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Rams look like they're plodding along ..
Sports Columnist Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
More than ever, teams in the National Football League are airing it out, with footballs flying through stadium skies from coast to coast. Teams are armed with young-gun quarterbacks, golden-oldie quarterbacks and a fleet of receivers of every size.
Did you check some of the box scores from Sunday's games? It's crazy out there. Eight quarterbacks had 300-yard passing days, 10 threw for at least two touchdowns, and eight had passer ratings over 100. This accounting does not include Monday night's game between Denver and San Diego.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and other quarterback Mad Men turned a slate of NFL regular-season contests into "Madden NFL 10."
This wasn't a Sunday fluke show; the prolific passing numbers were part of an unmistakable trend. With help from STATS LLC, I attempted to research the extent of the NFL's let-it-rip mentality.
This is what I found:
— The current overall NFL passer rating of 84.8 would be the best since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
— The current completion rate of 61.2 percent would be the best since the 1970 merger.
— The current touchdown-interception ratio of 1.53 would be the best since the merger.
— The number of attempted passes per game (both teams) of 66.6 would be the second-highest since the merger.
— The net yards passing (438.5) per game and gross yards passing per game (467), for both teams, would rank No. 2 since the merger.
— The percentage of completions that result in first downs (33.9) would be No. 2 since the merger.
— The yards per passing attempt (7.01) is the eighth-highest since the merger. And the rate of quarterbacks being sacked per passing attempt (6.2 percent) is the sixth-lowest since the merger.
We're seeing big plays, long plays, dazzling plays and quarterbacks getting a chance to be John Unitas for the day. This fast and furious style of play is generating excitement throughout NFL venues.
Teams are combining to score 42.3 points a game so far, which is not far off from last season's average of 44.1 points a game, which ranked No. 1 since the merger.
All of this, of course, is bad news for the Rams, who are going in reverse, going against the league trend. With so many NFL teams flying around and scoring quickly, the Rams are plodding along with a horse-and-buggy offense. They've been left behind.
That applies to the Rams' defense, too. Quarterbacks are completing 67 percent of their passes against the Rams this season. The Rams are surrendering 8.4 yards per attempt, which ranks 30th among 32 teams. And over the next few weeks the Rams' defensive backs will encounter Peyton Manning, Brees and Warner.
I'm not trying to make excuses for head coach Steve Spagnuolo, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur or quarterback Marc Bulger, but let's be real here. The Rams' passing game is hardly prepared for liftoff. The Rams have had five touchdown passes all season; New England's Brady had five TD passes in the second quarter of Sunday's 59-0 win over Tennessee.
Sunday in Jacksonville, after Donnie Avery limped off with yet another injury, the Rams were left with Bulger throwing the ball to only three healthy wide receivers: Keenan Burton, Tim Carter and Danny Amendola.
Burton has his moments but isn't a speed guy; in 19 NFL games he has only four receptions of 25-plus yards. Carter and Amendola weren't on an active NFL roster as the 2009 season began.
Burton, Carter and Amendola entered 2009 with a combined 93 career catches, and no more than 26 in a season. If you want to include Avery, then you can put his 72 career catches into the equation. But Avery — easily the fastest and most dangerous wideout here — can't stay healthy.
The Rams' tight ends are OK but don't pose much of a downfield threat. Randy McMichael is averaging 11 yards a catch, which ranks 17th among NFL tight ends. Steven Jackson is one of the better receivers among league running backs, but the Rams don't go to him as often as they should. And the absence of a downfield passing game makes it easier for defenses to gang up on Jackson on his rushing attempts.
Part of this is bad luck. The Rams are enduring a run of injuries at the wideout position. Losing Laurent Robinson to a season-ending leg injury was a blow. Not that Robinson is Jerry Rice, but at least he could get open. Avery is obviously fragile. Injuries also have dogged some of the mystery-guest receivers (Ruvell Martin among them) brought in by general manager Billy Devaney.
Part of this is the result of poor planning.
After dumping Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt over the past two seasons, the Rams clearly had a void at wide receiver but haven't been ambitious in restocking the position.
The Rams drafted only one wideout (Brooks Foster) this year, and he was a fifth-rounder with a history of injuries in college ball. Upgrading at wideout through free agency wasn't a priority, either. The Rams didn't give up much in the trade for Robinson, but he ended last season on Atlanta's injured reserve list and his durability is an issue.
It's an unhealthy situation for the Rams in more ways than one.
In an increasingly wide-open league where teams aggressively burn defenses through the air, the Rams are stuck on the ground with no weapons of pass destruction.
Re: Rams look like they're plodding along ..
Bernie left out the fact that JAX had the NFL's worst pass defense going into Sunday's game. I don't care if you are trotting out on to the field the ball boy at WR, you have to attempt a few passes over 5 or 6 yards THROUGHOUT the game to try and see if their secondary is indeed as poor as their stats. Shurmur's playcalling Sunday was simply awful and reminded me of Al Saunders or maybe even Linehan.
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