NFC Paydirt:
Leaving St. Louis

By Josh Hansen
Tue, Nov 14, 2006

I wonít bore you with stats from Sundayís game or try to paint a picture of how bad the St. Louis Rams played.

They did that on their own on the field.

Watch the highlights on Youtube. Read the papers. Everyone is wondering what exactly is happening in St. Louis right now, including me.

Like most people, I thought I had the Rams figured out. They impressed the hell out of me in the opening week by creaming Denver but then lost in San Francisco. No worries, I thought, St. Louis always struggles out west.

Time to get back on the wagon because here comes Arizona, Detroit and Green Bay Ė three very beatable teams. Thatís exactly how it turned out too. Three wins, straight up and against the number, the Rams are rolling into their first divisional showdown with Seattle and Iím laying the 3-points like a sucker.

Stupid me.

Outside that Broncos game, the Rams didnít deserve those other three wins. A late fumble did in both Green Bay and Arizona while the Lions game was uglier than my Week 10 picks. The Rams came from behind thrice and benefited from an overturned pass interference call to win the game, so why was I thinking the Rams were the real deal?

Was it because theyíre basically the same team as last year, minus a few players here and there? They brought in guys to fill those roles so I didnít think that was a problem. The offense is basically the same so that couldnít be it. So I open the second drawer of my desk for my bottle of elixir when I see that football preview magazine I bought before my August vacation. Staring up at me, in big red letters, are the words "A LOOK AT THE NEW COACHES."

The answer couldnít have been any simpler. Andrew Folkes had stolen the bottle of Jack I had hidden under the magazine. But I couldnít let my rage get the best of me. All those classes would go to waste. So I picked up the magazine for some light reading to help clear my mind and I am reminded how many coaching changes St. Louis underwent during the offseason.

The answer: a lot.

St. Louis has a total of 16 new coaches on its staff. From head coach Scott Linehan all the way down to strength and conditioning coach Brad Roll, the guys in charge are almost all newcomers. No other team comes close to having so many new faces behind the scenes.

No wonder St. Louis is struggling to find an identity; itís as if the Rams coaching staff had just gone through an expansion draft.

But unlike the Houston Texans, the Rams didnít get what they wanted.

Former coach Mike Martz thrilled and entertained the crowds in St. Louis with his offense, but the Rams wanted a change. They wanted a defensive-minded coach and got one in Jim Haslett. But the former coach of the New Orleans Saints didnít take over for Martz. That job was left for Linehan. Haslett would run the defense.

Why Haslett didnít get the head coaching job is beyond me. Linehan is a rookie at the helm but maybe his conservative approach would help make the transition from the Martz offense a little easier, slow things down and limit the turnovers, which Linehan has done.

The Rams have a giveaway/takeaway differential of +8. St. Louis finished last year at -10. It showed in the opening three games when the Rams scored a total of 37 points and covered twice as a dog.

But Linehan has also made some questionable calls throughout the season, which is typical of a rookie head coach. Twice on Sunday he opted to go for it on fourth down. Both times, the Rams were stopped with one resulting in an interception. Somehow, the underdog Rams covered the field goal for their first payday in three games and sixth of the season.

Thatís one more payday than Rams backers have seen in each of the last two years under Martz. Could the conservative approach be working?

Yes, for now. But don`t expect the Rams to pad your bankroll in the stretch run.

Seattle was missing both its starting running back and quarterback and the Seahawks still squeaked by the Rams. Worse, they exposed the gaping holes Haslett has failed to fill in the Rams defense even though he had 10 weeks to do so.

Through Monday, St. Louis ranked 29th in rushing defense. The offseason signings of Will Witherspoon and LaíRoi Glover are paying off but theyíve done little to improve the overall makeup of the Rams defense. Witherspoon is having an exceptional year but Haselttís aggressive blitzing schemes are leaving St. Louis open for big plays downfield.

Opposing running backs have broken nine plays of 20 yards or more and have scored a total of 10 rushing touchdowns versus the Rams, while St. Louisí secondary has also allowed six passing plays of 40 yards or more.

This has resulted in a 4-1-1 over/under record in the last six games, which is about the only value you can find with St. Louis right now.

Yeah, I know they play some very beatable opponents through the final six games of the season, but with the playoff window all but closed and so much to work on, the Rams need to step back, take a deep breath, and get ready for next year. Work out the kinks with the defense and take the pressure off Linehan.

Until then, the Rams are only worth my two cents. :\