holding the Lions to 3 points. But the failed gamble set the Lions up for an easy score. I would have preferred to have seen the Rams defense get a chance to open that game with a spirited 3-and-out, and forcing the Lions to punt from deep in their own territory. Why risk giving a short cut to a Detroit team that clearly was looking for a quick start and some confidence and momentum at home? It wasn't worth the risk.
* More on the onside kick: there are some good opinions on this. On my 101 ESPN radio show, Jim Hanifan said he liked the strategy because he applauded the aggressive approach. Rick Venturi said he didn't like the decision; he doesn't think you should try onsides against a team that you're better than or even with. You use it to try and steal a possession against a superior team.)
* The loss of wide receiver Mark Clayton is painful, and a shame. The Rams cannot get find any good luck when it comes to injuries. When will that turn around? Sooner or later, the luck has to change. First the Rams lost their best WR, Donnie Avery, to a season-ending knee surgery; he didn't even make it out of the preseason. And to address the loss of Avery, the team traded for Clayton. And Clayton had emerged as an important piece of this formative passing attack.
That said, let's not get carried away here. Clayton was good but he was not a No. 1 receiver and he had limitations. His absence should not lead to a shutdown of the passing attack. The Rams have to turn Brandon Gibson loose, and Mardy Gilyard loose, and cultivate their play-making ability. The worst thing this coaching staff could do is go into a shell and get all conservative and dull with the passing game. They have to stay on the attack and give other receivers a chance to make plays. The worst thing rookie QB Sam Bradford can do is lock in on one receiver, which he did too often in Detroit. Nineteen passing attempts to Danny Amendola? Please. Danny can make plays. He's a piece to this offense. But you can't overdo it like that. The Rams have to spread that ball around and get all of their receivers involved. That makes the defense work harder. In the win over Seattle, the Rams had seven different receivers catch at least two passes. In Detroit, only four receivers caught two passes or more. The Rams have to move the football around. They have to be diversified in the passing game. It would help to get some of the TEs healthy, especially Illinois Mike.
* Just a reminder that WR Danario Alexander is rehabbing from his fourth knee surgery. And that he's in the process of rebuilding the muscles around the knee. And that the Rams signed him as a project, hoping to give him a rehabbing and learning year so he could develop for future use. It would be irresponsible and incredibly stupid for the Rams to throw Alexander in there, unfettered. If the Rams conclude that Alexander is healthy and strong enough to give it a go, then he'd eased in. But they have to be careful with this or risk squandering Alexander's potential by turning to him too soon. And a couple of questions for the fans who will be pleading for Alexander to play now: (1) do you like the kid? (2) do you want to see him have a good career? (3) do you want what's best for him? If so, then why are you in favor of putting him a position to fail rather than succeed? Again, if he is completely healthy and his strength is where it should be, then maybe he'll get a look. But proceed with caution. Please.
* I've had scouts insist to me that the Rams' group of linebackers is a mediocre lot that would get exposed. The scouts do praise MLB James Laurinaitis, but think the Rams are lacking at the strong side and on weak side. And it sure looked like it Sunday. I'm not sure who was supposed to cover the TEs and the RBs, and perhaps Laurinaitis shares in the responsibility ... but that was pathetic. One problem? Laurinaitis is good, and the other team knows it. No. 55 is being blocked by multiple guys and from every angle. And the Rams OLBs aren't good enough to compensate.
* So, Scott Linehan called a halfback option pass with the Lions up by a bunch of points? Isn't that cute. Good for Scott. He's the man! What did it change exactly? Nothing. He's still among the five or 10 worst head coaches in NFL history. And no NFL team will ever entrust him to run a team again. That said: Linehan (seriously) called a masterful game yesterday. He found every weakness in the Rams defense. I can't take that away from him.
* I got a couple of e-mails today, from fans who noted my quick-take online criticism of the Rams after Sunday's loss. I was accused of "blowing with the wind," because I praised the Rams after they won consecutive games, then ripped them after they lost.
Here's how it works: this isn't the JFL. This is the NFL. This is the big-boy league. When you play well and win, you get praised. People say nice things about you. When you go to Detroit and lose to an 0-4 team by 38 points, you'll get ripped and you'll be held accountable. Was anyone pleased with what we saw at Detroit? Was there anything in the performance that warranted an "attaboy" from discerning fans and media? I enjoy seeing the Rams play well. I've never had as much fun in this business as I did during the "Greatest Show" years. But there are no free passes here. I praise when warranted, criticize when warranted. It's all based on performance.
* Is Steven Jackson a good red zone runner? Do the Rams coaches how to put together a creative and effective running game in the red zone? These are good questions. Jax ran three times for 1 yard in the red zone Sunday. It continued a trend. This season he's had 15 red-zone carries for 13 yards, with no touchdowns. He's been stuffed for losses twice. I have to think that part of these is scheme and coaching. Between 2004-2008, Jackson averaged around 2.5 yards per carry in the RZ, which is about average, and he scored 27 TDs in the RZ. Since the start of last season, Jackson is averaging just a tad under 2 yards per carry in the red zone, and has only two TDs. I don't think Pat Shurmur and his offensive assistants are creative in devising a rushing attack inside the 20-yard line. But I also think this is a matter of style, too. The notion that you find the end zone in tight quarters with big, powerful backs is outdated. I took a quick look at the best red-zone runners in the NFL this year, and most of them are speed guys with elusiveness. I don't want to run the entire list, but we've seen 2 or more rushing TDs in the red zone this season from Chris Johnson, LeSean McCoy, Jahvid Best, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Ahmad Bradshaw, Ray Rice. It was Kenneth Darby who ran 12 yards (vs. Washington) for the Rams' only RZ rushing TD this season. Darby isn't a great runner, but he does have some elusiveness, and Pat Shurmur helped the cause by running Darby out of a spread formation on that play. Ideally, the Rams would run the football better in the red zone if (1) the coaches were more creative and (2) they had a change-of-pace back to complement Jackson. And let's add an obvious point (3) to the list: the O-line has to block better up front.
* I believe Tom McMahon is a good special teams coach, so I have no idea what the heck happened to the Rams special teams in Detroit. But he'll have to clean that up. We're seeing much better teams than the Rams -- the Dolphins and Chargers for instance -- lose games because of poor special teams play. The Rams simply have no margin for error on special teams. They are not close to being good enough to survive lightning-bolt kickoff returns or failed onsides kicks. One question: why in the world did Josh Brown kick the ball down the middle to Logan to set up the return for a TD. Teams always strive to pinch the kick and put it between one of the hash marks and the sideline. Kicking it down the middle is trouble.
* The Rams offensive line did not come up with the kind of toughness that you need to succeed on the road against a physical and aggressive defense. It's just what I had feared.
* Around the NFC West: More turmoil for San Francisco; 0-5 is 0-5. HC Mike Singletary considered benching QB Alex Smith. One Bay Area columnist, Lowell Cohn, has called for Singletary's firing ... the Cardinals got two defensive TDs and a fumble recovery on offense to beat New Orleans; the Saints don't have the same offense without a legit running game. Much was made over the Cardinals' decision to go with undrafted rookie Max Hall as the starter in this one. And the kid is a competitor. I enjoyed watching the way he got after it. But Hall is getting too much attention for the AZ win. An underachieving Arizona defense that got savaged earlier this season by the Falcons and Chargers finally made a stand and played a great game against the defending champeens. That's why Arizona won ... Seattle also had a good week; the Seahawks avoided a loss because they had the bye week. But also, they acquired RB Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo. And if he stays out of trouble Lynch will make Seattle better offensively ... here's what I don't understand about Alex Smith: people talk about the guy as if he's Sam Bradford -- you know, a QB under development. Uh, this is Smith's fifth season. (He missed another with an injury). He's no kid ... with the ***** at 0-5, team president Jed York has taken to text-messaging reporters (well, at least one) to declare that the ***** will win the division.
Thanks for reading.
Re: Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
Wow, Bernie, calm, cool, and collected with several valid points. You sure it was Bernie?
Re: Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
I still think someone has kidnapped Bernie and has been writing his article for the last couple of months...
Actually just realized what did it, its not baseball season in St. Louis anymore. Nailed it.
Re: Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
Oh Lord, after reading this article, I should kill myself if I was a Rams fan. Give me a break. I was at the game.. it wasn't soo gloom and doom.