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  • Bernie: Spags Had To Go For It

    10.18.2009 5:27 pm
    Oct. 18: Spags Had to Go For It
    By Bernie Miklasz

    My Stream of Consciousness flow on the Ramsí 23-20 OT loss @ Jacksonville.

    * Make it 0-6 on the season and 0-16 since Oct. 19, 2008. Monday is the 1-year anniversary of the Ramsí last regular-season win. And now Indianapolis and Peyton Manning come to STL on Sunday. The Rams are 5-33 since the end of the 2006 season. This, presumably, is some sort of karmic payback for the Miracle of 1999.

    * This is a bottom-line business. It isnít high school. In the NFL they donít hand out trophies and ribbons for trying hard. And 0-6 is really bad. And 16 consecutive losses is unacceptable. But I respected the Ramsí effort and determination and several aspects of their performance at Jaxville. There have been many times since the start of the 2007 season when Iíve wanted to stop watching the game, because the Rams have been so weak in terms of competitive character. Iíve seen too many Rams games where the players donít care, and these no-shows are disgusting. Watching Sundayís game, I saw a group of players who were doing everything and anything they could to win a game. And I respect that. I think the Rams are getting better. I know that isnít enough, and that it doesnít count; there are no moral victories. But if nothing else I at least want to come away from a game with a some respect for the players and their desire to win. And that happened Sunday. A team thatís been ravaged by injuries fought like mad to win a game. I appreciate that part of it.

    * Coach Steve Spagnuolo had to go for the win at the end of the 4th quarter. His offense had battled and scrambled and survived its way down the field and had a chance to win in regulation. The Rams defense ó on the field for a remarkable 51 snaps during the second half ó was gassed. You just knew if it went to OT and the Jaguars got the ball first, the Rams defense would be too worn down to make a stop. So you had to go for the win, go for the throat, right then and there. Seven seconds left, at the Jax 9, and one timeout left. You have to take a quick shot into the end zone. If it fails, and the ball is thrown out of the end zone or is incomplete, you donít need the timeout. You kick it on the final play. Or if you make a play thatís short of the end zone, then you call the timeout and kick it. And if you turn the ball over or take a sack, so be it ó at least you went down taking your best shot, and most people would respect the attitude. I would not criticize Spagnuolo for being aggressive there, even if hs decision blew up on him. You have to go hard there, let it roll. You were 0-5, and the organization had lost 15 in a row, and thereís no reason in the world to be safe and conservative.

    OK, even if you disagree ó and as a guy who tries to be fair I recognize that thereís a reasonable case to be made for what Spags did ó then answer me this: how you can have a final drive with the game on the line and matriculate from your own 22 down to the other teamís 9-yard line and still exit that possession with one timeout remaining in your pocket? Perhaps with better clock/game management by the coach and QB Marc Bulger the Rams would have had more time to work with there. Even if you agree with Spagnuoloís decision to boot the field goal, I donít think thereís much of a defense for running low on time when you still have a timeout at your disposal. The Rams should have been able to run at least an additional play or two along the way.

    * QB Marc Bulger was not only fortunate that he didnít have a pass picked off on the final drive; he wasted precious seconds in the sequence near the end. I canít be too hard on Bulger; this team is devoid of any kind of difference-making wideouts. Heís trying to win a game with Tim Carter and Keenan Burton and Danny Amendola as his receivers. And if Jackson is used properly, that onlt helps Bulger or any QB. But not utilizing Jackson only makes the QBís mission even more diffcult and problematic. Bulger did a nice job of running the West Coast attack in the first half, completing 14 of 17 for 125 yards. Shurmur made good use of his personnel in the first half, but the offense really bogged down in the 2nd half. I have no idea what the strategy or approach was in the second half. I know they are short on quality wideouts, but still. And why not use the fullback more in an effort to be more physical in the run game?

    * I do not understand why this offensive coaching staff continues forget about the teamís best player, RB Steven Jackson. It is incomprehensible. The Rams kept SJ39 busy in the first half with 17 touches (12 runs and 5 catches). But in the second half of a very close game, Jackson had only five touches. How can that be? On the Ramsí first play of the second half, Jackson rushed for 15 yards. He had only two three carries after that. They did try to throw the ball to Jackson three times in the second half, but two were incompletions. And that inspiring 38-yard catch and run on the final drive of the fourth quarter was Jacksonís only reception in the 2nd half. I know the Rams didnít have the ball much in the second half, but maybe they could have moved the chains and extended some drives if theyíd gotten Jackson more involved.

    Letís see Ö you have a stripped-down offense, and youíve lost your best receiver (Donnie Avery) in the game, and you have a RB who came into the game ranking 4th in the NFL in rushing yards and 4th in yards from scrimmage. And you give him 5 touches in the second half? Unbelievable. Only 5 touches, and one went for 15 yards, and another went for 38. Gee, you think you might want to try and put the ball in his hands and get more of that? If you keep Jackson busy, he has shown the ability to break out some 10+ runs and can be an asset as a receiver. But you canít take advantage of Jacksonís skills if you donít put the ball in his hands. I donít get. It makes no sense. Oh, say you say Jax loaded the box to stop Jackson? Hey, it happens EVERY week and itís never a reason to stop running the guy. The Rams stacked the box against Maurice Jones-Drew on Sunday and you didnít see Jacksonville stop giving him the rock. I realize Pat Shurmur is a first-time offensive coordinator, and that he is a work in progress, but this was ridiculous. And doesnít the head coach have to intervene there? At some point, doesnít Spagnuolo have to go over to Shurmur and say, ďLook, pal: we need to get No. 39 the ball.Ē

    * By contrast, the Jaguars knew what to do with their star RB, Maurice Jones-Drew. In the first half, the Rams stuffed Jones-Drew who had 11 yards on 8 carries. Did the Jags forget about him or surrender on the run? Of course not. They pounded the Rams with him as the game went on; Jones-Drew had 25 carries for 122 yards and two TDs in the second half and OT. I hope Shurmur and Spagnuolo were taking notes. You want to win a game? Try utilizing your best player to make plays.

    * Yes, I think coaching was an important factor in why the Rams lost this game; I really do. And game management hasnít been in play much this season because the Rams have suffered so many blowouts. I do believe there is a learning curve here for a first-time HC and OC, and it will take time. Hopefully, Spags and his offensive coordinator are learning as they go along. Spagnuolo is doing some good things. His players clearly like and respect him and want to win for him. Thatís a start. But now the Rams have to hope that Spags will develop in other areas, especially when he benefits from having more talent on the roster. In many respects itís an unfair fight for the HC. But like many of his young players, heíll have to grow in a hurry.

    * Defensive end Leonard Little, who was very sick all weekend, played his tail off. Three tackles, a sack, three pass breakups and a 36-yard INT return for a TD. Little hadnít been a force like that in a game for a long time. When heís healthy and loose and getting after the QB, it really makes a difference. The Rams got some heat on the QB for a change.

    * Though he faded late ó again, the Rams defense was fatigued and overrun ó rookie MLB James Laurinaitis had five tackles, a pass breakup, and an INT. He was active. The kid is a good player, and heís still learning on the job. I was resistant to overhyping No. 55, because it wasnít fair to him, but for all of the same-old, sorry drafts the Rams have had, getting Laurinaitis in the 2nd round is one of the best picks this franchise has had for a long time.

    * The Rams canít catch a break with injuries. WR Donnie Avery caught an early TD pass, then injured a hip and did not return. The Rams cannot keep their receivers healthy. DE James Hall departed the game with a groin injury. On the OT drive, the Rams lost two of their more capable players, CB Ron Bartell and LB Will Witherspoon, to injuries. Youíd think that sooner or later, theyíd benefit from some luck. But it doesnít happen. Itís the fate of a bad team, I guess. When you are 5-33 since the start of the 2007 season, everything snowballs, everything bites you in the neck.

    * Can Avery stay healthy in this league? Is he durable enough to withstand the hits and the punishment thatís part of the NFL experience? Fair question. Legitimate question. And so far the answer is ďNo.Ē Heís had multiple injuries in less than a season and a half of NFL ball.

    * The Rams secondary was terrible for the second consecutive week. The DBs turned an old Torry Holt into a young T. Holt (5 catches, 101 yards). They dropped INTs. They gave up 335 yards passing, They allowed 15 passing first downs and a staggering completion rate of 70 percent. And the QB wasnít Brett Favre; it was David Garrard. In the last two games the Rams have allowed 48 completions in 67 attempts (71.6%) and an average yards/per attempt of 8.46 to the opposing starting QBs (Favre and Garrard).

    * The officiating was incoherent Sunday. They got it wrong on a couple of pass interference calls against the Rams. Even when referee Jeff Triplette had a chance to review an onfield mistake ó the sideline catch by Holt ó he still got it wrong and didnít reverse the ruling on the field. NFL officials, for the most part, are frontrunners. (I apologize to the many good officials out there, including my friend Joe Larrew, because I know it isnít true of all officials.) They know who is good, they know who is bad, and they know who the ďnameĒ players are. It may not be something that theyíre even aware of outwardly, but itís always been my belief that the zebras give the benefit of the doubt to good teams and name players. Look, the Rams didnít lose the game because of the officials. But itís hard to imagine a more poorly officiated game than the one I saw Sunday.

    * After going 73 yards for a TD on their opening drive, the Rams offense didnít reach the end zone the rest of the day and generated only 189 yards on their final nine possessions. The Rams offense has scored only 5 TDs this season. They do not have a rushing TD. And in the NFL only Cleveland (4) has fewer TDs on offense. And that wonít cut it.

    * New Orleans, by the way, has 22 offensive TDs this season. In terms of style and production, the Saints are the closest thing weíve seen on offense to the Ramsí ďGreatest ShowĒ carnival that rolled up all of those points and yards from 1999 through 2003.

    Thanks for reading Ö


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  • r8rh8rmike
    Where's The Rams Coaching Staff's Fire?
    by r8rh8rmike
    12.09.2009 4:30 pm
    Whereís the Rams coaching staffís fire?
    By Andy Dapron


    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...
    -12-09-2009, 11:11 PM
  • Nick
    Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
    by Nick
    Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB
    BERNIE MIKLASZ | Posted: Monday, October 18, 2010 9:17 am

    * The Rams and their coaching staff are on parallel tracks. Many of the young Rams are experiencing things in the NFL for the first time. Steve Spagnuolo had never been a head coach before. Pat Shurmur had never been an offensive coordinator. Ken Flajole had never been a defensive coordinator. So whether we like it or not, there are going to be ups and downs. Good days and bad. Excellent stretches, followed by puzzling phases of games.

    It was a lot like that Sunday in the 20-17 win over San Diego. Spags did an absolutely perfect job of getting his guys mentally and emotionally ready to go after the 38-point wipeout in Detroit. For those of you who ridiculed me and others in the media for praising Spagnuolo last season beause he was able to keep the players together and working hard despite the gloom of a 1-15 record -- well, now perhaps you'll know why we believed that was a positive sign. Hopefully you've been enlightened. Because this is a coach who connects with his players. They want to play for him. They want to make him happy. And in the sport of football, sustaining good morale is a big plus because (1) there will be lots of adversity along the way, and (2) this is a brutal game physically, and players are always hurting, and if they are ambivalent about their coach, they won't be motored up to put their bodies on the line again. That's just the way it is. So yeah, when Spags showed an ability to keep his guys going during a cruel sequence of bad losses last season, it offered solid evidence that he had the necessary motivational skills. The Rams' players really respect this guy and want to do well for him.

    That said, Spags is also a work in progress. For whatever reason, he wasn't able to convince his guys of the dangers that awaited them in Detroit, and the young Rams took a 44-6 loss on the jaw. But even that defeat had value; I think this team learned that they have to take an aggressive, desperate mindset into every game. And so a young team found that out the hard way and carried that lesson forward. It's part of an evolving team personality. And if anyone thinks this happens overnight, or that it's automatic, then they know nothing about football.

    Sunday, the Rams played about as well as a team can do it during the first half against San Diego. They overran a more talented Chargers squad and rolled to a 17-3 lead. That gap could have been bigger, but the Rams weren't able to maximize their opportunities.

    But the second half was a different story. And hopefully Spagnuolo and Shurmur took something from this experience that will cause them to reflect and handle it differently, and better, the next time the Rams take a two-TD lead into the second half.

    The Rams went way too cautious on offense. Way too conservative. The approach sent the wrong...
    -10-18-2010, 09:34 PM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Bernie: Quick Takes On Rams 9-7 Loss @ Washington
    by r8rh8rmike
    09.20.2009 8:19 pm
    Quick Takes on Rams 9-7 loss @ Washington
    By Bernie Miklasz

    Good dayÖ

    * The Outcome: The game was there for the Rams all day, just waiting to be claimed. Baffled coach Jim Zorn and the Redskins tried to give it away to the visitors, and the Rams flubbed the opportunity. Were the Rams better in Washington than they were in Seattle? Yes. The Rams defense kept the Redskins out of the end zone, and Steven Jackson rushed for 104 yards. But the bottom line is the 12th consecutive loss for the franchise. Disappointing. The Rams have played two games and have scored 7 points. Thatís inexcusable.

    * The Effort: The Rams played hard in Washington and the players are clearly determined to do better. Thatís what they should be doing, of course. They have every reason to be motivated. But that hasnít always been true ; in 2007 and 2008 we saw too many faint-hearted efforts. Now the challenge will be to hang tough during more hard times. The Rams are off to an 0-2 start and the schedule doesnít get any easier. Green Bay comes to The Ed after getting burned at home by Cincinnati, and then the Rams head to San Francisco, which is 2-0 and playing a physical, relentless style of football. San Franciso coach Mike Singletary is succeeding in changing his teamís losing culture. The Rams arenít close to making that conversion.

    * The Coach: Keeping the morale up will be more of a challenge for rookie HC Steve Spagnuolo. I donít mind his positive approach. This is the Dick Vermeil way of doing things. Spagnuolo has to stay upbeat, and keep his players working and competing. It might make fans feel better to hear/read Spagnuolo savage his team after a loss, but that wouldnít achieve anything. He has to remain true to himself. Keep an eye on Spagnuolo. You donít really find out about a coach until he has to deal with losing streaks and adversity, and the rookie boss has entered that zone. In addition to the 0-2 start and one TD in two games, the offensive line has taken a hit with injuries. Post-Dispatch beatwriter Jim Thomas noted that it took Spagnuolo 25 minutes to gather himself before he faced the media after the game. (The NFL-mandated wait time is 10 minutes.) I donít know what that means, but again: losing isnít easy to handle.

    * Game Management: Spagnuolo and staff really need to grow in this area. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur canít keep getting plays in late. You canít burn all of your timeouts early in close games. Wasting the final timeout before that 4th quarter punt with 9:25 left in the game? What was that? A confused player, Kenneth Darby, called it - but ultimately this is the coachís responsibility to make sure the players know what to do and when to do it. And defensive coordinator Ken Flajole was slow to adjust when the Rams inexplicably left Redskins tight end Chris Cooley uncovered for most of the first half.

    * Play...
    -09-21-2009, 03:05 PM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Bernie: Give Game Balls To Jackson, Spagnuolo
    by r8rh8rmike
    11.02.2009 10:06 am
    Give Game Balls to Jackson, Spagnuolo
    By Bernie Miklasz

    Greetings. Sorry that I didnít write immediately after Sundayís 17-10 Rams victory in Detroit, but Iím feeling better today, so letís have at it:

    * This one was for Steven Jackson: I wonder if we realize how difficult it is to be a standout running back on a bad team. Not only a bad team, but one with an extremely limited passing attack. It means that every week the opposing team has one goal in mind: stopping the running back. Taking away the Ramsí only real playmaker on offense. Jackson gets ganged up on every week. But Jackson continues to trample the odds. After a command performance in Detroit, Jackson is tied for second in the NFL in rushing and is second in the league in combined yards from scrimmage. Heís averaging 98 yards rushing per game and 4.8 yards per carry. Heís giving the Rams 122 all-purpose yards per game. And heís been at his best when the Rams make it close ó when everyone in the house knows heís going to get the ball. This season in the 4th quarter when the Rams are in a close game ó within a seven-point margin, up or down Ė Jackson averages 6.6 yards per carry. Heís been at his best, overall, in the fourth quarter, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. He breaks down those defensive stacks.

    But Jacksonís attitude and professionalism have been as impressive as his running. Heís been a total team player in 2009. A positive influence in every way. Someone who tries hard to keep his teammates fired up. Someone who refuses to dwell on any kind of negativity. Jackson just keeps pressing on, running through the fog of losing, trying to desperately to break through to the sunlight..

    * This one was also for Steve Spagnuolo: As I wrote in Saturdayís ďBitsĒ column, itís too soon to make any conclusive judgments about Spagnuolo as an all-around head coach. Way too early for that. Frankly, I donít understand how anyone can take a stand ó pro or con ó on the guy so far. There are some things that I really like about him; there are some things that give me concern. Heís never been a head coach before. Heís working his way through this. And heís learning to be a head coach as he cleans a mess created by the previous regime at Rams Park. You think thatís easy? But I was happy to see the man get a win in Detroit. I was happy to see him rewarded.

    I repeat: Spagnuoloís overall steadiness and consistency in dealing with his players is a real plus in this situation. No gimmicks will turn around years of roster-management incompetence and losing. There are no short cuts on the long road back to being a respectable franchise. Spags has a message and stays on it. He refuses to let any player drift away from the cause. Spagnuolo is from the Dick Vermeil school of positive thinking. There is nothing wrong with that. Too many fans think head coaches are supposed to put on a show by hollering...
    -11-02-2009, 09:58 AM
  • Nick
    Bernie: No excuse for Rams' no-show
    by Nick
    Bernie: No excuse for Rams' no-show
    BY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist | Posted: Monday, January 3, 2011 11:45 am

    Do you want to talk about the seven wins, and the progress that the Rams made in 2010, and how vital it was to establish QB Sam Bradford as a franchise piece? Do you want to talk about how we'll look back on the last few months and realize that this really was a good season for a franchise that went 1-15 in 2009?

    I agree with all of those points. And that would be a good and proper conversation to have. And I am certain we will have that discussion in the coming days. There will be plenty of time for the appreciation that comes with a long-view perspective.

    But that's a separate topic. A separate issue.

    My focus, for now, is specifically on the Rams' 10-point loss at Seattle. I'm talking about this game. We can talk about the other stuff later. But the 16th and final game -- and a failure to take advantage of such a clear opportunity -- warrants plenty of discussion in the immediate aftermath.

    So that's what I'm doing.

    It isn't that the Rams lost by 10 points at Seattle on Sunday night.

    It's the way it all went down.

    I think most reasonable people could accept this with more patience and understanding if the Rams had played well and coached well, only to fall short. But they weren't even close to that. They were embarrassingly bad. Embarrassingly outcoached. Embarrassingly overmatched by a Seattle team that had lost seven of its previous nine games by an average of 22 points.

    It's one thing to lose to Atlanta or New Orleans. But to go to Seattle and pull a no-show?

    It shouldn't have happened this way. Especially to the offense. And to the coaching staff.

    The Rams defense wasn't spectacular. But if you hold the home team to 16 points, three points under Seattle's season scoring average, then you've given the offense a good chance to come out of Qwest Field with a win and the NFC West title.

    Granted, Seattle's first series against the Rams was a nightmare, with the Rams blowing assignments and unable to cover Seattle's receivers down the field. But the defense recovered to control the game for long stretches. The Rams pass defense should have been tighter early in the game, and the run defense should have been tougher late in the game. Giving up 141 yards rushing is too much. But again, I don't believe the defense was the reason why the Rams came up empty.

    There was something disturbing about the Rams' attitude and approach.

    From the beginning, Seattle attacked. The Seahawks came out on the first drive, with the heretofore underwhelming backup Charlie Whitehurst in charge of their fate. And instead of backing away, and playing scared, the home team immediately went after the Rams' necks. On the game's second...
    -01-03-2011, 11:25 AM