Monday night's soul-crushing 14-9 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks marked the halfway point of the 2013 season for the St. Louis Rams. Record-wise, they sit at 3-5 (1-2 NFC West). They're a full four games behind division leading Seattle. They're only two games out of a wild card slot with eight games left, but with a 1-5 conference record, their tie-breaker possibilities down the line don't look very promising.
With that in mind, let's be frank: the Rams aren't likely to make the NFL playoffs in 2013. But then again that was a long shot to begin with, even with a healthy Sam Bradford. Still, to be out of a realistic hunt halfway through the year is a disappointment.
Let's take a look at how we got here and where things look to be going in the second half:
Quarterback: B- Sam Bradford brought up his grade from the first quarter, finishing strong before being injured in the Carolina game. Bradford's 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions compare favorably with any quarterback in the league. His completion percentage and total yardage, while not staggering, were strong enough to win more than the three games the Rams won in his seven starts.
With Kellen Clemens taking over (for now) this grade will likely go lower in the second half of the season. As Clemens showed last night, the best thing the Rams can do going forward is to game plan away from having to rely on Clemens to win games with his arm. I'll be very surprised if Austin Davis isn't the starter by the game after the bye week.
Running Back: C- This grade would be much lower if it weren't for the emergence of Zac Stacy. Stacy's 4.6 yards per carry dwarf that of Daryl Richardson (3.1 ypc). While Stacy ran all over a stout Seattle defense on Monday night, the Rams' lack of confidence in Richardson was painfully obvious when they went with a no back set twice from the one yard line with the game on the line. This was after Richardson got stoned on second down.
This grade, by necessity, better improve in the second half or the Rams might not win another game. They'll need to continue running the ball more than passing, and at some point, will actually have to score a rushing touchdown.
What's been really bad has been the blitz pick up. Stacy still needs a lot of improvement in this department. The rest of the bunch aren't much better.
Benny Cunningham has had some success between the tackles, but can't stay healthy, and Isaiah Pead is looking more and more like a draft bust every time the Rams deactivate him.
Receivers: D Outside of Austin Pettis, there's not much good to say about this group. Tavon Austin continues to struggle to adapt to the NFL. Chris Givens has been nowhere near the deep threat he was last year. Jared Cook, after a great start, is running poor routes and not showing consistent hands. Then there's Brian Quick, who still looks completely lost out there. The drops have been too numerous to count and are the one piece that actually makes me feel a little sorry for Brian Schottenheimer. Where would this team be with a group of receivers that actually held on to the football?
Putting Clemens in charge of this crew likely won't increase their second half grade. Bad route running plus an inaccurate quarterback doesn't make for a good combination.
Run Defense: C If the Rams played run defense the way they did Monday against Seattle, we'd be talking about a vastly different team. Sadly, they've been gouged more than they've shut down opposing running games. Hopefully, Monday night's performance is a sign of good things to come, but I'm afraid it says more about Seattle's line than it does about the Rams' ability to stop the run.
The porous run defense has largely been a result of a lack of discipline by the linebackers. This has created massive cut-back lanes for opposing running backs. And once they've gotten to the second level, the secondary hasn't been very effective in their tackling, producing big gains.
Pass Defense: C The pass defense has been better yardage-wise, if only because teams have been so successful rushing the ball. Efficiency-wise, not so much. Only Atlanta and Jacksonville have a worse opponent QBR than St. Louis.
A lot of those poor numbers came in the first four weeks when coordinator Tim Walton inexplicably had his corners lined up at the concession stand, giving huge cushions. In recent weeks, Walton has played his corners up more, and the results have been much better.
The pass rush has been outstanding from Robert Quinn, and Chris Long looks like he's finally beginning to round into form. Better late than never, I guess.
The second half of the season will offer some opportunities for this unit to improve. Andrew Luck and Drew Brees will pose serious threats, but the rest of the schedule offers the pass defense an opportunity to show some growth.
Special Teams: B This might be an "A" if not for the egregious special teams penalties that plagued the early part of the season. Johnny Hekker and the punting unit have the second best net average in the NFL. Greg Zuerlein is in the top 10 in touchback percentage and Monday's missed field goal, though crucial, was the first miss for "Legatron" in 15 attempts.
This unit will be a key factor in the Rams' ability to win games going forward. Monday night's formula of clock-eating offense plus strong defense needs a special teams unit that will keep opponents pinned deep and convert on scoring chances once the team crosses mid-field. If the Rams are to reach .500 this season, Hekker and Zuerlein might be the team's MVP's.
Coaching: C I grade the coaches this highly simply because they've shown the ability to make adjustments. The aforementioned Tim Walton finally has his defense playing at the level we all expected. Brian Schottenheimer clearly adjusted his play-calling to feature Zac Stacy and minimize Kellen Clemens. The coverage teams seem to have learned from their early mistakes and eliminated the penalties. I can't fault the coaches for players not executing. As long as they hold the players accountable for this, they've done their jobs there.
What is still a major problem is Schotty's inconsistency on offense. He had a winning game plan on Monday, but at key moments, deviated from it and tried to outsmart the other team. Three times, including the final drive, Schottenheimer eschewed the running game and quick passing game that was working so well and let Clemens decide the game. That can't happen.
I have full confidence in Jeff Fisher to get his team ready to play, even if they're not in the running for a playoff spot. That's been his track record. Ultimately, Fisher is going to have to hold his staff more accountable, though, and make the appropriate changes in the off season if their performance doesn't improve.
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