Rams' luck will change eventually
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
As bleak as things look this holiday season at Rams Park, there's always hope. Hope that things can be turned around quickly.
For proof, the Rams need look no further than three teams they are playing over the second half of this lost 2008 season. Last season, the New York Jets (4-12), Miami (1-15), and Atlanta (4-12) were among the dregs of the NFL.
This season, the Jets (8-3), Dolphins (6-5), and Falcons (7-4) all are playoff contenders.
"That's three prime examples in this league of how fast you can turn a team around," Rams coach Jim Haslett said. "I think it gives fans hope; it gives the team hope; gives ownership hope that you can turn this thing around fast — and you really can."
There have been some common elements to how the Jets, Dolphins, and Falcons have rebuilt. All three have new quarterbacks — Brett Favre in New York; Chad Pennington in Miami; and rookie Matt Ryan in Atlanta.
The Jets, who pummeled the Rams 47-3 on Nov. 9, used trades and free agency more than the draft to get well quickly. Besides trading for Favre and nose tackle Kris Jenkins, the Jets picked up three veteran starters in free agency: left guard Alan Faneca, right tackle Damien Woody, and outside linebacker Calvin Pace.
"The 'X' factor there was the quarterback that kind of fell to them," Rams executive vice president of player personnel Billy Devaney said. "Would they have been (this good) if Pennington was the quarterback? I think they would've been improved. But Favre falling to them like he did, that was just icing on the cake. That kind of put them over the top."
Miami, which comes to the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday, also made two significant moves on its offensive line in drafting left tackle Jake Long No. 1 overall out of Michigan and adding left guard Justin Smiley in free agency.
At quarterback, the Dolphins have proved the adage that one man's junk is another's treasure. Pennington was released by the Jets once they landed Favre, but has been a godsend in Miami.
Pennington's career completion percentage of 65.66 percent is the second-best in NFL history (to Kurt Warner's 65.68) among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 attempts.
"That's incredible," Devaney said. "No matter what you might say, that he doesn't have a strong arm, the guys knows right where to go with it. What receiver to go to. Where the open receiver is. He's extremely accurate."
He's up to his old tricks with Miami, completing 66 percent of his passes so far this season.
"The guy's gotten better and better, and he continues to complete a lot of passes and take care of the football, which is very important to us," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "But the thing that Chad does mostly for us is he's a tremendous leader. He has a young offense around him right now that's just learning, and he's kind of the teacher out there. ... I always call him the Pied Piper. I mean, these guys kind of do whatever he says."
Other than drafting Long and signing Pennington, the Dolphins haven't made a lot of high-profile moves. They have a rookie third-round draft pick, Kendall Langford, starting at defensive end. They traded for 12-year veteran Jason Ferguson from Dallas to anchor their 3-4 front at nose tackle. And they've signed some cheaper free agents to help their depth.
Atlanta, with whom the Rams close the regular season on Dec. 28, has gotten surprisingly strong play from Ryan at quarterback, and received a big boost from free agent Michael Turner at running back. The Falcons also invested in their offensive line by drafting Southern Cal left tackle Sam Baker in the first round.
"All three teams have gone about it in the same way, where they've kind of built up and addressed their offensive line more than anything," Devaney said. "But on top of that, they had a plan. And it was a well-thought out plan and they didn't deviate from it in putting their team together.
"I think for us that's the important thing. We kind of recognize, we know what needs to be done. We're in the process of putting that type of plan together. We'll finalize it when the season's over, and it'll be important to stick to it."
It also helps to have some luck with injuries. Running back Ronnie Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 7 of last season for Miami. The Dolphins became the eighth team since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978 to finish 1-15.
This season, a healthy Brown has 833 yards from scrimmage, has scored nine touchdowns, and has even thrown a TD pass. The Dolphins have won four of their last five and are trying to become the third 1-15 team to finish with a winning record the following season.
It's not easy to change a losing culture.
"We battle it every single week," Sparano said.
But going from a couple of wins to playoff contention can be done ... in one offseason.
"I don't think it's unrealistic at all," Devaney said. "I know it doesn't look that way right now, but there is some talent here. People keep talking about this roster being so bad, I don't think that's the case. Are we playing bad now? Yeah, in a lot of areas. But I still believe there's some talent here. And if we get the right mix and we fix the right areas, it affects everything."
Re: Rams' luck will change eventually
well, one thing is right..........the opportunity is there for a really good head coach and a really good GM to turn a team around. The question is: "Is Billy DeVaney and Jim Haslett the two to do it?"
You have some talent, no doubt - but in all honesty, I think you guys have less of a talent base than the Falcons did last year - last year they still had John Abraham, Roddy White, Michael Boley and some others that really stepped up their games. Scratch that, there were only a few names that were recognized around the league last year as good players - but Falcons got stepped up levels of play this year from Michael Jenkins-WR, Justin Blalock-LG, Harvey Dahl-RG, Tyson Clabo-RT, Chris Houston-CB, Jamaal Anderson-DE, Jonathan Babineaux-UT........That was the key - getting the right head coach and coaching staff to get the most out of these NFL players who are not stars.......I don't know if its fair to judge Haslett on getting the job in midseason or not - surely Haslett started out hot beating the Redskins and Cowboys but it looks like the same team Linehan was coaching now. I'm just not "buying" Jim Haslett to turn this franchise around.
I am buying Steve Spagnuolo as a great head coaching candidate - I followed him closely last year since I was interested for my Falcons - I heard quotes from his defensive players saying they would "run through walls" for Spagnuolo. That is the kind of passion and fire that the Rams need to turn this team around. I'm not saying Haslett does not have passion but I just don't know that he has that "it" quality - the prescence that inspires a team - I think Spagnuolo has that quality in spades.
Like the Falcons, Rams need a great draft, a few key free agent acquisitions and a head coach and coaching staff that "teaches" and inspires. I'm also of the opinion that the Rams need a QB - like that article said, all three of those teams that turned things around (Jets, Dolphins, Falcons - and the guy forgot the Ravens) - all four have new QBs - coincidence? I think not!!!!)
Good luck to the Rams and happy thanksgiving to all you guys on the board
Happy Thanksgiving to ALL!
Re: Rams' luck will change eventually
I think we should throw money at the top center in the free agency this year.
We should also draft OL players with our first two picks. Thats an instant boost over what we have right now.
I know some people are arguing that the Haz needs to go. But Devaney is capable of helping us turn this team around. I know Jacob Bell has been rusty this year. But he needs to watch out for his center and his left guard who hasn't been playing well this year.
Giving Jacob Bell a good LT and C to work with will most likely give him the same type of play he had in Ten.
We need some defensive help for sure.
It will be tough to fix all of our problems.
One thing for sure, we're only set in two positions for next year. QB and RB.
Anything else will need to be fixed. And to place all of this year's disaster on the coach was wrong. It was the players...not Linehan. And now I feel bad.
I'm for giving the Haz the extra year. Let him and Devaney fix this team as much as they can. Every team has their weakness. We have too many. Bring it down to one or two soft spots.