I know bad football. I was a Cincinnati Bengals season ticket holder during the David Shula years. David Klingler? I've see bad football. I covered the 2011 Indianapolis Colts who finished 2-14. That was some really bad football. What I saw last night from the 2013 St. Louis Rams ranks right up there with some of the worst football I've ever witnessed.
In our "Keys to Victory" Thursday, we highlighted three areas where the Rams needed to change their approach to beat San Francisco. For a quarter, they were succeeding at two of them. The Rams defense was pressing the Niners at the line of scrimmage and forcing Colin Kaepernick to beat them with his arm. They were at least running some routes down the field, and Sam Bradford was looking that way, which opened up underneath routes that went for decent gains.
But when San Francisco punched back, like good teams always do, the Rams had no answer for it. Instead of making their own counter-adjustments, the Rams dropped their heads and whimpered their way to a 35-11 thrashing. That's not acceptable, and if that attitude isn't addressed among both players and coaches in the next 10 days, our 7-9 prediction for the Rams might be pie-in-the-sky thinking.
It's not about talent or experience. We've heard those canards, urging fans for patience while the Rams build a winner. Jeff Fisher is in the second year of that rebuilding process and it's going backward, not forward. In today's NFL, there's no time built in for young players to get their feet wet, not when rookie quarterbacks are taking their teams to the playoffs. Not when an Indianapolis Colts team playing their second string right guard at center is able to go into Candlestick Park and smack the Niners in the mouth. Other NFL teams win with youth. Other NFL teams win with less talent.
So what gives in St. Louis?
This is what leaves me scratching my head. After years of watching Jeff Fisher coach the Tennessee Titans as a divisional rival of both Cincinnati, and then after realignment, Indianapolis, there was one thing that was always worrisome about his teams. No matter what their talent level, you could be sure that Fisher's Titans weren't going to beat themselves. They might have been starting Billy Volek, Vince Young or even Kerry Collins at quarterback. Their top receiver might have been Kevin Dyson or Justin Gage and not even sniff 1000 yards for the season. Fisher somehow coaxed a 1000 yard season and a playoff appearance out of Lendale White, for goodness sakes!
Fisher's Titans teams played fundamentally sound football. Fisher's Rams are doing anything but that.
Last night, we saw defenders overrun plays and miss tackles. We saw an aging Cortland Finnegan get twisted like a pretzel trying to cover Anquan Boldin, who's no spring chicken himself.
To say Jared Cook gave a half-hearted attempt at chipping the linebacker would be overstating his effort. Jake Long and Joe Barksdale sat on their heels and allowed the aggressive Niners' ends to live in the Rams backfield. Scott Wells was slow off the ball and let former draft bust Glen Dorsey blow by him for one of the Niners' five sacks (that's 11 in two games if you're keeping score.)
With the exception of Finnegan, this isn't about skill. It's about "want to." It's about being able to take the other team's best shot and hitting back.
The Rams came out on fire, fueled by a raucous Edward Jones Dome crowd and the knowledge they were playing in prime time. When Bradford's seam route to Austin Pettis was off the mark and Greg Zuerlein had to doink in a field goal, a little air came out of them. When Finnegan was torched on the next drive on two third and longs that should have resulted in Niner punts, but instead yielded a touchdown, you sensed the Rams were going to start flopping around the dome like a balloon that had been let go without being tied.
That's exactly what happened. I don't know if it's a lack of leadership, as I wrote last week. That could be part of it. I'm sure there are some issues with game plans and play calling. That's a big part of it. And the Rams aren't yet at the talent level they aspire to. That's part of the reason, too.
Fisher can't fix the talent, but he can fix the coaching, and to some degree, he can light a fire under those who should be stepping up as leaders as well. That's his job in the next 10 days.
The Rams host Jacksonville, which is a blessing for a team trying to figure itself out. Then they go on the road for two tough games against Houston and Carolina before finishing October at home against Seattle.
We'll know by Halloween whether or not the 2013 Rams are for real, or whether they're just wearing the costumes of an NFL team. If things don't improve from Thursday, St. Louis fans will have gotten tricked once again.
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- St. Louis Rams with a Chance to Build Momentum for Regular Season
- Rams 101 Season Preview: Do the St. Louis Rams Have Enough to Compete in the NFC West?
- St. Louis Rams Enter Regular Season with Healthiest Roster in NFC West
- NFL Season Preview: Who Will Hoist the Lombardi Trophy in New York?
- St. Louis Rams Keys to Victory Against San Francisco 49ers
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