Bernie: Coaches outclassed on bad day for Rams
BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist Posted: Monday, December 20, 2010 10:35 am

It was a real pre-Christmas downer on Sunday afternoon at the Edward Jones Dome, with the Kansas City Chiefs slapping the Rams back into the mush of the NFC West with a 27-13 victory.

Rather than watch a young Rams team seize an opportunity to put themselves closer to a playoff spot, we witnessed a systematic failure that looked a lot more like 2009 than 2010.

An anticipated step forward into a brighter future became a troubling step back in time.

The Rams were handled and controlled without much trouble by a good, solid, tenacious but hardly great team from Kansas City. It was a reminder of where the Rams are and how much they have to grow to hang with the NFL's big boys.

The St. Louis offense was too dull. The defense was too loose. The offensive line was too soft. The Rams' coaches were too slow to adjust. Attention spans were too short; how does a home-team offense get penalized five times for false starts? The Chiefs had plenty of fans in the building but it wasn't loud enough to distract the Rams as much as it did.

It was a total team effort by Kansas City.

Chiefs fans took over the stands and made St. Louis look bad. Chiefs players took care of the Rams. And as feared, Chiefs coordinators Romeo Crennel (defense) and Charlie Weis (offense) took their St. Louis counterparts to school in an embarrassing coaching mismatch. After the Rams went out to an early 6-0 lead, the Chiefs coaches made corrections, and, well, that was that.

Crennel was especially effective. After playing a role with New England in bringing down Mike Martz's "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams offense in Super Bowl XXXVI, I don't think Crennel had anxiety attacks over stopping the Pat Shurmur "Murmur" offense.

The Rams never countered KC's stacked fronts. They didn't go after the single safety high coverage. They didn't put up a strong resistance to the pass rush. And for whatever reason Shurmur (the offensive coordinator) and Spags declined to use the no-huddle offense to energize the Rams during a long stretch of flat play.

When the Rams finally went no-huddle, they improved immediately and scored a late TD to cut the Chiefs' lead to seven points. Why make it so simple for the Chiefs' defense?

"It was us taking their early blows and going to the sideline and making adjustments," Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr said.

Meanwhile, the Weis offense completed passes to nine different receivers and churned out 210 yards rushing. Ho-hum. "We just had to figure out what the Rams were doing and then we started to make progress," quarterback Matt Cassel said.

Kansas City was such a pain Sunday, the Royals even worked against the Cardinals by trading ace pitcher Zack Greinke to the NL Central rival Milwaukee Brewers.

It was that kind of day in The STL.

Don't ask me what the Rams' game plan was on offense, because I have absolutely no idea.

Don't ask me why the Rams' offensive line has suddenly turned into a parking-lot row of wobbly Christmas trees, leaving quarterback Sam Bradford vulnerable to some wicked hits. Bradford looks fatigued and a bit jumpy; in one stretch Sunday he completed only nine of 27 passes. And why wouldn't Bradford be laboring some?

Bradford's receivers can't get consistently open, his line is falling apart and his coaches haven't provided any real innovation since the game in Denver a month ago.

Welcome to Marc Bulger's old world, Sam.

How can the Rams' defense give up a killer 80-yard run against an eight-man front with the game on the line? How can the Rams' defense get outhustled by the tough Cassel, who scrambled for 13 yards on a run that also drew a personal-foul penalty? Cassel's feverish dash set up a touchdown. And it came only 11 days after his emergency appendectomy.

Then again, we've seen a rough version of this game three times in recent weeks. The Rams lost to Atlanta by 17 points, to New Orleans by 18 points and to Kansas City by 14.

All three opponents were playoff-caliber entities.

And that should tell us something.

I asked Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo whether the Rams, at this stage of their reconstruction, were simply incapable of winning a game of this magnitude.

"I'm not going to concede that right now, because we're going to have one" Dec. 26 against San Francisco, Spagnuolo said. "And I do fully believe in this football team. I know one thing, typically, throughout this season when we've had our backs to the wall and we're down a little bit we bounce back. And I fully expect these guys will do that."

I also asked Spagnuolo whether he believed the Rams were capable of playing better than they did Sunday given the quality of the competition. He didn't hesitate. Absolutely he believes the Rams have it in them.

"I think our guys feel that way, too," Spagnuolo said. "In other words, we're not sitting here saying, 'That's a pretty good team, and there's no way we can beat that team right now.' Nobody's thinking that."

At least the Rams' final two regular-season games will come inside the division, with San Francisco visiting St. Louis and the Rams going to Seattle. We already know that the Rams can win NFC West games. So yeah, they're alive in the NFC West's peculiar version of a race.

This isn't even a potato-sack race because at least that's supposed to be funny, unlike the NFC West.

Seattle (6-8), tied with the Rams for first place, is 2-6 since Halloween and has been outscored 224-92 in the six losses. The Seahawks' smallest margin of defeat was 15 points.

The Rams are 2-4 since Nov. 14 and have lost their last two at home by an average of 15 points.

San Francisco (5-9) is 2-3 in its last five; the three losses have come by an average of 22 points.

OK, so someone has to win the division, right? I don't think the NFL will ban the NFC West champ from participating in the tournament and insert an extra wild-card team instead.

The Rams yielded too easily Sunday. That's what bothered me about this. And Spagnuolo said something curious after the loss. He announced that the Rams were now "in the playoff mode" and couldn't afford to lose another game.

Does that make any sense to you?

It apparently didn't make much sense to the players.

"We should have been in the playoff mode today," Rams running back Steven Jackson said.

Exactly. What was Sunday's game against the Chiefs a scrimmage at Lindenwood?

There's a lot more to this than coaching, of course. The roster shortfalls are obvious. And the Rams had no playmakers Sunday; the players didn't or couldn't raise their game.

The talent limitations restrict what the Rams can do; we know that. But it's an improved team from a year ago, and Spagnuolo and his guys deserve credit for bringing the Rams along in 2010. But the late-season stagnation is discouraging.

But before the Rams can develop a big-game personality, Spagnuolo and staff have to show they're capable of becoming big-game coaches.