Oct. 4: Could Rams Be Worst Ever?
By Bernie Miklasz
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Let’s cut to the chase:

I’ve been covering the NFL for nearly 30 years, and I think the 2009 Rams are the worst non-expansion year team I’ve seen. Well, at least as they are right now, at this moment, sitting at 0-4 following an embarrassing 35-0 beating from the San Francisco *****. I could be wrong, of course. I didn’t sit here and do 12 hours of research to support my “worst ever” observation. That’s all it is; an observation. And this opinion can be revisited and updated in a few weeks, or at the end of the season, as more games are played, and as the Rams progress, or regress.

But I haven’t seen a mess as big as this for a long time.

What about the 2008 Detroit Lions? They went 0-16. When we’re talking “worst,” they’re the leader in the clubhouse in terms of record. And if the Rams win a game or two, they won’t be the worst. But up to this point, the trend is ominous. At least the 2008 Lions scored points, around 15 per game. And those Lions had (and still have) a big-time playmaker at WR in Calvin Johnson. At least there was some sizzle. And the ‘08 Lions were competitive at times, losing five games by 8 points or less. Overall, the 2008 Lions lost their games by an average of 15 points. Through four games, the Rams have lost by an average of 21 points.

What about the 2008 Rams, who went 2-14? Well, they were hideous, sure. And we will never forget that beatdown by the NY Jets at the Meadowlands; the Rams were down 40-0 at the half and lost 47-3. But overall, the 2008 Rams lost their 14 games by an average of 15 points. The ‘09 squad is losing by an average of three TDs so far.

And the Rams don’t score. Not much, anyway. The 2009 Rams have been shutout twice in four games, and were held to 7 points in a third game. They didn’t even have a red-zone possession at San Francisco. They had only 177 yards against the *****. And for the season, the Rams are averaging 6 points per game. Abysmal. For historical perspective, consider this: the 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs — a winless (0-14) expansion team widely considered the most futile outfit in NFL history — averaged 8.9 points per game. Those expansion Buccaneers had more game than what we’ve seen from the ‘09 Rams offense.

The Rams have scored 7 points, total, in three road games this season. Through four games, they have converted only 31.4 percent of third-down plays — and that would be the worst by a Rams team since STATS LLC began storing third-down conversion rates in its data base in 1991.

The Rams are averaging 258 yards per game, and if that holds, it would be the 25th-lowest output by an NFL offense since the 1970 merger.

The Rams’ average of 6 points per game would be the worst by an NFL team since the merger. The “crown” currently belongs to the 1977 Buccaneers, a second-year NFL franchise that averaged 7.4 points per game.

The Rams lack efficiency and danger in the passing game, The Rams are at the bottom of the league in yards per passing attempt, and have hit only only two passes of 25+ yards this season. The Rams have one player on offense, and as we saw in San Francisco on Sunday, defenses will park as many players as desired in the box to swarm Steven Jackson, because the Rams are no threat to burn anyone downfield. And until this changes, unless this changes, I don’t see how the situation will improve in the near future.

Through the first four games, the Rams have been outscored 58-3 in the second half.

Seriously: does it can any worse than that? Is it possible?

I could go on. But where is the relief? When does this 2009 Rams schedule open up to provide instant access to a victory?

Some thoughts from the game:

* As I wrote last week, Kyle Boller isn’t the long-term answer at QB. Marc Bulger isn’t the answer. Signing a retread isn’t the answer. The Rams won’t completely turn a losing program over until they install a QB of the future. I continue to hear some really wise individuals on the radio say it would have been silly to draft a quarterback, Mark Sanchez in the 2009 draft. Their “logic” is this: the Rams are bad, so the QB would be getting killed. Let me ask a question: so if I understand this correctly, bad teams should never draft a quarterback to build around? Oh, really? That’s interesting. Yeah, the Dallas Cowboys, coming off a 3-13 season, were insane to draft Troy Aikman in 1989. What were they thinking? And can you believe the stupidity of Bill Walsh, who drafted Joe Montana in 1979? The *****, 2-14, were awful in 1978; it was irresponsible to draft a QB in that situation. And I cannot believe Chuck Noll was foolish enough to waste a draft pick on Terry Bradshaw in 1970. The Steelers were coming off a 1-13 season; only a nutcase would draft a QB at that time. And we’re all laughing at the Atlanta Falcons (4-12) for taking Matt Ryan in the first round in 2008. A question for these Vince Lombardis of the airwaves: is there a NFL rule that dictates you only draft a QB when your team is good? Thanks.

* On a blog written last week, I issued a warning about Kyle Boller’s road performance during his active playing days (2003-2007) with the Baltimore Ravens. He had a 5-15 record as a road starter, with a poor QB rating of 62.1, and the Ravens lost the last 10 road games started by Boller. His road losing streak is now 11. It wasn’t all Boller’s fault, of course — again, the O-line was bad — but he didn’t play well. Amazingly, fans and media continue to engage in a Bulger vs. Boller debate. It’s like choosing between a toothache and a migraine. My gosh, how this franchise has bottomed out. Fans and media can’t see the daylight, so they sit in the dark, yammering about bad QBs.

* DE Chris Long, second overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft: I’m looking at the box score put out by STATS LLC, and perhaps the stats crew missed a play or two; perhaps there was a mistake. But on the unofficial log of statistics, Long’s name does not show up under the categories of “tackles” or “assists.” And this would explain why the Rams have not been able to get better. They simply are not getting the kind of impact that you MUST receive from top draft picks.

* That Rams offensive line had demonstrated some improvement in the first three games, as evidenced by the 4.9 yards per carry, and a sack rate that had dropped from 8 percent to 4.8 percent. (Part of that is attributable to the QBs getting rid of the ball quicker in a 3-step, or 5-step, dropback. But the line collapsed again Sunday in San Francisco. It was just a horrible effort and performance. The ***** attacked the pocket all day. Most of Jackson’s 79 rushing yards were earned by his ability to bounce outside, or bounce off tacklers. There’s no excuse for such weak line play. GM Billy Devaney will have to answer for the play of this line. He signed or drafted most of it, at a hefty financial cost. I realize that it’s going to take a lot of time to rebuild this entire program, but the O-line was the first priority, and an area where the Rams invested draft picks and free-agent money. So I believe it is fair to expect more immediate results.

* Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo finally took a necessary first step by benching an underachieving, mistake-prone player, left tackle Alex Barron. I know that Spagnuolo benched guard Richie Incognito in the first game for a series (or two?) after #68 was flagged for a personal foul. But Incognito was soon back in good graces. Barron stayed out of the game. But here’s what concerns me: in his post-game remarks on the radio, Spagnuolo all but apologized for the Barron benching, saying “that’s not me.” Well, he’d better start holding players accountable and in a tough way. A positive approach works, but only to a point. You have to impose high standards. Players who lack talent can only do so much; they won’t get much better, if it all. But there is simply no excuse for the penalties (10 on Sunday) and knucklehead mistakes. That’s a lack of discipline and focus. And it should not be tolerated. I hope Spagnuolo is tough enough. I guess we’ll see. A coach doesn’t have to express regrets for benching Alex Barron. He should take a bow.

* Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur doesn’t have a lot to work with, and I am trying to keep that in mind. The QB play is mediocre at best. The O-line is erratic. And the Rams have the worst group of receivers in the NFL. That said, I do not understand why the Rams don’t take any shots downfield. Yes, protection is an issue. I know. I just wrote about it. But the Rams do have a speed guy in WR Donnie Avery. Sure, he’s made mistakes, but he’s a second-year WR who was raw coming out of college. You have to keep going to him, to build confidence. You have to keep giving him a chance to make plays. And you have to at least give the defense a reason to be on the lookout for Avery’s speed. He’s the only wideout on this roster who can outrun defenders; you have to utilize that. About 5 minutes into Sunday’s game, Avery made a very nice catch-and-run for 22 yards. It was his most positive play in a long time. OK, so why not go back to him, and keep Avery busy? But Avery didn’t catch a pass again until there was a little more than 5 minutes left in the third quarter. He finished with 3 catches for 47 yards, averaging 15. 7 per reception. The ***** offered an example of what we’re talking about. Their second-year wideout, Josh Morgan, dropped a pass that would have gone for a huge gain. But they came back to Morgan for a 24-yard TD. The Rams have to make more of an effort to connect with Avery’s skill. They don’t have much skill on offense. And they have to try and run him deep a few times a game, to try and hit a home run.

* Bernie Bytes: The Rams are concerned about the salary cap, and they have been releasing guys to save money, and in that context, I have no idea what tight end Randy McMichael is doing here. His skills have eroded… when the Rams signed fullback Mike Karney, I was hopeful that he’d make a positive difference as a lead blocker. I don’t see it happening, at least not yet…it’s 3rd and 1, and you run Samkon Gado? An example of why the game-day coaching has left something to be desired… since signing a lucrative deal with the Rams, kicker Josh Brown ranks around 25th in the NFL in field goal percentage…I think Steven Jackson gets unfairly dogged by fans most of the time, but he’s gotta do a better job of picking up the blitz.

I know some of you are looking for me to list the “positives” coming out of the game in San Francisco.

Well, when a team loses by 35 points there are no positives. Did a few guys play well? Of course. DL James Hall has no reason to feel any shame after that game. Same (for the most part) for rookie MLB James Laurinaitis.

But that’s one of the problems around here.

We keep coming up with a mostly false list of “positives” for a team that’s now lost 14 consecutive games, and 31 of the last 36. As if there’s a balanced sheet of positives and negatives.

Raise the standards.

I’m done growling now.

Thanks for reading …

-Bernie