The Rams are now officially eliminated from playoff contention, and many of us are disappointed. I thought this team was a playoff team before the season started. Of course, that went out the window when they lost their starting quarterback, but I’d still like to see better play than what we saw in Sunday’s 30-10 drubbing by the Cardinals at Arizona. With that, 10 takeaways from Sunday’s loss:
1. I know sports fans in St. Louis are, for the most part, intelligent. And I know real Rams fans are smart people. That’s why I’m flabbergasted when I see a selection of tweets like I saw after the Arizona game:
@STLouisRams hope fisher is on his way out. Rams still a joke
Rudderless @STLouisRams. Fumbling franchise. Seemingly no leadership anywhere. No discipline either. Too many Fisher favs who don’t produce.
@STLouisRams Hey Stan…Fisher is stealing your money
Jeff Fisher of the @STLouisRams is overrated. He is a below average coach. Shameful performance @STLouisRams
Now of course, if we would have had Twitter in 1998, this is how they would have read during another former Super Bowl coach’s second season:
@STLouisRams hope vermeil is on his way out. Rams still a joke
Rudderless @STLouisRams. Fumbling franchise. Seemingly no leadership anywhere. No discipline either. Too many Vermeil favs who don’t produce.
@STLouisRams Hey Georgia…Vermeil is stealing your money
Dick Vermeil of the @STLouisRams is overrated. He is a below average coach. Shameful performance @STLouisRams
Am I happy with this season? Absolutely not. But to suggest that the Rams should dump Fisher, or that he’s playing favorites or stealing money, is preposterous. He’s a winning coach who clearly understands how to win. The Rams are not a finished product. Keep in mind that no team, ever, has had to dig out of a 15-65 hole like this one. And that 15-65 was earned. Now you’re watching the youngest team in the NFL. They need to get better, and be more accountable. But changing coaches again isn’t the answer. By the way, I was one of those people who didn’t think Vermeil could turn it around. But he took over the worst franchise of the 90s. It wasn’t a quick fix, and his work set the stage for four more successful years here. His and Fisher’s situations are quite similar.
2. One hole that is clear in this roster is backup quarterback. Kellen Clemens is a great guy, a tough guy, a leader and a competitor. He has all of those traits. What he doesn’t possess is the ability to get the football where it needs to go on a consistent basis. He finished 16 of 27 for 181 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Clemens has now started six games. His season totals of a 52-percent completion ratio, five touchdowns, five interceptions and a 72.8 passer rating won’t get a team to the playoffs. The Rams need to find a viable backup for next season. As an aside, I wonder what Brady Quinn’s situation would have been had he not gotten hurt. This would have been an ideal situation for him to make a mark in the NFL.
3. Rams running backs carried 16 times for 34 yards. We said on the pregame show that if you’re going to be a run-first team, you have to be able to run it against anybody. The Rams simply couldn’t do it against the fourth-ranked rush defense in the league. They have to get better on the offensive line and make holes for their running backs, even against top defenses.
4. Zac Stacy did score on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it a 23-10 game, so we’ll generously call that a meaningful touchdown, since the Rams were within two scores with a full quarter to go. That gave the Rams exactly one meaningful offensive touchdown in their last eight quarters of football. The last one had been Benny Cunningham’s score against the Bears that resulted in a 35-21 lead. The other touchdown since that one came in garbage time against San Francisco’s backups. That’s a lot of inept offensive play.
5. With Carson Palmer’s torching of the Rams’ secondary (27 of 32 for 269 yards), the Rams have now allowed opponents to complete 68.5 percent of their passes (32nd in the NFL). To add some perspective here, only one quarterback, Philip Rivers of San Diego, is completing more than 68.5 percent of his passes. Drew Brees is at 68 percent. Peyton Manning is at 67.9 percent. Russell Wilson is at 64.8 percent. The league average for completion percentage is 61.2 percent. Yes, the Rams’ defense is making their entire schedule more accurate than Brees, Peyton Manning and Wilson – and is 7.3 percent worse than the league average. Their defensive backs either have to do a better job of pressing, knocking receivers off their routes and playing the ball, or the Rams need to get new defensive backs.
6. By the way, when your team is allowing 68.5 percent of the passes thrown against you to be completed, just shut up. There’s nothing to yap about. Let receivers own you in peace.
7. In the season opener for both teams, Robert Quinn dominated Cardinals left tackle Levi Brown to the tune of three sacks, four hits and two forced fumbles. That performance pretty much got Brown traded out of Arizona and gave second-year tackle Bradley Sowell the Cardinals’ left tackle job. Sowell held Quinn to three tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hit and no sacks. Sowell was terrific and is making the Cardinals look smart.
8. Penalties continue to plague the Rams, and it’s fair to criticize Fisher on those. The Rams committed 11 for 90 yards. In fact, after allowing six first downs via penalty at San Francisco – the most allowed that way by the Rams in 33 years – they allowed five via penalty to Arizona. When I would watch coaches like Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer and Dan Reeves move around, it struck me that they always increased the discipline of their teams. Those coaches almost always had teams that didn’t commit a ton of penalties and won the turnover battle. One thing the young Rams need to get much better at is consistently keeping their penalty numbers down.
9. The loss to Arizona assures the Rams of not having a winning season in 10 straight seasons. Of the 19 seasons the Rams have been in St. Louis, they’ve had four winning years: 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003, or 21 percent of the time. Remarkable. When the Cardinals left St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz and the Post-Dispatch ran a weeklong series called “A Futile Franchise.” In 28 seasons in St. Louis, the Cardinals had 12 seasons in which they had a winning record (43 percent of the time). And the longest the Big Red went between winning years was five seasons. We thought we knew futility. We didn’t.
10. If Tavon Austin is healthy, I’d like to see him get 10 touches a game from scrimmage. He’s so dynamic and explosive, he’s going to make a play on at least two or three of those. Runs, catches, end-arounds, whatever it takes, get him the ball.
Sunday was bad, and it extended a long run of mediocre-to-bad football in St. Louis. But Fisher’s history is pretty good – and the Rams’ history of having some stability rather than impatience is good, too. We may not like what we’re seeing now, but it will pay off in the long run.