Not the Start the Rams Were Looking For


Aw, c'mon guys. It was just one game. No need to break out the bags just yet.
  • Aw, c'mon guys. It was just one game. No need to break out the bags just yet.
As Saturday came to a close, there was a sense of optimism and excitement in the air. The buzz was the result of a Cardinal victory over the Atlanta Braves, combined with the imminent opening of the NFL season. The Rams were to play the Philadelphia Eagles at the Edward Jones Dome at high noon Sunday, and while the Eagles were riding the wave of their Dream Team off-season, several national analysts were picking the Rams for the big upset. 

The St. Louis sports community was abuzz, alright, with the optimism of a Rams team on the way up, a team with a dynamic young quarterback, a borderline brilliant defensive line, and a new offensive coordinator who had overseen one of the greatest offenses in football history in New England. Sure, the Eagles had a great offseason, but there was plenty of reason to believe the Rams had the right mix to pull off an early-season announcement that they had arrived. 

By the time Sunday night rolled around, there was decidedly less optimism. The baseball team took care of their business, refusing to go quietly into that Octoberless night, but the Rams? It was tough to decide whether the ass-kicking they absorbed or the injuries they suffered in the process was more demoralizing. 

Let's just say there are some things the Rams are going to need to work on.
So were the Eagles just that much better than the Rams? 

No. They were not. Don't get me wrong; the Rams were playing against a championship caliber team, and it showed. But the Rams also made Philadelphia look a whole lot better, and the gap much much wider, by making mistake after mistake. 

Biggest of all was the gift-wrapped fumble return for a touchdown the Rams coughed up in the early going. How something like that happens is tough to understand, but sometimes it just does. The problem isn't that the Rams made a terrible error; the problem is the Rams were already playing a team with stronger talent and made a terrible error. You can beat a team by being better than they are, or you can beat a team by executing better than they do. But when you're already playing at a talent disadvantage, there's no margin for error at all. Making as many mistakes as the Rams made yesterday is just too much of a hole to ever climb out of. 

Just thirteen points, huh? Sounds like the same crap we saw last year. 

This is one of the biggest things I was worried about with the lockout. The Rams have a second year quarterback, learning his second new offensive system, youth all over the receiving corps, young players at both offensive tackle positions. Add in the fact the team had an extremely abbreviated time to try and install this new system, and I was very concerned it wouldn't be enough time for the Rams to get up to full speed for the season. 

The team seemed to put some of those anxieties to rest during the preseason, as they rolled up a 4-0 record and the first team offense looked smooth and efficient in doing so. Yesterday, though, all those fears came roaring right back. This was clearly an offense with players still thinking about where they were supposed to be, and what they were supposed to be doing, on nearly every play rather than just playing. Sam Bradford looked tentative, and even when he did make the throws they all too often bounced off the hands of his target. 

Josh McDaniels and the offense have been together officially for just about five weeks now; having everything running smoothly was probably too tall of an order. We all knew veteran teams with their playbooks already in place would have an advantage coming out of the truncated offseason, but seeing the Rams come out and struggle to implement new plays at full speed really drove home how much the lockout hurt teams who made wholesale changes in the offseason. 

So is that your excuse for all the dropped balls? 

Well, sort of. I mean, I don't know you can really excuse the dropped passes, but if you want a reason just look at the players. Rookie tight ends dropping passes in the end zone, a rookie slot receiver turning to run before he secured the ball. The whole operation was still too new to run smoothly, unfortunately. 

Well, I think the Rams just need new receivers. After all, anonymous internet posters all over the place have been bemoaning the state of the receivers for months now. 

That's just stupid. Sorry, voice in my head, but it is. Judging the Rams' 2011 wide receivers on the basis of one game -- their first game in a new system, no less -- against a team with three cornerbacks who could all be legitimately ranked in the top fifteen in all of football is just asinine. 

It's possible the Rams will still be looking for a bona fide receiving threat come next offseason, either through the draft or other channels, but worrying about it after week one against Nnamdi Asomugha and his comrades just doesn't make sense. 

Okay, whatever. What about the Rams' vaunted pass rush, then? Seems to me like Vick did pretty much whatever he wanted. 

Yeah, I have to agree with you on that one. The offense didn't look particularly good -- losing Steven Jackson pretty much right off the bat certainly didn't help -- but the defensive miscues were much more worrisome to me. 

Early on the Rams' defensive line did a nice job pressuring Vick, but as the game wore on the Eagles' O-line made adjustments, and the Rams suddenly couldn't get anywhere near him. The offensive line of the Eagles was expected to be quite possibly their weakest link coming in, so to see the Rams fail to win the battle at the line for most of the game was shocking. 

Even worse, though, was the failure of the rest of the defense to maintain any sort of containment play after play. The linebackers were supposed to be the most improved group on the team, but cutback runs gashed the Rams again and again. LeSean McCoy ran rampant, and Vick scrambled for 10+ yards one what seemed like every third down. The safeties washed out, getting caught in all the wrong spots over and over. Quintin Mikell was brought in for his gap awareness and tackling ability, but on several running plays was nowhere near his area of responsibility and failed to bring down an Eagles player when he got the chance. 

So realistically, where does this leave the Rams? 

It leaves them at 0-1. Beyond that, we'll see. The offense looked bad, but I blame a lot of that on still trying to learn the new system. It's certainly not ideal by any means to have to learn a new playbook on the fly, but that's the situation the Rams find themselves in. The defense worries me more; there's really no reason for the defense to look so out of sorts. 

In the end, though, the Rams played a Super Bowl quality team, and they weren't ready for it. Wailing and rending garments just isn't justified, no matter how much that one game may have hurt to watch. 

Now, if the injuries turn out to be long-term, then maybe we can all start hitting the panic button. But for now, everyone (that includes you, voice in Aaron's head), should just calm down for a bit, adjust their expectations down a notch, and look forward to seeing the team improve. 


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