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Mel Kiper: Don't blow up the Rams!
Despite a disastrous start, St. Louis should stay the course with its young talent
By Mel Kiper October 15, 2011
After winning a total of six games from 2007 to 2009, the St. Louis Rams jumped to 7-9 last season behind promising play from rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and were only a tiebreaker from hosting a playoff game.
The "rising" narrative, however, has hit a wall early this season. The Rams are off to a terrible start, and already I hear questions about the direction of the team. It becomes almost a philosophical debate: Was last year's jump only a brief break in the awful trend, or is this year just a break in a continued rise?
From where I sit, I see numerous reasons to believe that this season is an aberration, not a fall back to a dismal run. So Rams fans, before you start burning your season tickets, consider this case.
Start with the quarterback. The bloom is off the rose a bit for Bradford this year, as his completion percentage has dropped to just 49.7 percent after an impressive 60.0 percent clip as a rookie. But there are reasons. For one, there's a total misconception that Bradford simply came in last year and adjusted quickly to the NFL. In reality, the Rams adjusted to Bradford so he could get acclimated quickly.
For instance, Bradford didn't just clear the "under-center" hurdle, he completed 56 percent of his passes last season from the shotgun, where he was already very comfortable. And last year he was constantly in quick drops and encouraged to get it out of his hands quickly and make the underneath throw, which is why slot man Danny Amendola piled up 85 catches but for a mere 689 yards. That's efficient, but it doesn't scare defenses.
This year is a different story. New offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has tried to diversify the portfolio a bit and allow the offense to stretch defenses. Bradford has been in more five- and seven-step drops and has attempted more play-action, something the Rams should be able to do to get the ball down the field, given the threat of Steven Jackson. But the offense been hampered by a couple of factors.
For one, the offensive line hasn't held up. Bradford has been sacked 18 times in four games. A young group I was very high on has to do more as the offense matures. Secondly, even with Amendola, this might be the worst group of wide receivers in the league. Brandon Gibson has flashes, but he's not a No. 1. Amendola, of course, is out. Mike Sims-Walker is a nice player, but he doesn't scare any defensive backs. Rookie tight end Lance Kendricks is still learning the NFL game, and draft picks Austin Pettis and Greg Salas aren't ahead of schedule.
Then you factor in that Jackson has just 23 carries this year because of nagging injuries, and you can understand how this team has gotten off to a slow start. Bradford has all the talent you can ask for, but the biggest thing he's been allowed to prove this year is that he's durable (and that's not a joke, because it was the one question we had on draft day). But the offense really has to grow up, and stay healthy around him. And McDaniels is in dire need of explosiveness at skill positions.
But the issues aren't merely on offense. The defense has also taken a step back, and it starts in the secondary. O.J. Atogwe was an underrated safety in his time in St. Louis. This is a guy who picked off 22 passes and forced 16 fumbles while playing for the Rams. Even on bad teams, he was a difference-maker, and now Washington is seeing benefits from his presence. Then the Rams lost Ron Bartell, their best corner. The void has been huge, and the secondary has been easy to throw on.
It's too bad, because there's a lot of promise up front, and in a solid linebacking corps. But given some of the struggles of the offense, the secondary needed to be a ball-hawking group that could create turnovers, and instead it's been the opposite. It reminds me a little of last year's Lions (not a bad comparison for optimists) who had some really nice pieces up front, but couldn't hold up in the secondary.
Finally, the Rams have faced an absolute buzzsaw in terms of the schedule. If it looks bad on the surface, consider some of the circumstances. They hosted a fully healthy Eagles team in Week 1, a game they led before the injury to Jackson seemed to throw off the entire offense. Then they dealt with a tough stretch of the Giants coming off a loss, Baltimore coming off a loss, and Washington coming off a loss. When you consider they play Green Bay, Dallas and New Orleans in their next three, there isn't a lot of optimism.
But that's in the short term. In the long, I think things are a lot brighter. The second half of the schedule offers the chance for up to five wins. That's this year. Into next, people need to know Steve Spagnuolo is a good coach who simply needs to fill some remaining holes, get his offense comfortable under McDaniels, and continue to build around what is actually a good group of young and talented players.
This team might not be next year's Detroit. But last year's Lions weren't supposed to be, either. After all, they started 0-4 and couldn't seem to get the light to flick on. It finally did in Week 5 -- against the Rams. Next season can't come soon enough in St. Louis, but the Rams can build some equity in the future now.
Re: Mel Kiper: Don't blow up the Rams!
Wow I'm impressed Mel! I bet his draft counterpart, whatever his name is, would disagree with this since they always argue and disagree about assessments! lol Seems like Mel has no emotions tied into the record as a fan and can see things for how they are.
Re: Mel Kiper: Don't blow up the Rams!
Well, Ok, don't blow up the team. They just need to add talent at almost every position. lol
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