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Kroenke Stays Silent About Rams' Many Woes
Kroenke stays silent about Rams' many woes
BY JIM THOMAS
Sunday, January 1, 2012
"I was talking to the commissioner, Roger Goodell, about a bunch of different issues. I told him I'm more excited about the season than I've ever been."
Stan Kroenke made those comments to the Post-Dispatch on the eve of the Rams' 2011 season opener. He was speaking both about the Rams in particular, and the NFL as a whole.
When it came to the Rams it wasn't just Kroenke, their owner. Expectations for the team were as high as they'd been in years.
Coming off an unbeaten preseason, the Rams had the 2010 NFL offensive rookie of the year at quarterback in Sam Bradford. They hired a "name" offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels, whose pedigree stemmed from the high-powered and highly successful New England Patriots. Once the lockout ended, the Rams were among the NFL's busiest teams in free agency, signing a dozen veterans to fill starting berths and bolster depth.
And then the season started.
It looked as if something special was in the works when Steven Jackson rambled off left tackle for 47 yards and a touchdown on the Rams' first offensive play of the season, against Philadelphia. The crowd at the Edward Jones Dome was electrified. But as Jackson approached the end zone, he slowed down, pulled up.
Was he showboating? No, he was hurt. Jackson had pulled a thigh muscle in his right leg. He tried one more carry, and was done for the day.
The game, and the season, slid downhill in a hurry. Bradford stumbled coming out from under center with the Eagles recovering and scoring a momentum-changing TD late in the first quarter. The Rams were flagged for nine penalties, dropped six passes, missed a field goal and couldn't contain a scrambling Michael Vick in what became a 31-13 loss.
The losses and the injuries continued, and so did many of the above characteristics of bad play. The Rams had trouble scoring in the red zone, and scoring — period. Penalties, drops, special teams miscues and shoddy run defense were recurring themes all season.
It has all snowballed to this: a 2-13 record as the Rams prepare for their season finale against NFC West champion San Francisco (12-3) in a noon kickoff Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. Kroenke has steadfastly declined to do any interviews as this season has crumbled.
What does he think of this mess? And what will he do about it?
Coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney each have one year left on their contract. Neither seems to know if they'll be back in 2012. The Rams are 10-37 in the three seasons Spagnuolo has been head coach and Devaney the GM. (Devaney was with the Rams in 2008, or one year before Spagnuolo's hiring, but didn't have the general manager's title.)
Kroenke has been at many of the Rams' games this season, but not all. He rarely has been in the building at Rams Park His ownership style, at least in professional sports, is to hire the best people possible as coaches, front office executives, etc., and let them do their jobs. But whom is he relying on at Rams Park to fill in the blanks on the daily goings on?
And what are his own thoughts on a variety of factors that could make or break Spagnuolo and/or Devaney as Rams employees?
The Rams are on the high end in terms of injuries, with 16 players on the injured reserve. Besides losing their best player, Jackson, basically for three games because of the thigh injury, the Rams also lost their best receiver (Danny Amendola) and their best cornerback (Ron Bartell) to season-ending injuries in the opener.
The cornerback position has been absolutely crushed by injuries. All of the top five corners entering the season are out, with four (Bartell, Bradley Fletcher, Jerome Murphy, and Al Harris) on injured reserve. In addition, three starting offensive linemen including both tackles (Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold) are on IR. So are two wide receivers (Greg Salas, Mark Clayton), tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and the team's only true fullback (Brit Miller). If Bradford, as expected, misses Sunday's finale, he will have played in only 10 of 16 games because of a high ankle sprain.
How much do all these injuries factor into Kroenke's decision? Or does he look at a team such as the Seattle Seahawks, who have been plagued with as many key injuries as St. Louis, and wonder: How did they stay competitive?
The Seahawks will finish 8-8 with a victory over Arizona on Sunday.
The Rams have a three-time Pro Bowler at running back in Jackson. They have the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft in Bradford. They have invested tens of millions of dollars in the offensive line. They could've gone cheaper, but spent good money to bring in McDaniels. They drafted a tight end (Lance Kendricks) in the second round of the 2011 draft, and added wide receivers (Austin Pettis and Greg Salas) in the third and fourth rounds respectively. They traded in mid October for Brandon Lloyd, who led the NFL in reception yards last season with Denver.
So how can these guys be so bad?
The Rams have scored only 166 points in 15 games. Not only is it a league low this season, unless the Rams score 10 points against the elite San Francisco defense it will be the Rams' lowest point total in a season since 1944. The team has scored only 15 touchdowns this season, which currently stands as the second-lowest total since the Cleveland Rams scored 10 TDs in 1937, the franchise's inaugural season.
Obviously, the injuries have taken a toll and hurt continuity. Last season, for example, Bradford didn't miss a single snap, Jackson didn't miss a game, and the five offensive line starters were in the lineup for 79 of a possible 80 starts. Nonetheless, the depth of a team always is tested by injuries, as is the mettle of a coaching staff in making adjustments to those injuries.
The Arizona Cardinals, for example, managed to defeat the Rams twice with John Skelton, a second-year player from Fordham, at quarterback. When the Rams faced the Cardinals for the first time Nov. 6, Skelton hadn't thrown a pass all season.
It's not surprising that Spagnuolo, as a defensive-oriented head coach, has a conservative philosophy offensively. But without a defense strong enough to carry the team, is that really the best course? In many games, the Spagnuolo approach has been to play it close to the vest, try to keep the game close entering the fourth quarter then see what happens.
There have been several games in which the Rams went into the 2-minute drill at the end of the first half and played for a field goal. Most recently, this backfired against Pittsburgh when the Rams were pushed back by a sack and Josh Brown missed a 52-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter.
The adjustment on defense to all the injuries at cornerback has been impressive. The Rams responded by playing both safeties deep, as if in a Cover 2 shell, played softer coverage at corner and blitzed less. The idea was to keep the play in front of them. And it's worked surprisingly well. The Rams' defense has at least managed to keep the teams in games.
But some of the game plans, clock management, and in-game strategy have been head-scratchers. Notably here was the tactic of employing empty backfields on 28 of 62 plays in the first Seattle game — in effect, telling the Seahawks that the Rams were passing the ball before it was snapped.
Another example: Using Jackson as a ballcarrier only twice in eight plays from the Seahawks' 1 during two red-zone possessions in the second Seattle game.
The Rams also chose the punt twice to Arizona rookie sensation Patrick Peterson, and got burned for killer TDs in both games against the Cardinals. Now you can blame that on punter Donnie Jones or special teams coordinator Tom McMahon, or both. But it shouldn't have happened twice in three weeks.
Spagnuolo stated on more than one occasion since taking the job that teams are build from the lines out. Was this a fatal design flaw? Obviously, it helps to have blockers on offense and run-stuffers and pass-rushers on defense. But it's a passing league, a scoring league, like never before. The Rams simply don't have enough playmakers and touchdown-makers.
This extends beyond offense. Almost every week, the Rams face either an elite punt returner or kick returner, or both. Why can't they find one, either through the draft or free agency?
The 2011 draft was especially puzzling. With a glaring need for speed at receiver, the Rams passed on speedsters Torrey Smith and Randall Cobb in the second round to take a tight end (Kendricks) who hasn't done much. In the third and fourth rounds, they took a pair of wideouts who are more possession types than big-play threats in Pettis and Salas.
Patience has proven Devaney right on defensive end Chris Long, who has improved every season and is one of the league's top pass-rushers this season. Linebacker James Laurinaitis was a fine pick in the second round of 2009. Saffold looked like a second-round steal as a rookie in 2010, but then slumped and lost his confidence this season before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury lifting weights. On the other hand, offensive tackle Smith, with two major concussions in three seasons, looks like a bust as the No. 2 pick in 2009.
Not all of this can be laid at Devaney's feet. It wasn't his idea to waive fifth-round safety Jermale Hines or seven-round linebacker Jabara Williams. Instead, the Rams kept veteran safety James Butler, who has contributed little this season, and kept free-agent linebacker Ben Leber, who was cut six weeks after Williams' departure.
There is nothing resembling the non-stop in-house fighting that characterized the Mike Martz-Jay Zygmunt days with the Rams.
Spagnuolo, Devaney, and executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff all get along and work well together. But the building isn't as unified as the Rams would like you to think. The so-called "non-football" part of the building — sales, marketing, etc. — is almost cut off from the "football" people with access restricted in certain parts of the building. There isn't the "we're all in this together" feeling that permeated the Dick Vermeil years.
A series of dismissals, from athletic trainers Jim Anderson and Dake Walden, to vice president of operations John Oswald to equipment manager Todd Hewitt has others in the building wondering if they'll be next.
Kroenke has a lot emotionally invested in Spagnuolo, in the sense that he liked him a lot when he was hired in 2009. Kroenke was minority owner at the time, but was involved in the interview process.
Then again, Kroenke has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the Rams. The NFL is a bottom-line business, and despite management's un-ending efforts to meet sellout requirements and keep the games on local television, there have been thousands of empty seats at most home games.
Now, more than ever, it's Kroenke's call.
-01-02-2012 #2Registered User
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Re: Kroenke Stays Silent About Rams' Many Woes
Stan will not be silent much longer.
Re: Kroenke Stays Silent About Rams' Many Woes
Let's just hope it's more sooner than later, for all partys involved.
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