Rams easier to defend than their record
December, 13, 2011
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenOn second-and-goal from the 1, the Rams rolled out Sam Bradford, resulting in a grounding penalty.SEATTLE -- It's looking like we'll remember Steven Jackson's NFL playing career for the unwavering pride and professionalism he demonstrated in defeat.
We'll have to remember the St. Louis Rams' all-time rushing leader for how he kept running with bad intentions in the face of inevitable, hopeless, soul-crushing futility. We'll lament what could have been for one of the great players of his era.
That is one sad consequence of the Rams' epidemic losing. Like much of Jackson's career, the Rams' 30-13 defeat in Seattle on "Monday Night Football" was notable for what could have happened, but did not.
Another potential consequence: The dismissal of a head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, with the right temperament and defensive smarts to succeed under better circumstances.
Spagnuolo, at 2-11 this season and 10-35 overall, owns fewer victories through 45 games than all but three head coaches in NFL history: John McKay, Bert Bell and Bill McPeak. Tom Landry (10-32-3) and Chuck Noll (14-31) turned similar starts into Hall of Fame careers, but the stakes are too high for 10-year plans.
NFL teams fired two head coaches Monday. Tony Sparano went 29-32 with one playoff appearance for Miami. Todd Haley went 19-26 with one division championship. Their teams had a combined nine victories this season.
Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels did little to help their cause against Seattle.
The Rams were not going to win this game, most likely, but they trailed only 13-3 when a penalty for pass interference gave them first-and-goal at the Seattle 1 late in the third quarter.
It was the perfect time to pound the 245-pound Jackson into the Seahawks' defense however many times it took to score. Quarterback Sam Bradford was limping around on a high-ankle sprain, so a quarterback rollout or bootleg would have accomplished nothing (see below). A reconfigured offensive line wasn't going to get much push, but if anyone could score on sheer strength of body and will, Jackson would be the man.
The Rams got a little cute on first down, snapping the ball directly to Jackson. No gain, but at least they ran No. 39.
The Rams lost their minds on second down. At first, they could not get the right personnel on the field. Once they did, McDaniels called a bootleg for Bradford, simply inexplicable given the quarterback's obvious physical limitations.
Safety Atari Bigby crushed Bradford, who threw away the ball in desperation. Intentional grounding. Field goal.
Bradford naturally defended the call, but asked separately about playing with a significant ankle injury, he said it was tough following through on his throws.
"Running and things like that are tough as well," he said.
The Rams went from bootleg to worse.
Down 23-6 in the final six minutes, they ran five consecutive plays from the Seattle 1 (aided by a taunting penalty against the Seahawks) before finally giving Jackson a try. Jackson scored, which only made the five previous plays seem all the more curious. The Rams ran Cadillac Williams. They tried a quarterback sneak even though Bradford's ankle naturally complicated efforts to push forward against 320-pound defensive tackles. They threw incomplete three times, inviting a potential interception on one, before Jackson finally powered into the end zone.
"The one thing there you are dealing with a little bit is the clock," Spagnuolo said. "If you run it and don't get in, you know you are going to chew some time. A little bit of that came into play and then when we couldn't get it in, we said, 'OK,' and then we got in."
Bradford and Jackson stood by their coaches. Jackson pointed to injuries, a legitimate factor in the team's struggles, but hardly one unique to the Rams. Jackson did not hesitate when asked what about this team and this situation offered hope for the future.
"Well, you have Sam Bradford, first of all," Jackson said. "I think he's going to be a spectacular quarterback in this league. Any time you have a quarterback, he gives you a chance to win. We have a group of young guys that are growing in their careers. If you can keep them together, I think you have a foundation you can build off of."
Rams fans concerned for Bradford's psyche should not despair just yet. The quarterback's confidence and mental toughness should carry him through. But there's little evidence to support Jackson's claim that the Rams have put together a young core to build around.
There's a good chance the Rams will be starting over on their offensive line. Their defense lacks speed. Jackson will be 29 next season, about the time when running backs tend to stall out.
While the Rams continue their free fall, the other NFC West teams can point to clear progress. That might be most damning of all for the Rams' current leadership. The young players standing out Monday night played for the Seahawks: linebacker K.J. Wright, safety Kam Chancellor, receiver Doug Baldwin and running back Marshawn Lynch, still only 25.
The Rams came into this season as the only team in the division with a franchise quarterback. They've gone a combined 0-4 against John Skelton and Tarvaris Jackson. That will be tougher to overcome in the final analysis than sending the injured franchise quarterback on a naked bootleg.
"We've had a lot of injuries and it's hard to win in this league when you're constantly shuffling the offensive line," Jackson said. "When you have to go back to Week 1 stuff and coach that up, it stills you from trying to move forward."