Reading Time 5 Minutes:
* Only one game into the season, and the Rams are hurting. And it's a shame. By now you're aware of the injuries suffered in the 31-13 loss to the Eagles. It's a long list. But it's important to recognize something: it's OK to feel sorry for the Rams, but no one else will. Not their opponents, not the fans of other teams, not the rivals in the NFC West, not the coaches who are studying video to find ways to attack the Rams' new weaknesses. And the injury excuse won't hold up.
* Why? First of all, a lot of NFL teams are playing shorthanded. We've seen a terrible run of season-ending injuries already. I won't review all of them, but take a look across the state at the Kansas City Chiefs. Not only were they walloped 41-7 by Buffalo at Arrowhead Stadium, but the Chiefs lost their outstanding Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry (knee) for the remainder of the season. And KC had already lost a key player in their offense -- TE Tony Moeaki -- to a season-ending knee injury. Around the NFL, it's been an awful start, with so many players going down.
* So there is nothing you can do except fill in the gaps as well as you can and then move forward. Teams that were smart in padding their depth will get through the injuries better than teams that declined to add reinforcements in vulnerable areas. Teams that drafted well have an edge on those that missed on picks.
* In that context, let's take a look at the Rams. The season-ending loss of cornerback Ron Bartell (neck fracture) is a tough blow. He's a very good corner with the size that fits the Steve Spagnuolo system. Last season opposing QBs targeted Bartell 100 times and completed only 45 passes; that 45 percent rate is exceptional for a CB. Bartell knocked down 10 passes and allowed only two TDs. He's also a team leader. This is an important player. But after losing cornerback Jerome Murphy (broken ankle) for the season, the Rams also opted to enter the regular season with only four CBs. And two of the four have had injury issues. CB Al Harris blew out a knee in 2009 and was cut by two teams before linking up with the Rams. And the Justin King has gone through a sequence of injuries since the Rams drafted him in 2008. The Rams knew this and were willing to go into the new season thin at a key position. So to what extent should we have sympathy for them?
* The same applies to the loss of WR Danny Amendola (elbow.) Unless I missed it this morning, the Rams haven't revealed an estimated timetable for Amendola's absence so we're not sure how long they'll have to go without their leading receiver and punt returner. But Amendola is a slot receiver. It shouldn't be hard to replace a slot man. Isn't this why you drafted WR Austin Pettis in the 3rd round, and WR Greg Salas in the 4th round? Isn't this why they signed free-agent WR Mike Sims-Walker? Again, no one is saying that it's easy to lose Amendola. But if the Rams' front office has, in fact, done a good job it will be easier to overcome the loss. If Pettis is the player that the Rams' scouts, GM and coaches thought he was, then he should be able to play the slot and return punts. Same with Salas. And Sims-Walker has a history of making plays. So if the Rams made the right draft/personnel decisions this year, then they should have helpful reinforcements in place at Rams Park. And if the Rams don't have adequate alternatives to Amendola, then they haven't done a very good job of evaluating talent.
* A positive example of this is Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. Rams GM Billy Devaney made sure to get a good RB to have behind Steven Jackson this season. And Williams did a terrific job Sunday, producing 140 yards from scrimmage after Sj39 went out with a strained quad. And while the Rams obviously would prefer to take on the NYG with Jackson as a big part of their backfield, it's reassuring for them to know that they can turn to Cadillac and Jerious Norwood. The Rams have quality insurance at the RB position. And that's how you get through injuries.
* And as Bryan Burwell wrote, the Rams were aware of the inherent risk of keeping two quarterbacks instead of three.
Moving On ...
* Bartell is a class act. I have great respect for him. This is a terrible injury. It could be a career-ending injury. He's 29. He's at the peak of his career. He's always worked hard to learn and improve. He's been loyal to the Rams. He's one of the veterans that stayed here, enduring the brutally tough times and displaying immense determination to help the franchise turn things around on the field. Bartell's efforts are appreciated here, and we can only say that he didn't deserve this. Yes, every play knows that their career could end on the very next play. It's part of the job. But that advance knowledge doesn't reduce the harsh reality of bad luck and fate.
Moving On ...
* We don't have to remind you that the Cardinals yacked up a chance to cut another game from Atlanta's lead in the wild-card race. The Cardinals wen't 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position. Two double plays (sigh) killed potentially big innings. Matt Holliday's double play was especially damaging. First baseman Albert Pujols couldn't make defensive plays that would have saved runs. They weren't errors, but plays that could have or should have been made.
* And then there was manager Tony La Russa. He had a poor night in Pittsburgh. There's no other way around it. We could talk about a lot of things that went wrong, but TLR's utilization of the bullpen was baffling. Kyle McClellan, looking great, retired the Pirates on only 7 pitches in the seventh inning and the Cardinals protecting a one-run lead. Obviousy McClellan could have gone another inning. Instead, Octavio Dotel was summoned, and he gave up a walk. La Russa then called in lefty Marc Rzepczynski, and allowed Rzep to face four consecutive righthanded batters. Since Rzep joined the Cardinals, lefthanded batters are hitting .200 against him. But righthanded hitters have smacked Rzep for a .324 batting average, .375 OBP and .432 SLG. So obviously the Cardinals were at an inherent disadvantage here. After Rzep was finally yanked, La Russa brought in Fernando Salas with the bases loaded. And the Cardinals have lost some confidence in Salas, no? You could just about predict what would happen next. Pirates win. There were other head-scratchers. Why would you pinch run for Skip Schumaker but not Yadier Molina? Why all of the wholesale defensive changes late in the game? There was too much managing, too much Tony, in that game.
* And at this late hour of the season, the Cardinals simply can't afford to give away wins, which they did Monday night in Pittsburgh.
* Great job by the Cardinals and Chis Carpenter, for deciding to extend his career in St. Louis, and doing it in a way that helps future payrolls. I'll be writing more about this later in the week.
Thanks for reading.