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Bernie: Quick Takes On Rams At Halfway Point
11.05.2009 11:45 pm
Quick Takes on Rams at the Halfway Point
By Bernie Miklasz
Iím taking a few days off, but before I zoom off, letís take a look at the 1-7 Rams at the midway mark of their 2009 season.
Here are my opinions, and yours are certainly welcome in the comments section:
Best Player: Steven Jackson. Yes, an obvious choice. But itís impressive the way SJ39 has been running through defensive walls. Through 8 games, Jackson is second in the NFL in rushing yards (784), second in rushing first downs (32), first in the NFL in runs of 10+ yards (25), second in the league in yards from scrimmage (970), second in most broken tackles, and second in yards gained after contact (461). His attitude has been tremendous. The only minus is the shortage of rushing touchdowns (only 1). Thereís more than a few ordinary backs in the league with 5 or more rushing TDs. But hereís the problem: the Rams have had only six series where theyíve had a 1st down and goal to go; only four NFL teams have had fewer. The Rams have had only two series where theyíve had a 1st down and 5 yards or less to go for the TD. And the Rams are tied for 23rd in the league for most red-zone possessions. In other words, Jackson hasnít gotten many opportunities to run the ball from in close. Jackson obviously lacks the breakaway capability of, say, Tennesseeís Chris Johnson, but thatís because Jackson is a power runner and not a speed back. And power backs roll up the TDs when they get the ball close to the goal line. And Jacksonís chances have been limited.
Worst Player: Lots to choose from, and Iím picking on a guy who is no longer with the team, but I never understood why WR Tim Carter was recalled to the roster after being cut in the preseason.
Most Surprising Player: That would be WR and return man Danny Amendola. Heís no superstar, but this was a nice pickup of a ďstreetĒ free agent. The Rams have thrown the ball to Amendola 19 times and have completed 15 of the passes, which is an exceptional percentage. He knows how to get open. And I think tight end Billy Bajema has some talent and should be utilized more.
Most Disappointing Player: Thereís a long line of candidates. And generally speaking, you have to possess real talent to be considered disappointing. So Iíve tried to stick with guys who have the ability to do better than they have. Marc Bulger continues to decline as an NFL QB. We expected more from TE Randy McMichael, who has dropped five passes. Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe has a lot of skill, but isnít coming up with the ball (picks, fumbles) nearly as much as he has in the past. He has one INT and only three pass defenses. CB Ron Bartellís coverage has slipped, but heís also been playing hurt. Thereís second-year WR Donnie Avery, the only wideout on the roster who can burn a defense and change a game. But Avery has dropped five passes and canít stay healthy. I cut him some slack for two reasons. Thereís his (1) raw experience level; the dude had a lot to learn about being an NFL receiver and the adjustments are still coming. And (2) Avery could be making more plays, but according to STATS LLC, eight of the incompletions on balls directed at him this season were the result of poor throws by the QB. Avery has been getting open more often, but the Rams QBs canít get him the ball. Some of you will cite rookie OT Jason Smith, but not me (more on that later.) Iíd have to go with DE Chris Long, the second overall pick in the 2008 draft. Long has only one sack and a combined 6.5 quarterback hurries/knockdowns.
Best Rookie: The easy choice here is MLB James Laurinaitis. I wasnít sure that the Rams tabbed the right MLB in the second round of the NFL draft, but Laurinaitis is playing up to the Ramsí expectations. Heís the teamís leading tackler and is improving in his pass coverage. If the Rams had some wide-load DTs who could tie up blockers and allow #55 to roam free without interior blockers in his grill all the time, heíd pile up an extraordinary number of tackles.
Most Disappointing Rookie: I reluctantly say Jason Smith ó only because a 2-14 team should be receiving instant and positive impact from the No. 2 overall pick. But I add these caveats: (1) I donít think Smith has done anything to shake the belief that he will be a great NFL offensive tackle; (2) I think coaching has been a factor in his slower-than-anticipated development. The big man has an abundant skill set, the right attitude, a hunger to learn and a mean-streak competitive demeanor. Itís all there. But in conrast to the way the coaches handled Laurinaitis ó getting him ready to start immediately at MLB as soon as they drafted him ó the staff took an oddly cautious, conservative approach with Smith. Given the Ramsí situation, it made no sense. Smith hasnít started because the coaches opted to hold him back. And they also switched him from his natural position (LT) to RT. A minor knee injury slowed his progress. Heíll be oustanding as soon as heís allowed to turn it loose and get the inevitable learning curve out of the way. The coaches finally have reached that point with Smith, even if some injury-related shuffling put him in the lineup. But heís starting now. I just wish heíd be starting at left tackle.
Best ďOldĒ Ram: That would be defensive end Leonard Little. I wonít be a phony here; I thought the combination of increasing age and wear caused by injuries had greatly reduced Littleís impact as a pass rusher. I doubted that heíd find that quickness that has made him one of the leagueís best pass rushers for a time. But Little is flying around again. He has five sacks. He ranks second in the NFL with a combined 21.5 quarterback hurries/knockdowns; only Indyís Dwight Freeney (25) has more.
Worst ďOldĒ Ram: That would be QB Marc Bulger. Statistically heís near the bottom of the league, and his red-zone passing has been abysmal. But more than that, Bulger sealed his rep among many fans and other observers when he acknowledged that he bailed out on a third-down scramble last week at Detroit to slide to safety out of concern that heíd take a hit and get hurt again. I donít blame Bulger for worrying about his health; some of the leagueís greatest-ever QBs (Roger Staubach, Steve Young, Troy Aikman) walked away from their careers earlier than expected because of health concerns. But that is precisely the point: when youíve reached the stage in your career when youíre making decisions based on fear of injuries, then you shouldnít be playing. Even more amazing: Rams coaches appear to be oblivious to this.
Top positives on rookie head coach Steve Spagnuolo: (1) a steady, positive leader who is secure enough in his approach that he refuses to play to the mob by displaying multiple personalities in a cheap attempt to show that heís some tough-guy macho man. Spagnuolo is consistent, and heís genuine, and he saves his tough talk for private meetings, and the players respect that. Thatís why they play for him. (2) His decision to cultivate Laurinaitis and instantly develop him as a starter and a leader. Because of it, the Rams have a key building block in place. (3) Is working well with GM Billy Devaney in a dramatic shift from the stormy past, when key Ramsí leaders couldnít build a team because they were too busy trying to tear each other down. To reconstruct a franchise, you need guys working together and coming up with a plan. It isnít flashy or sexy and doesnít sell tickets but itís the only place to start.
Negatives or Concerns on Spagnuolo: (1) Game management; itís to be expected because this is his first time through as a head coach; (2) did he assemble a good staff of assistants? Some folks I talk to in the NFL donít think so. But keep in mind itís a scramble to get guys hired; a bunch of new head coaches were rushing to fill staffs. Maybe Spagnuolo will make some changes for year two. (3) He must do a much better job of communicating his vision for Rams football to the public. Along these lines, Spagnuolo does lose some cred when he praises players who donít deserve it. Again, he isnít the type to trash players publicly, and thatís a style that has worked for successful coaches. We have no problem with the coach being discreet. But thereís no reason to offer unwarranted compliments, either ó not when fans can see for themselves that an individual is playing poorly.
Best Free Agent Signing: Center Jason Brown is a helluva player, and heís also one of the guys in the locker room who truly wants to do his part to transform a loser into a winner. And Devaney deserves some credit in this area; the Rams have put together a promising offensive line that has a chance to be very good, and soon.
Worst Free Agent Decision: There wasnít much of an effort made to upgrade at wide receiver, a weak area, and the Rams are paying the price.
Most Underrated Player, Defense: DL James Hall.
Most Underrated Player, Offense: G Jacob Bell, who is playing much better than he did last season.
Not So Bold Prediction: The Ramsí next win, and their only other win, will come at home against Seattle on Nov. 29.
Jumping Way Ahead Because I Canít Help It: The Ramsí biggest areas of need for 2010 are a physical wide receiver, defensive tackle, quarterback, outside linebacker.
Iím sure I could serve up some other categories, but my 5 Minutes expired a while back.
Thanks for reading. Talk with you soon.
Re: Bernie: Quick Takes On Rams At Halfway PointNot So Bold Prediction: The Ramsí next win, and their only other win, will come at home against Seattle on Nov. 29.
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Re: Bernie: Quick Takes On Rams At Halfway Point
As for Marc Bulger and the infamous slide - did he "acknowledge that he bailed out" as Bernie says? The only thing I have read from Bulger on that matter is from the other thread we had here a couple of days ago (Link) where he said:
On Wednesday, in his first comments about the controversial slide, Bulger offered no apologies or mea culpas for the play. "I was close (to a first down)," Bulger said. "There's been times this year I've gone in head first and it's hurt me for a couple weeks. So I thought I had it, but I didn't."
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