Burwell: Don't bother feeling sorry for Rams

8 hours ago BY BRYAN BURWELL, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist

The days of feeling sorry for themselves are over at Rams Park. The woe-is-me refrain and inferiority complex that seemed to always weigh this team down, grind it up and ultimately create its own self-fulfilling doomsday prophecy seems to have finally left the building.

So don't bother feeling sorry for the Rams and their beaten-up, broken-down Island-of-Misfit-Toys offensive line, their gimpy Pro Bowl running back, their under-siege young quarterback and their menagerie of less-than-perfect receivers. There was a time not too long ago when after a game like Sunday's 23-6 loss to the Chicago Bears, it felt like this team was slipping down a mudslide of gloom and doom. There was a sense that not only was everything broken and couldn't possibly be fixed at least not without divine intervention but it was also going to get a lot worse before it ever came close to getting better.

But on Monday at Rams Park, there wasn't a hint of that gloominess to be found. The locker room was remarkably upbeat. Nowhere to be found was the chippiness of an overly sensitive losing team. Consider this part of the emphatic stamp of the Jeff Fisher era. No excuses. No capitulation. Just find a way, any way, to win.

Fisher didn't waste any time on alibis for his ineffective offense. A week after putting up 452 total yards and three touchdowns against Washington, the Rams gasped and wheezed their way to 160 yards and zero TDs against Chicago. Sam Bradford was sacked six times, harassed on a dozen more plays and threw two interceptions, which is perfectly understandable when you look at all the mistakes made around him.

Dropped passes (five), horrible pass protection breakdowns and receivers who couldn't get open made Bradford's day a living hell. But with all that said, the Rams were still in position late in this game to tie or win the game.

"Obviously, our difficulty was on the offensive side of the ball," Fisher said. "We didn't play as well as I think we're capable. We had a lot of little mistakes that cost us here and there, and we, as well as the players, are encouraged about where we're going. As long as we continue to improve, we should be OK."

This isn't whistling-in-the-dark optimism from a head coach who is desperately trying to pump up his team. (OK, maybe there's a little of that in there.) Instead, consider this the stubbornness of a head coach who knows that since they aren't going to cancel the season because your offensive line is beaten up, you might as well figure a way to overcome your shortcomings.

Fisher's message is rather obvious. So far, he believes his defense has played good enough to win. He also is confident in his special teams. Now he just has to reinforce to his offense that when you know every week that you're going to be overmatched by stout defenses, it's not necessary to play over your head. You just have to get rid of the self-inflicted wounds that kill drives and allow defenses to feast on your defenseless quarterback.

Fisher reminded folks about the previous six quarters that we saw in Detroit and against the Redskins when Bradford engineered efficient drives with a nice mixture of runs and passes and you didn't have to squint to imagine that this team could effectively operate against some of the NFL's better defenses.

That was an offense that was completing 71.7 percent of its passes, averaging 114 rushing yards and for the most part keeping Bradford upright. That offense wasn't seeing receivers drop wide open passes. That offense saw receivers working their way to get open. No one was on the verge of giving that offense a fancy name like The Greatest Show on Turf, but even with all its obvious limitations, the Rams for the most part did not self-destruct.

Fisher's philosophy with this team is to keep the game as close as possible with his rugged defense and give the flawed offense a chance to win. On Sunday, the defense did its part, but the offense did everything it could to self-immolate.

This is how an imperfect offense kills itself:

Item No. 1: Offensive linemen whiffing on blitzes. (Here's something that ought to be stuck to this week's game plan: "Note to self If there are two men shooting the gaps on either shoulder, geez, at least block one of them.")

Item No. 2: On their final possession of the first quarter, the Rams had their first ideal opportunity to get into the end zone after Cortland Finnegan's interception gave them a first down on the Chicago 46. But on three consecutive plays, the offense made drive-killing mistakes. On a first-down slant route, rookie receiver Chris Givens let a ball slip through his hands. On second down, Bradford stood tall in the pocket and fired a deep ball down the left sideline where Brandon Gibson had gotten behind double coverage. The pass hit Gibson right between the numbers, but he dropped what could have been a 35- to 40-yard gain. On third down, it was a gawdawful breakdown on pass protection by left guard Quin Ojinnaka that gave up a sack. (See Item No. 1.)

Item No. 3: On the final possession of the first half, more mistakes. Lance Kendricks drops a pass. Bradford scrambles because no one is open. Bradford throws a pass away because no one can get open.

I don't feel sorry for this team like I have so many woefully inadequate Rams teams in the past. Are there going to be games where this team struggles? Absolutely. They're green as peas, three of their best offensive linemen are on crutches, Steven Jackson's groin is one awkward step away from shredding and Bradford still doesn't have an outside receiver who strikes fear in a defense's heart.

But I've seen what this incredibly flawed offense can do when it doesn't make needless mistakes. Is this a great offense? No, but no one's asking for greatness. But to give this team a fighting chance on Sundays, all the offense has to do is cut down on those numbing mistakes and simply be efficient.

By comparison to greatness's insurmountable mountain, efficiency ought to be no more daunting than scaling a veritable mole hill.