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Where's The Rams Coaching Staff's Fire?
12.09.2009 4:30 pm
Whereís the Rams coaching staffís fire?
By Andy Dapron
**DISCLAIMER: I KNOW STEVE SPAGNUOLO AND HIS COORDINATORS ARE ROOKIES AT THEIR POSITIONS. I ABSOLUTELY AND UNEQUIVOCALLY BELIEVE THAT SPAGNUOLO HAS DONE GOOD THINGS FOR THE RAMS, PARTICULARLY IN HELPING THE TEAM CONTINUE TO WORK HARD AND PLAY HARD DURING A DIFFICULT SEASON, AND IN STABILIZING THE ONCE DYSFUNCTIONAL ATMOSPHERE AT RAMS PARK. THE RAMS ARE LACKING IN TALENT, SPAGNUOLO AND HIS STAFF DESERVE MORE THAN ONE SEASON TO UNDO THE MESS THAT IS RECENT RAMS FOOTBALL, AND GIVEN THAT TIME, THEY HAVE A CHANCE TO ACHIEVE SOME GOOD THINGS.**
There. Iíll put that out there first, because itís true, and because I know that those points are bound to be made in response to what I say next.
To repeat a familiar refrain, there has been a lot of talk lately, by me, by all the beat writers and the columnists, by the network commentators, the play-by-play men, and all the other talking heads, about the competitive fire of the Rams players. They still have it, everyone insists. In spite of the eleven losses and all the struggles, weíre still getting effort. Weíre still getting intensity. Weíre just not getting wins.
Fair enough. Since being torched 42-6 by Indianapolis in week 7, only once has a game felt like it was never really within the Ramsí reach. That was last week against Seattle, and the Rams did show some measure of resiliency this week, playing a terrific game on special teams, holding the Chicago ground game to 3.2 yards per carry, and limiting the Bearsí offense to 248 total yards. The Rams have every reason to have checked out by now, but theyíre still hanging around in these games. So, Iíll buy that the Rams players are still giving everything theyíve got.
After watching Sundayís 17-9 loss to the Bears, I wonder if the Rams coaches are matching that fire.
Itís an odd thing to question. Players usually reflect their coachís mentality. And Iím not suggesting for a minute that that Ramsí coaches donít to get off the snide as badly as the players do, or that they players arenít inheriting that little bit of grittiness thatís allowing them to hang in these recent contests from their coaches, particularly Spagnuolo.
But, I do feel like the coaches are lacking a winnerís mentality, especially when it comes to play-calling.
The Bears game was the perfect example. Despite a game in which the offense produced no touchdowns and only 233 total yards, including an absolutely paltry 98 yards passing (Not even 100 yards! Wow!), this game was right there for the Rams the whole way. One big play might have been enough to tie this game and force overtime. Two big plays, and maybe the Rams leave the Windy City with their second victory.
Instead, the Rams seemingly deny themselves the opportunity to make a big play by refusing to even test the waters deep downfield. The Rams completed one pass of more than 20 yards Sunday. They actually took a shot downfield maybe one or two other times. Youíre not going to make many plays that way.
Yes, Steven Jackson is the Rams most viable, most potent offensive weapon, but try as he might, he canít do it by himself. And part of the beauty of having a running back like SJ39 is supposed to be all the one-on-one matchups it creates on the outside.
Those matchups were there for the Rams all game long. Theyíve been there for the Rams all season long, but the Rams coaches arenít calling for the knockout punch, even while the opposing fighter has his guard down.
Itís common, if not expected, in the NFL these days that teams will follow a turnover or a long return by trying to deal a fatal blow with the next offensive play. Something long. Something big. Something to capitalize on the swing in momentum.
Hereís how the Rams chose to attack on these occasions:
After Chicago running back Matt Forteís fumble on the second play of the game was recovered by free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, Kyle Boller threw a six-yard pass to tight end Randy McMichael.
Later in the first quarter, the Rams followed Danny Amendolaís 43 yard kick return by running Jackson off tackle, again for six yards.
When the Rams snuffed out Chicagoís fake field goal attempt in the second quarter to halt the momentum generated by the Bearsí own takeaway and get the ball back on downs, they once again ran Jackson off tackle, this time, for three yards.
Following a 30 yard punt return by Amendola in the final period to give the Rams the ball at the Chicago 42 yard line, the Rams ran Jackson off tackle again. Jackson picked up nine yards this time.
Whereís the killer instinct?
I realize that no one is going to confuse Boller, Donnie Avery, Brandon Gibson, and Amendola for Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Az Hakim in their heydays. But, these guys arenít just practice dummies, either. One of Bollerís strongest attributes is his deep ball. Avery has the speed to get behind a defense. Amendola has some moves, as he showed on those big returns. We saw Gibson keep New Orleans busy in his first appearance as a Ram three weeks ago. These guys have some plays in them.
The coaching staff just wonít let the players try to make the plays. I said it early on in the season, and Iíll say it again: Even if you donít feel like your players are the most talented, even if you donít feel like the matchups favor you, at some point, you have to try. Take a shot, just to keep the defense honest, just to keep the offense awake, just to give yourself a chance to make a big play. I donít know about you, but frankly, Iíd rather see the Rams lose ícause they got picked on a couple of long balls, rather than because they failed to convert on all these four- to six-yard squeakers. If youíre going to go down, go down swinging.
Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur should share the blame for this new Worst Coast offense. Shurmur is the architect, and is responsible for calling all these plays that donít move anythiung more than ten yards beyond the line of scrimmage. However, Spagnuolo seems to endorse the teamís listless, lifeless offensive approach, remarking after the game, ďIím not going to go too far off of what we are and what weíre trying to develop here.Ē Besides, I think if Spagnuolo told Shurmur to stretch the field a little more often, Shurmur would listen.
Jackson is the key to the Ramsí offense, no doubt. He would be even if the Rams had Ike and Torry in their prime on the outside. Right now, though, the Ramsí coaches seem determined to get him killed by continuing to try to jam him into eight, nine, ten defenders stacked into the box, sore back and all. Given Jacksonís tremendous production under such tough circumstances, can you imagine what he and the Ramsí offensive line could do if the Ramsí coaches would force one or two of those defenders back by moving the ball downfield once in a while?
Regardless, the Ramsí coaches need to start taking some chances with their calls. They need to start trying to reach out and grab a win, rather than trying to just back into one. Playing with fire isnít just about how hard players work and how intense they are from snap to snap. Itís about the approach and the plan of attack, too, and right now, I just donít see the fire in the coachesí plans.
Gordo wants the Rams players to go for the win. Maybe the coaches should start calling the game that way, too.
-12-10-2009 #2Registered User
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Re: Where's The Rams Coaching Staff's Fire?
I think the article makes a great deal of sense. The Rams are playing "safe" football. While you cannot rely on gadget plays all the time, a team that is short on overall talent and is 1-11 overall needs to take chances. Mix it up. Show a little creativity.
What's troubling to me is that Steve Spagnuolo, a guy I still have faith in by the way, seems to feel his current offensive approach is the way to go, and I simply don't agree. Far be it from me to tell him how to run his football team, but one would think if you've struggled as terribly as the Rams have offensively, you'd make some major adjustments in your play calling.
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