Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB

2011-11-28T12:20:00Z 2011-12-22T01:43:54Z Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QBBY BERNIE MIKLASZ, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist

If it's Monday, it is time for another edition of Necessary Roughness.

By now everyone who paid even scant attention knows that Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams' coaches had a brutal day on the sidelines during the 23-20 giveaway to the Arizona Cardinals. So if you'll excuse me, you won't find a lot of play-by-play in this here blog. I'll try to offer some stats to back up some points and expand on what we already know.

Let's begin ...

* Big changes at Rams Park are inevitable. I don't need to write a grandstanding column demanding a regime change; the team's chronic losing makes it unavoidable. This sad, sorry state of affairs will lead to dismissals. That's life in the big leagues. Coaches and GMs simply don't last beyond a certain period of time when their record is bad and getting worse. Stan Kroenke knows that. He doesn't need me or anyone else to tell him that. Unless, of course, he wants to kill off fan interest.

* The sad thing about watching Spagnuolo coach is his obvious loss of confidence in the offense. Pardon the cliche, but Spagnuolo is playing not to lose instead of playing to win. With a 2-8 mark before Sunday's debacle, and with a 10-32 overall record as HC, why be timid against Arizona? The situation demands boldness and aggressiveness. As a coach, if you're headed to an almost certain termination, why not take your best shot and go down fighting? Spagnuolo, of course, declined to go for a first down on a couple of fourth-down, short-yardage plays. The second decision, late in the game, was indefensible. The Rams punted and never got the ball back.

* The decision made no sense for two reasons: (1) the defense hadn't stopped AZ on the ground all day; and (2) among the few things the Rams have done reasonably well under Spagnuolo over the last couple of years is convert on fourth-down gambles. This season the Rams are 3 for 5 in converting on 4th and 1; over the last two seasons combined they're an outstanding 9 for 11 in picking up the 1st down on 4th and 1. That includes going 7 for 9 when running the ball in 4th and 1.

And this isn't a matter of simply handing off to Steven Jackson every time; the Rams have utilized other backs, with success, in gaining the necessary ground on these third/fourth and shorts. Jackson's short-yardage numbers are decent but nothing special. But that's why coaches get paid to be creative. You can still run the ball in these situations without being entirely predictable. Anyway ... with the game on the line, Spagnuolo ignored the positive history. He backed off. He surrendered the football. The HC made a powerful -- if unintended -- statement about his lack of faith in this offense. And by coaching so nervously, Spagnuolo dropped to 2-9 this season and 10-33 in his career, moving even closer to the firing line.

* Spagnuolo's game management has never been a strong point, but I'm truly surprised that he hasn't gotten better at it, given that he's deep into this third season.

* I guess what we learned yesterday is that Jason Brown isn't a very good offensive lineman, no matter where you play him up front.

* Former Rams fullback Mike Karney ripped OT Adam Goldberg on Twitter during Sunday's loss, writing  "Adam Goldberg getting #8 killed as usual." Wow.

* It's painful to watch the Rams try to move the ball on first-and-goal situations. They've scored TDs only five 5 in 11 chances, and that percentage (45.5 pct) ranks 31st in the league. Last season with Pat Shurmur as the offensive coordinator the Rams were hardly great when lining up close to the goal line, but they did convert 14 of 25 of their 1st and goal chances.

* The Rams are dead last (32nd) in red-zone conversions, scoring TDs in only 9 times in 24 chances (37.5 pct.) That's a little better than last season; the Rams scored TDs on 35.7 pct of their RZ opportunities. But the difference? The Rams got to the red zone -- a lot. They were No. 6 in the league for most red-zone possessions. This season they're tied for 28th for most red-zone possessions. At least last season they were able to move down there and put themselves in position to kick a lot of field goals.

* Rams QB Sam Bradford has completed only 8 of 27 passes in the red zone this season. That completion percentage (29.6 percent) ranks last among all NFL quarterbacks. No other QB is below 37 percent completions. As a rookie in 2010, Bradford connected on 48.3 percent of his red-zone throws.

* The regression is glaring. But is it the QB? Or is it the plays being called by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels? It's fair to ask, only because the entire offense has stalled and sputtered so many times this season, compared to the reasonable efficiency and ball-control tendencies displayed by the 2010 Rams offense.

* I don't mean to make you cry, but I went back and looked at the Rams' red-zone scoring percentages during the zenith of the "Greatest Show" days, covering 1999, 2000 and 2001 .... those boys were crazy. Over a three-season period the Rams had 200 red zone possessions and scored TDs 128 times, for an astounding three-year success rate of 64 percent. That's just nuts. The 1999 Super Bowl champeen Rams scored 37 TDs in 56 red-zone series, or 66.1 percent. This current group wouldn't score 37 red-zone TDs if you gave them a 50-game schedule.

* Since we made a brief detour down memory lane ... Mike Martz was 53-32 (.624 win pct.) as Rams head coach. With Martz as the offensive coordinator (1999) or the HC (2000 through the first five games of 2005), the Rams averaged 26 points per game. I remember the days when the biggest and loudest complaints over the Rams came from people going absolutely berserk over Martz's use of timeouts and/or challenges. The Rams would win a game, and win easily, and folks would call the post-game radio shows and try to emasculate Martz because he wasted a timeout in the second quarter, or something. Looking back at it -- and considering the futility we're seeing now -- that's really funny. With Martz as the OC or the HC, the Rams went 66-35 in the regular season. Since he left the sideline on Oct. 9 of 2005, the Rams are 27-75. The adventures of Mad Mike weren't so awful after all, eh?

* According to research done by Randy Karraker of 101 ESPN, Spagnuolo has the second-worst winning percentage (.233) of an NFL head coach since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. That's based on a minimum of 40 games. The only guy who won less frequently was Rod Marinelli (Detroit) who went 10-38 (.208) from 2006-2008.

* The Arizona Cardinals are 7-0 in games played in St. Louis since 2005; they are 11-37 in their other road games.

* It's good to see the team utilizing rookie tight end Lance Kendricks in the receiving game again. The Rams targeted Kendricks five times against the Cardinals after virtually ignoring him for weeks. I don't care if he dropped passes earlier in the season. I don't care if he loses a fumble. Kendricks has skill. He can be a weapon in the receiving game. But you have to keep going to Kendricks to build experience and confidence.

* The Rams are allowing opponents to rush for an average of 5.1 yards per carry this season. If that holds up, this would be the worst yards per carry given up by a Rams defense since the team moved to STL in 1995. And injuries are no excuse; the front seven of this defense has remained healthy for the most part. And the Rams spent a bunch of money to sign free-agent safety Quintin Mikell, a run enforcer. They also signed two free-agent LBs, Brady Poppinga and Ben Leber. It hasn't worked. It isn't working. The Rams have gotten smashed for 159 yards rushing per game to rank last in the NFL in run defense. That's really inexcusable. The current regime can't defend this performance.

That's it for now.

Thanks for reading ...









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Bernie Miklasz

You've read Bernie Miklasz in the Post-Dispatch since 1989. Now check out a new video "Breakfast with Bernie" every weekday morning. You'll also see more "Bernie Bytes" around the clock as he posts quick-hit commentaries on a variety of topics.

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