09.20.2009 8:19 pm
Quick Takes on Rams 9-7 loss @ Washington
By Bernie Miklasz

Good dayÖ

* The Outcome: The game was there for the Rams all day, just waiting to be claimed. Baffled coach Jim Zorn and the Redskins tried to give it away to the visitors, and the Rams flubbed the opportunity. Were the Rams better in Washington than they were in Seattle? Yes. The Rams defense kept the Redskins out of the end zone, and Steven Jackson rushed for 104 yards. But the bottom line is the 12th consecutive loss for the franchise. Disappointing. The Rams have played two games and have scored 7 points. Thatís inexcusable.

* The Effort: The Rams played hard in Washington and the players are clearly determined to do better. Thatís what they should be doing, of course. They have every reason to be motivated. But that hasnít always been true ; in 2007 and 2008 we saw too many faint-hearted efforts. Now the challenge will be to hang tough during more hard times. The Rams are off to an 0-2 start and the schedule doesnít get any easier. Green Bay comes to The Ed after getting burned at home by Cincinnati, and then the Rams head to San Francisco, which is 2-0 and playing a physical, relentless style of football. San Franciso coach Mike Singletary is succeeding in changing his teamís losing culture. The Rams arenít close to making that conversion.

* The Coach: Keeping the morale up will be more of a challenge for rookie HC Steve Spagnuolo. I donít mind his positive approach. This is the Dick Vermeil way of doing things. Spagnuolo has to stay upbeat, and keep his players working and competing. It might make fans feel better to hear/read Spagnuolo savage his team after a loss, but that wouldnít achieve anything. He has to remain true to himself. Keep an eye on Spagnuolo. You donít really find out about a coach until he has to deal with losing streaks and adversity, and the rookie boss has entered that zone. In addition to the 0-2 start and one TD in two games, the offensive line has taken a hit with injuries. Post-Dispatch beatwriter Jim Thomas noted that it took Spagnuolo 25 minutes to gather himself before he faced the media after the game. (The NFL-mandated wait time is 10 minutes.) I donít know what that means, but again: losing isnít easy to handle.

* Game Management: Spagnuolo and staff really need to grow in this area. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur canít keep getting plays in late. You canít burn all of your timeouts early in close games. Wasting the final timeout before that 4th quarter punt with 9:25 left in the game? What was that? A confused player, Kenneth Darby, called it - but ultimately this is the coachís responsibility to make sure the players know what to do and when to do it. And defensive coordinator Ken Flajole was slow to adjust when the Rams inexplicably left Redskins tight end Chris Cooley uncovered for most of the first half.

* Play Calls: The Rams still didnít run it enough. There was a point in the second half when they clearly had the Redskins D-line tuckered out, and that was the time to keep pounding away. In the fourth quarter, with the Redskins linemen huffing and puffing, the Rams faced a third and 2 near midfield and had two downs to move the chains. This was an ideal time to smash Ďem with Jackson. Instead, Shurmur called for a pass that went incomplete. And then came the screwed-up timeout/punt sequence. This coaching staff has to establish an identity and attitude. The Rams canít be reluctant to run under any circumstances.

* The Grim Reality: More than anything, here is the problem Ö this team suffers from an extreme shortage of playmakers. Or difference makers. RB Steven Jackson can break a play now and again, as he did with a 58-yard run in Washington. But there isnít a receiver on this roster who scares a defense. QB Marc Bulgerís primary mode these days is that of a game manager. He is being schooled to avoid mistakes, and is running a rather conservative, low-risk offense. Bulger is, indeed, avoiding mistakes. And heís competing hard; thereís some fight to his game. But heís not exactly attacking, either. Itís a pretty harmless passing game, more methodical than anything. Heís not the type of QB who can break down a defense. Iím not dumping on Bulger; itís just the way it is. So where are the playmakers, the game changers, on offense? Jackson has the capability, and thatís it. And SJ39ís critics would argue that he doesnít do it enough. On defense, thereís safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who has 18 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries in 62 NFL games. He is definitely a playmaker, and if he played on a defense that could pressure the QB on a regular basis, Atogwe would be sailing into the Pro Bowl every season. But other than Atogwe, the Rams defense doesnít have another player capable of changing a game. (Rookie MLB James Laurinaitis could develop into one; weíll see.) The NFL has a lot of close games - I think eight on Sunday were decided by about a touchdown or less ó and the teams with the playmakers find ways to win them. The Rams have two playmakers, one on each side of the ball. Itís a bleak situation.

* The Defensive Line: Beginning with the 2000 draft, the Rame have selected 12 defensive linemen. Five were chosen in the first round: Damione Lewis, Ryan Pickett, Jimmy Kennedy, Adam Carriker, Chris Long. Two were picked in the third round, Anthony Hargrove and Claude Wroten. They also drafted Victor Adeyanju, Darell Scott, Brian Young, Clifton Ryan, Keith Jackson. I donít want to get into a recap of each playerís history, but in Pickett and Young were solid DTs. And Scott is a rookie, so itís too soon to evaluate him. Ryan has a chance to be decent. But to read that list of first-rounders Ö wow. The lack of impact is shocking. And by now, I expected that Chris Long would be delivering more impact. Overall, most of the names on this list were busts, washouts or disappointments. So thereís little wonder why this is one of the weakest areas of the team. Now that an aging Leonard Little has lost much of his speed, the Rams have no one up front to give a QB or an O-lineman a restless night of sleep before facing the Rams. Thereís virtually no pass rush. No intimidation factor. In the first two games, the opponent has set up to pass 73 times, and the Rams have one sack. Just terrible.

* The Secondary: Given the absence of a pass rush, the Ramsí defensive backs did a nice job in preventing big plays. I know they were facing an average (at best) quarterback in Jason Campbell. And tough he completed 65 percent, a lot of it came on the short stuff. The Redskinsí wideouts didnít do much damage downfield.

* The O-Line: I ďtweetedĒ this during the game and will repeat it here: The Rams have invested millions of dollars into the offensive line, and so far the stimulus package is failing. Bulger was harrassed by the Redskins all afternoon. The run blocking wasnít bad against Washington. But this offense canít sustain drives or develop a downfield passing game because of frequent breakdowns up front. The Rams couldnít budge Seattleís front seven a week ago, but the San Francisco ***** shredded that same Seattle defense for 207 yards rushing by Frank Gore on Sunday.

* Disappointing Donnie Avery: I had an enthusiastic reaction when the Rams made Avery the first wide receiver taken in the 2008 draft. And he zoomed off to a fast start as a rookie, averaging 16.9 yards per catch in his first five games. He scored three touchdowns, two on long passes and one on a 37-yard run. He had five catches of 25+ yards. But defenses adjusted to Avery. They stopped worrying about Torry Holt and rolled their coverage to Averyís side. And heís become a non-factor. Over his last 11 games, Avery has caught only 40 passes for 391 yards ó thatís 9.7 yards per reception. And heís had only one catch of 25+ yards. Heís fumbled in both Rams losses this season; Sundayís fumble probably cost the Rams a win. Heís committing silly penalties. Iím not giving up on Avery, but heís backing up instead of getting better. And GM Billy Devaney is going to be reminded ó many times ó that he could drafted DeSean Jackson instead.

* The Return Game: The Rams donít have one. In two games, theyíre averaging 16.1 yards per kickoff return. Derek Stanley did have a 24-yard punt return at Seattle, but in Washington the Rams averaged 6.5 yards on two punt returns.

* The State of Missouri: The Rams have been outscored 324-123 in going 0 for their last 12. Theyíre 5-29 since the end of the 2006 season. The Kansas City Chiefs lost to Oakland on Sunday. Since the start of last season, the Rams and Chiefs are a combined 4-32. Since the start of the 2007 season the Rams and Chiefs are a combined 11-57 and have been outscored 1,766 to 1,026.

Thanks for reading Ö