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Treading Water: Rams hope to shake pattern of mediocrity

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  • Treading Water: Rams hope to shake pattern of mediocrity

    By Jim Thomas

    The glory days are gone, and as each Rams season comes and goes, the Greatest Show on Turf becomes a more distant memory. The Rams last appeared in a Super Bowl in February 2002, and only seven players remain from that squad.

    After that devastating Super Bowl loss to New England, coach Mike Martz vowed that the Rams would be back in football's biggest game. Instead, the team has settled into a rut of mediocrity.

    The Rams have had only one winning season since then, albeit a 12-4 division championship campaign in 2003. They also squeaked into the playoffs at 8-8 in 2004. But they have only one playoff victory over the past five seasons — a wild-card triumph at Seattle in 2004.

    The franchise's regular-season record since the Patriots game is 41-39, or 42-41 if you count playoff games. Which is basically mediocrity defined.

    "I wouldn't describe it as a level of mediocrity," Rams President John Shaw said. "I would describe it as a team that was in transition and remained competitive. We were in the playoffs a couple of those years. We lost two MVPs between Marshall (Faulk) and Kurt (Warner) — two unbelievable players."

    The reasons for the Rams' decline are well documented:

    — Faulk's knees gave out. Although his last season on the field was 2005, he wasn't a dominating player after 2001.

    — Warner lost his magic. After three incredible seasons from 1999 through 2001, Warner went from difference maker to average quarterback, in part because of injuries.

    — Deteriorating special teams. In terms of the return game and coverage units, Rams special teams went from strength to liability.

    — Less than stellar drafts. The Rams missed on first-round picks such as Damione Lewis, Jimmy Kennedy and Trung Canidate. And wasted several other picks. See: Eric Crouch, Travis Scott, Steve Bellisari.

    — Roster raiding. After going to those two Super Bowls in a three-year span, the Rams' roster was raided by other teams looking for players who had that "winning edge." Kevin Carter, London Fletcher, Grant Wistrom, Fred Miller and Ryan Tucker were all starters on Rams Super Bowl teams who ended up elsewhere for one reason or another.

    — The feud. Martz's working relationship with the front office, particularly Jay Zygmunt, became so frayed that it affected not only daily life at Rams Park but the product on the field. Martz was ousted after the 2005 season and replaced by Scott Linehan.

    The Rams slipped out of the league's elite, giving way to the likes of New England, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Denver and Pittsburgh. All five of those franchises have won 50 or more regular-season games over the past five seasons, meaning they've averaged at least 10 victories a year.

    While far removed from the dregs of the NFL — Detroit, Houston, Arizona, Oakland and Cleveland, all of whom have won 28 games or fewer over the past five seasons — the Rams are in a middle tier of teams that have won about as many as they've lost over the past half decade.

    Linehan couldn't break the cycle last season, posting an 8-8 record as a rookie head coach. Poking fun at himself, he quipped, "I'm maintaining the mediocrity."

    Of course, as Linehan himself has mentioned several times, he wouldn't be in St. Louis if things had been going great for the Rams. The NFL is an up-and-down league. Over the past five years, 29 teams have had at least one losing season. But 27 teams have made the playoffs at least once.

    Nonetheless, the challenge for Linehan is to break through — into the postseason and into the elite tier of teams.

    "Every coach in the NFL, there's 32 guys probably saying the same thing: 'We feel very good about the upcoming season and the changes we've made,' " Linehan said. "I guess the league theoretically is full of a bunch of 8-8 teams. The ones that do the best job of coaching and playing, play above the bar. And vice versa for the others."

    There's no doubt that Linehan feels more comfortable about his team and his job as he enters his second season with the Rams. He has a much better feel for his players. A much better sense of what the team does well and doesn't do well. And a greater familiarity with his coaching staff, a group that experienced very little turnover in the offseason.

    Instead of worrying about where to hold certain drills on the field, where to place the lights during night practices, how security will handle open practices in training camp, Linehan can just worry about football this year.

    He may have to worry about improving the team's third-down efficiency on both sides of the ball. He doesn't have to worry about the logistics of holding a news conference.

    "Last year, there was so much unknown, whether it be the roster or the coaches," Linehan said. "Now, there's a lot less surprises, I would think."

    Linehan feels there are fewer holes on this roster and better depth. The offense has been tweaked schematically to account for newcomers Drew Bennett at wide receiver, Randy McMichael at tight end and even Brian Leonard in the backfield. Ditto for the defense, where end James Hall, tackle Adam Carriker and linebacker Chris Draft are expected to have important roles. The biggest pickup of all may be return man Dante Hall, if, that is, he can regain his Pro Bowl touch or even come close to that on kickoffs and punts.

    "We feel very comfortable with our personnel, knowing what our strengths and weaknesses are," Linehan said.

    Unlike the AFC, where Indianapolis and New England figure to be dominant again, the NFC looks like a wide-open conference.

    "I feel the NFC is pretty close from top to bottom," Shaw said. "And I feel that in our conference, and in our division, we will definitely compete."

    Of course, it's one thing to "compete." And quite another to be playing in January at playoff time. It's no secret that improved defense and special teams are the surest ways to bridge the gap between the two for St. Louis.

  • #2
    Re: Treading Water: Rams hope to shake pattern of mediocrity

    I think the 'Rams Playoff Express' is getting ready to leave the station, and Thomas better be jumping onboard.


    • #3
      Re: Treading Water: Rams hope to shake pattern of mediocrity

      I think that this article is pretty accurate in the reasons for defining why we have mediocore seasons in the past. I think they missed a couple of things though.

      -Bulger's injuries. With Martz at the helm Bulger was responsible for throwing the ball downfield alot. As a result he took alot of hits some leading to injury. Hard to lead your team to the playoffs from the sideline.

      -Less then stellar defense. You can't win ball games if you can't stop the other team from scoring. That's how simple it is. We could put up as many points as we wanted but if our defense can't stop them, it's going to get ugly real fast.

      And I think that we had adressed all of these problems that we had in the past. Usually a team with a head coach has a bad first year but for us to be 8-8 is respectable for a first year coach. Now that he has a chance to draft the players he wants 2 years in a row I expect good things from this team.


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      • RamWraith
        Rams: Turnover turnabout
        by RamWraith
        By Jim Thomas
        Tuesday, Sep. 12 2006

        With five playoff berths, three division titles and two Super Bowl appearances
        since 1999, the Rams have been at or near the top of the standings more often
        than not in recent years.

        That's not rare. What is rare -- no, make that unheard of -- is the sight of
        the Rams at the top of the NFL's takeaway-giveaway "standings" after Week 1 of
        the season.

        Takeaway-giveaway differential is the most underrated stat in pro football. And
        the Rams are sitting at a league-high plus-5 after coming up with five
        turnovers on defense while committing none on offense in Sunday's 18-10 victory
        over Denver.

        "The one thing that I'm the most happy with is we're plus-5 in the turnover
        differential," coach Scott Linehan said Monday. "That's a great way to come out
        of the gates."

        Finishing on the plus side in takeaway-giveaways doesn't guarantee victory, but
        it's the next best thing. Since the move to St. Louis in 1995, the Rams are
        54-9 when plus-1 or better in regular-season and postseason play.

        Under the pedal-to-the-metal offensive approach of Mike Martz, the Rams were
        willing to sacrifice a few turnovers for big plays. But as the "Greatest Show
        on Turf" came back to the pack, becoming "A Pretty Good Offense that Plays
        Indoors," that approach became increasingly risky.

        One game into the Linehan era, the Rams seem to be tilting strongly in the
        other direction. For quarterback Marc Bulger, that means minimizing mistakes
        and not forcing the ball. That could signal a significant switch in philosophy
        if that's the way it's going to be over the course of the season.

        So even on a day when the Rams' offense couldn't find the end zone with a
        Trip-tik, Linehan could at least hang his hat on a turnover-free afternoon
        against the Broncos.

        "The thing that was great is we protected the ball," Linehan said. "It's really
        hard to go through an NFL game and not turn the ball over."

        How hard? Well, in 187 regular-season and postseason games in St. Louis, the
        Rams have gone only 21 games without committing a turnover. The Rams began
        their inaugural season in St. Louis with four straight turnover-free games in
        1995, tying an NFL record.

        Even more rare, however, are those plus-5 games. The Rams have been plus-5 or
        better only three times since moving here: plus-7 against Carolina in 1995;
        plus-5 against Jacksonville in 1996; and plus-7 against Green Bay in a
        divisional playoff game in the 2001 season. Yes, the Rams won all three games,
        by a combined score of 93-41.
        -09-12-2006, 03:53 AM
      • RamWraith
        Rams' Linehan needs offense to rekindle its spark
        by RamWraith
        By Bryan Burwell

        How do you know who the great ones are long before their coaching legends bloomed? Can you peek through the losing fog and see the bright light of success on the horizon?

        That's where we are today as we watch the Rams struggle through this five-game losing streak in Scott Linehan's rookie season as head coach.

        We're tilting our heads trying to get a better view, hoping to figure out if what we're seeing now is the dramatic decline of a football dynasty or the bumpy early days of a franchise renaissance.

        These are indistinguishable times at Rams Park, as Linehan tries to right the unstable team that can't quite figure out anymore how to win a football game. I'm still willing to display a bit of patience with him because NFL history books tell me it's a wise thing to do.

        Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs started off his Hall of Fame head-coaching career in Washington 0-5, before winning eight of the next 11 games in his rookie season. He followed that with six consecutive winning seasons, five playoff trips, four NFC championships and three Super Bowl victories. In Jimmy Johnson's first year in Dallas, the Cowboys were 1-15. Two seasons later, the Cowboys were an 11-5 playoff team, and followed that with back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

        Bill Parcells, another certain-to-be-Canton-bound guy, was 3-12-1 as a rookie head coach in New York. He reached the playoffs at 9-7 in his second season, and won the Super Bowl in his fourth season. Dick Vermeil was 9-19 in his first two seasons in Philly before going to the playoffs four straight years, including one trip to the Super Bowl, and was 9-23 in his first two years in St. Louis before winning the Super Bowl in Year 3. So there's time and opportunity for Linehan to fix this.

        But he knows the honeymoon is over. Monday at Rams Park, he was forced to defend his suddenly peculiar play-calling and reassure the world that things are not about to come unglued after the Rams' 15-0 loss Sunday in Carolina.

        "I've been coaching a lot of years, so I've been through this before," Linehan said. "We were 3-7 last year in Miami (where he was the Dolphins' offensive coordinator), and we were fortunate enough to win our last six games. ... It's not the first time I've had to deal with a tough loss, or tough stretch of losses."

        But there's a difference between being an observing subordinate and the man in charge. After a surprising 4-1 start, Linehan's Rams have gone into a death spiral and we're waiting to see how — or if — he can pull them out of it. He began the season with a promising insistence on developing a balance of running and passing on offense. Yet now he's challenged to defend the game plan in which the Rams attempted 41 pass plays against the Panthers with only eight running plays. It was...
        -11-21-2006, 10:28 AM
      • RamWraith
        Wild card still possible for Rams with 7 games to go
        by RamWraith
        By Jim Thomas

        As he addressed the team Monday after a bitterly disappointing loss to Seattle, coach Scott Linehan took a survey.

        "If anybody in this room had a perfect game, you can get up and walk out," Linehan said. "If any of you feel like you did everything perfect, that gave us the perfect chance to win the game, then you don't need to be in this room."

        It was his way of telling the Rams that everybody needs to pick it up — rookies, veterans, coaches, himself.

        "Nobody I saw got up and left," Linehan said.

        Linehan had another message for his squad. Despite the four-game losing streak and the team's 4-5 record, all is not lost. Not yet.

        "We've got seven games left," he said. "We've certainly got to start getting some wins here in a hurry. But we have a lot of football to be played. We can't get into that state of misery because we dropped some games.

        "Some teams might be 4-5 a different way than we are right now, but we're all 4-5, and we can all put ourselves in a better position by getting a win this week. That's the only way you can look at it. If you don't, then you're just going to go into that sea of negativity, so to speak, that you can't get out of. We can't go there."

        Nine games into the season, the four NFC division leaders are 6-3 or better: Chicago (8-1), Seattle (6-3), the New York Giants (6-3) and New Orleans (6-3). For the Rams, it will be very difficult to catch Seattle in the West. Because Seattle swept the season series, it has the tiebreaker edge. So, in essence, the Seahawks are three games up on the Rams with seven to play.

        Even so, two wild-card berths remain totally up for grabs. Behind the division leaders are four teams at 5-4 (Atlanta, Carolina, Dallas and Philadelphia). And four teams at 4-5 (the Rams, Green Bay, Minnesota and San Francisco).

        A couple of teams among that group will get hot enough down the stretch to nail down a playoff berth. Linehan's message to the team: Why not us?

        To prove his point, Linehan mentioned the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were 7-5 in early December last season but got hot down the stretch and won Super Bowl XL as a wild-card entry.

        Of course, there's a big difference between 4-5 and 7-5. Namely, three victories. But you get the point. Linehan is accentuating the positive.

        "You've got to look at things that way," he said. "You've got to look at them with a positive spin and understand that as bad as you feel about a ballgame, it is a ballgame. It is one. ... We've got to figure out a way to get ourselves back to .500, get to 5-5, and focus on that."

        That's the goal Sunday at Carolina. The Panthers reached the NFC title game a year ago but have been far from...
        -11-15-2006, 01:40 PM
      • RamWraith
        Linehan Learns Valuable Lessons in First Season
        by RamWraith
        Thursday, January 4, 2007

        By Nick Wagoner
        Senior Writer

        In the ebb and flow of his first season as an NFL head coach, it would have been easy for Scott Linehan to get caught up in the power and ego involved with his job title.

        While Linehan’s first time out didn’t result in a playoff berth, it did involve a two-game improvement over last season and plenty of lessons learned about what it takes to win at football’s highest level.

        Along the way to an 8-8 season that saw the Rams start out 4-1, fall as low as 5-8 and battle back to 8-8, Linehan gathered a variety of things that should serve him well as he develops as an NFL leading man.

        “(It’s) one time around the track,” Linehan said. “(I) learned a lot, got a lot more to learn, but I think progress has been made, and we’re making the adjustments necessary to get to the next step; which we weren’t able to get to, but we made a concerted effort to get there. I think it makes it easy to set our goals for next season, and we can make the same amount of improvement that we made in one year from this season to the next, and it gives us a legitimate chance to achieve the goals we actually set for ourselves last year.”

        Make no mistake, Linehan and the Rams had big plans this season. Like most teams, they had designs on a playoff berth, a division title and beyond. At the beginning of the season, it appeared that many of those goals would be reached or were at least within striking distance.

        After five games, the Rams were 4-1 and coming up with big plays at opportune times. But they weren’t exactly dominating those games and had some flaws that would be exposed in the next part of the season.

        St. Louis suffered a devastating late-game loss to Seattle the next week that sent it on a tailspin that ended with the team losing seven of eight. Mixed in that streak was a pair of losses to division rival Seattle and the game that might have been the turning point for Linehan and the Rams.

        The Rams dropped a 15-0 loss to Carolina on Nov. 19 in a game where they barely made it to midfield. Soon after, Linehan found himself re-evaluating what the team was doing from all aspects.

        “It was a low point,” Linehan said. “It was Carolina for me just because I felt like we were stumbling, and we didn’t really look like we had the direction we had going into that game. I thought we competed very hard all year long, but I felt in one game, in my opinion, and I know there was a little stretch there where we were down a little bit, but that was the game where I didn’t feel like we showed the competitive spirit necessary to win football games in the NFL. We had to make some major adjustments. It always starts with the head coach, and then I think the other coaches and players need to do the same thing. Hopefully we were able to overcome a time like that, and really move...
        -01-05-2007, 04:54 AM
      • AvengerRam_old
        Linehan: Convenient Scapegoat? Yes. Undeserving One? No.
        by AvengerRam_old
        Let's be clear.

        Scott Linehan didn't twist Richie Incognito's ankle, tear Orlando Pace's rotator cuff, break Marc Bulger's ribs, or tear Steven Jackson's groin.

        He has not fumbled once, he has not thrown an interception. He has not missed a tackle, he has not botched a field goal.

        The Rams have problems on the field that might very well exist even if a genetically engineered hybrid clone of Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh and Don Shula was coaching the team.

        So, when people like me carry the banner for the anti-Linehan movement, perhaps we seem to be creating a mere scapegoat for what is most assuredly becoming a cursed season.

        But that does not mean there isn't merit to the anti-Linehan movement. Quite the contrary.

        He hired friends as his playcaller and special teams coach. The playcalling has been awful and the special teams, after a promising start, have returned to their subpar ways.

        He adopted a "take it easy" and "don't play the starters" approach in the preseason. The offense has come out of the gate out of synch and unproductive.

        And now, it seems that he put an injured franchise QB on the field, notwithstanding the fact that he signed a competent backup to a significant contract. The result, Bulger's worst game in two years.

        But that's not all, is it?

        Who among us listens to Scott Linehan speak, or reads his words, and is instilled with a sense of confidence or optimism? Be honest. Doesn't he sound kind of lost? Doesn't he seem to be operating in a region somewhere between denial and self-delusion?

        Listen to other coaches. We may hate his guts, but listen to Bill Belichick. No matter what is occuring, his words are always confident. And its not just the hardball, tough coaches. Listen to Tony Dungy. He always sounds like he knows exactly where he's trying to lead the team. Even coaches on less successful teams. Listen to Jeff Fisher speak. Does he sound lost to you?

        Scott Linehan was probably very impressive when he interviewed for his job. He's obviously a bright man who has a good knowledge of the game of football. He probably mapped out a plan that sounded great.

        But there's so much more to being a head coach, isn't there? Its about adjusting - both on game day and throughout a season - as unexpected challenges arise.

        From my experience, being able to make decisions and peform "under fire" requires more than intelligence and knowledge. It requires a certain level of confidence that Linehan does not seem to have.

        I notice it. Many of you notice it. And I have to believe the players notice it too.

        I've been repeating the mantra "prove me wrong" for a while now. But let's be real.

        Linehan's not the man for this job. Hopefully, we'll only have to suffer...
        -09-24-2007, 09:37 PM