Good day. (I think.) For a Rams fan, the New Year came crashing in on Sunday night and it wasn't much fun. I'm assuming the morning after is rough. Can we turn back the clock and do the game over? I guess not.
I'm not inclined to search for the ol' silver linings when a team squanders an opportunity to win a division by playing so miserably against a highly beatable opponent. I expressed those views in an online piece that I wrote late Sunday night, just in case you missed it. But obviously, if we want to look for it, there was some benefit to losing:
1. The Rams will select 14th in the 1st round of the 2011 draft, rather than 21st. That could turn out to be significant. (And Seattle, which would have had the 8th pick by losing, will draft 21st overall.)
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2. Rams GM Billy Devaney will have to get a wide receiver or two for this team to give the passing game an upgrade and more dimension. I think Devaney would have done that, anyway. But the futility of the passing game and the terrible performance by the receivers in the 16-6 loss to Seattle was valuable in reminding everyone that Sam Bradford needs some help to get this offense to a higher level. The Rams simply cannot come back and peck away with small ball again in 2011.
3. The loss should give owner Stan Kroenke even more motivation to get involved and push his football people to be more aggressive.
There's much more to it than that, of course. We'll elaborate in Tuesday's column...
MOVING ON ...
* When he meets with the media Monday afternoon, expect Rams HC Steve Spagnuolo to defend the limited use of Steven Jackson by citing the team's many three-and-out drives. And how that made it difficult for the Rams to get into their full stride, which would have included more runs for Jackson. This is pretty much what Spagnuolo told reporters after the game in Seattle.
Well, I don't think I'm buying it. The Rams had seven three-and-outs Sunday. And Jackson handled the ball on only three plays during those series. He didn't touch the ball at all on four of the seven three-and-outs. So I'm not sure what the coaches were waiting for. The Rams had one very nice drive in the game, going 13 plays and 83 yards for a FG that cut Seattle's lead to 7-3. Jackson got the ball six times on the march: four carries for 26 yards and two catches for 15 yards. He handled the ball on six of the first nine plays on the drive, including one sequence of four consecutive plays where he ran it or caught it. And the Rams put together an impressive drive (well, at least until it stalled in the red zone.) I don't think this was a coincidence. Because of the defense that the Rams were facing, Jackson should have had a more extensive role. And the proof was delivered in the 13-play, 83-yard drive in which he accounted for nearly half the yards.
* Again, as I've written already, I'm not saying the Rams should have gone into Seattle and stubbornly given the ball to Jackson 35 times even if the running game was getting smothered. I'm not saying they should stop throwing the football to give the ball to Jackson if the passing game is thriving. Each game has its own flow, its own requirements. The fact is, Jackson was able to do some damage against a Seattle defense that hasn't stopped the run much this season. And the other fact is, the passing game wasn't clicking. So it wouldn't have qualified as "safe" or "conservative" to use Steven Jackson. It simply would have made sense, given the way the game was unfolding. In the win over the 49ers on Dec. 26, the Rams had Jackson carry it 24 times, even though San Francisco stormed him to hold him to 48 yards. If you're gonna run Jax 24 times against a much tougher SanFran run defense, then why would you run him only 11 times against a more forgiving Seattle run defense?
* I didn't get the Mike Karney thing Sunday night.
* I didn't get the Laurent Robinson thing, either.
* I didn't get the Mike Hoomanawanui thing, either. He dressed. He was active. Why wasn't he utilized in the passing game?
* I didn't understand (as usual) why the Rams didn't shake up the inertia on offense by making extensive use of the no-huddle attack.
* I didn't understand the officiating ... though that's not the reason why the Rams lost.
* The Rams finished 5th in the league in most passing attempts, with 590. That stat is prompting some apologists to say that it would be wrongheaded to call the Rams conservative, because after all, look at how many times they threw the football! Sorry, it's not that simple. It's a little more complex than that. Sure, the Rams threw it a lot ... but as part of a focused plan for ball-control built on short possession-type passes. They didn't throw it out of the desire to emulate Air Coryell.
The Rams were 30th among 32 teams in yards per attempt, at 5.95 yards. Only Arizona and Carolina, which had chronic QB problems, finished with a lower YPA than the Rams this season. And from an overview standpoint, I don't have a problem with the season-long approach. Simply because it made sense for this particular offense, given the circumstances. The Rams went with a possession passing game. They pecked away. They reduced the probability of mistakes. They reduced the number of sacks by going with so many short, quick passes. And obviously, the Rams had to play to their strengths. Throwing deep balls was definitely not their strength. Not with Donnie Avery and then Mark Clayton sidelined by knee injuries. And not with Danario Alexander having a fifth knee surgery and being in and out of the mix. In that context -- and I've written this before -- the Pat Shurmur offense was logical in the goal of transitioning a rookie QB to the NFL, a rookie QB that didn't have a fleet of game-changing receivers or showtime playmakers.
At times the pecking-away offense worked very well. Other times -- like Sunday in Seattle -- it misfired badly. But again, over a 16-game season the Rams' passing game was effective as it probably could have been given the prevailing realities. But they clearly need to address the inability to stretch the defense. And no, you can't count on DX to be that guy. Not this soon. And not with his history of knee problems. And can the Rams count on Donnie Avery to make a healthy and productive return and to stay that way? Same with Mark Clayton. The Rams cannot play it safe at this position.
* Here's a historical note on that 5.95 Yards Per Attempt: according to STATS LLC, only seven Rams teams have had a lower YPA for a season. And we're talking 73 seasons of football, going back to the Cleveland Rams days. The only Rams offenses with a lower YPA than the 2010 Rams were the teams from the years 1986, 1947, 1939, 1938, 2009, 1937 and 1941. That's kind of unsettling, no?
* I think Pete Carroll's extensive experience as a head coach in guiding USC in so many big games -- pressure games -- was certainly a positive factor for the Seahawks in Sunday's matchup.
* The Seahawks, by the way, should stick with Charlie Whitehurst at QB for the playoff game vs. New Orleans. His mobility will help against the Saints' blitzes.
* This is another certainty: the Rams will have to improve on the road in 2011. If you want to get down to it, this team's inability to put together a winning offense for the road was perhaps the No. 1 factor in its demise. The Rams finished 28th among 32 teams in points per game on the road, 16.4. But that's misleading in that 36 points came in one game, at Denver. In the other seven road games, the Rams averaged only 13.5 points. In reality, the Rams' season never should have come down to one game, on the road, at Seattle. The Rams blew games they should have won at Tampa Bay and at San Francisco. And you could say the same thing about the loss at Oakland.
* The Rams' 2011 schedule will present more challenges. I'm always reluctant to interpret a future schedule, because changes come fast in this league. And the annual fluctuations can be pretty dramatic. Just ask Cincincinnati, San Diego, Dallas, Minnesota and Arizona. They failed to qualify for the playoffs after making it to the postseason last season.
But on paper, the Rams probably won't have as much room for stumbles. In addition to the NFC West home-and-homes, the 2011 schedule brings home games against Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Cincinnati and New Orleans. And road games against Dallas, the NY Giants, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Cleveland. There will be some new head coaches in that mix. And at least one coach, Washington's Mike Shanahan, who will be entering the second year of his program. The 2011 non-division slate has five games against teams that made the playoffs this season. And those five teams -- Philly, Baltimore, N.O., Pitt and GB -- were a combined 55-25 this season.
As always, thank you for reading...