The talent is there. Fans know it, Les Snead knows it, Jeff Fisher knows it…the St. Louis Rams know it. Yet here they sit at 1-2 with the future of their season hanging in the balance as they prepare to meet the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday.
As dysfunctional as the 1-2 Niners might be themselves right now, they're still the defending NFC champions and have their own talented roster. They also have one other thing we're not so sure the Rams have right now: leadership in the locker room.
The Rams aren't a complete team yet. They lack a dominant offensive line, a breakaway threat at running back and have suffered from inexperience among their back seven on defense. Yes, the play calling and scheming on both sides of the ball has been questionable, but the coaches aren't calling for penalties that keep drives alive or pin the offense inside their own 20. They're not the ones dropping passes or missing blocks.
No, these problems aren't a result of bad coaching as much as they're a product of immaturity. And that can be fixed with the right leadership inside the locker room.
To this point, nobody on either side of the ball has stepped up to help this young team overcome the adversity they've faced. Teams with leadership don't keep committing the same silly penalties. Teams with leadership don't bow their heads when they're the victims of bad calls like the one that gave the Cowboys their first score on Sunday. Teams with leadership keep improving and keep pushing regardless of the circumstances.
Last season, I covered an Indianapolis Colts team coming off a 2-14 season and with a completely retooled roster that featured several undrafted free agents and rookies in key roles. In week two, they lost a home game against Jacksonville when the Jags scored on an 80 yard slant pass after the Colts had seemingly just won the game. Then their head coach, Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with cancer the following week. That Sunday, they trailed the Green Bay Packers by three touchdowns at half time, about to go 1-2 heading into their bye week. Then Cory Redding spoke up.
Redding wasn't a long-time Colt, nor was he a perennial Pro Bowler. The Colts had gotten him as a Baltimore Ravens castoff. But he was a leader. Redding stepped up at half time of the Green Bay game and changed a season by calling out his teammates. Another leader was a long-time Colt and maybe a future Hall of Famer, WR Reggie Wayne. Wayne led by example, straining for the extra yard needed for the game-winning score. The Colts never looked back en route to the playoffs.
The Rams lack that sort of leadership right now. That much is evident. The question is whether that leader is currently on the roster.
Without being inside that locker room, it's impossible to tell if that Cory Redding type of leader is there now. It could be one of the younger players, like James Laurenaitis, or maybe a veteran like Will Witherspoon. Whoever it might be, now would be the time for him to speak up.
There is no Reggie Wayne on this team right now. No one who has the proven track record, who can show other players their Super Bowl ring and tell them what it takes to get there, and then go out and show it on the field. The Rams are just too young.
That's why I predicted them to go 7-9 at the beginning of the season. I just don't see the kind of leadership on this team that will allow them to win games like the one in Atlanta or prevent performances like the one we saw Sunday in Dallas.
The good news: I still think they can beat the Niners on Thursday. And if they can get a few bounces going their way, it's possible the Rams could be in contention at the end of the season.
That's where leaders get formed, in the trying fire of late season and playoff football. They won't get drafted, no matter how high the Rams pick. They'll have to be made.
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