“And think of things that might have been.
Slip sliding away, slip sliding away. You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away” – Paul Simon
Just four weeks ago, as the NFL calendar turned the page, the St. Louis Rams sat in a position they had not been in since 2006, a winning record heading into the month of November. At 4-3 and heading into the “easy” portion of their schedule Rams fans were starting to think ahead to the possibility of the playoffs. But those playoff hopes went the way of Reggie Bush at the Ed Jones Dome; slip sliding away.
On November 1st the Rams were coming off back to back wins and had beaten the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals earlier in the season. Todd Gurley was the newest sensation in the NFL and the coaching staff appeared to have finally found a way to utilize Tavon Austin properly. Now here we sit just 28 days later and the Rams have lost four straight games, with their dreams of playoffs turning instead to thoughts of the draft once again.
It is not just the four consecutive losses but it is how the Rams have looked in the losses. The Rams have scored a grand total of five touchdowns in their four games during November. And get this offensive tackle, and the focus of many Rams fans frustration, Greg Robinson has five holding calls over that span. Yes that is right the Rams starting left tackle, the #2 overall pick just two years ago, had as many holding calls this month as the Rams did touchdowns.
I am not putting all of the blame on Robinson, the entire offensive line has been a problem this season. I know they have dealt with injuries but they were not a solid unit even before the injuries hit. They are a young group and you cannot blame players that aren’t ready to be in the game, if they are put into game action. That falls on the coaching staff. But Robinson was supposed to be the face of the Rams offensive line, he was supposed to be the bulldozer that cleared a path for the Rams power running game. However not only can he not pass block but he fails to use his size and strength to effectively run block. Watch a Rams game and notice that they very rarely will even run behind Robinson on the left side. The majority are up the middle or to the right side. Robinson was a project when he was drafted, and two years later he is still a project.
Nick Foles is another source of frustration for Rams fans. Personally, I was not a fan of the trade when it was made and let it be known. Not saying the Rams would be any better off with Sam Bradford behind center; because as evident again he cannot stay healthy. However Foles is completing just 57-percent of his passes with just seven touchdowns and nine interceptions and was benched only eight games into the season. The only reason for his return this week because Case Keenum suffered a concussion last week and did not clear concussion protocol tests. What makes things worse is the fact that the Rams signed Foles to a two-year, $24.5 million extension in August; before he even attempted a pass in game action with the team. That means the Rams were able to dump Bradford’s contract, which expires after the 2015 season, but then by extending Foles are now on the hook for $14 million guaranteed, and $25 over the next two years. The only benefit of the trade was picking up the Eagles second round pick.
So what exactly has happened to the Rams season? How did it devolve from potential playoffs to another top ten draft pick? I think the majority of the blame falls on the coaching. The Rams constructed Jeff Fisher’s team; a physical, power run, defense minded squad that would not burn out the lights on the scoreboard but would out muscle and wear down their opponents. He got his running back, Todd Gurley. He got his quarterback, a mistake free QB who can throw downfield. He had his pass rushing force on defense. Make no mistakes about it, this is what he wanted. So what do we actually have? We have a team that cannot push anyone off the line of scrimmage. Look how many times Gurley has to maneuver around a defender in his own back field. Now look at his big runs and notice that they came when the line gave him at least some room to get past the line of scrimmage.
Speaking of Gurley. He burst onto the NFL scene with four 100-yard games in his first four starts. Since then he is averaging just 55-yards per game in four contests. Of course opponents are going to stack the box and try and shut him down because he is their key player and the Rams quarterbacks cannot complete a pass. In fact the Rams quarterbacks have been so bad it would not surprise me to see them called for intentional grounding on a pass to a receiver, their throws are off by so much. So here the Rams are with a what looks to be franchise running back and what do they do with him? Well in two of the last three games they have given him the ball less than 13 carries. Excuse me but isn’t your team a power running team? And don’t you have the arguably the best rookie running back in the league? No that’s okay, lets keep running wide receivers; yes Tavon Austin had eight carries against Minnesota; almost as many as Gurley had against Cincinnati today and Chicago two weeks ago.
Speaking of Austin, the Rams only other weapon this season on offense has been Tavon Austin and early in the season their schemes were working. But running Austin on end-arounds five to six times a game is not fooling an opponent. An end-around should be used to catch an opponent off guard and not as a go to play in the playbook. Also the obsession the Rams coaches have in throwing one yard screen passes to Austin is absurd. Austin is fast and quick, dangerous in space. So why give him the ball when he is at a standstill, hoping a fellow wide receiver can get a block for him? Why not instead try hitting Austin on a crossing pattern or quick slant? Do you know how hard it is to stick with him running across the field? Seems so simple, but not to the Rams coaches.
All of this blame falls on the Jeff Fisher and his coaching staff; from failure to properly coach and develop players to the coaching staff’s play-calling. Also I don’t care how much a “player’s coach” he is, players want to win. I feel sorry for guys like Chris Long and James Laurinaitis who have had to suffer through some of the worst football in NFL history. The Rams have the talent; tell me what team wouldn’t want a core of Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn. But the fact is that the Rams are not living up to potential. Fisher did a fine job getting the Rams competitive over the last four years and brought fans to the brink of dreaming about playoffs. But this mess of a season has fallen square into his hands, whether he notices it or not. Heck maybe he is too busy managing the game to notice, like with Keenum’s concussion.