Wednesday, January 15, 2014
On the potential of losing Schottenheimer
By Nick Wagoner
ST. LOUIS -- For all intents and purposes, it's been one of the quietest offseasons in recent memory for the St. Louis Rams. Perhaps it's been a little too quiet.
After going through the first two and a half weeks with no changes or even any rumblings of change, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Wednesday morning that Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is set to interview with Vanderbilt for its head-coaching position.
In many ways, Schottenheimer to Vanderbilt would make a lot of sense. Schottenheimer has a home in Nashville and would seem to have a handle on the culture of the SEC after spending his college days as a quarterback at the University of Florida. Of course, it seems early in the process and Schefter and others have also reported that Vandy is looking at other candidates, including Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.
Brian Schottenheimer's offense was ranked 30th in the NFL in total yards.
What losing Schottenheimer would mean for the Rams is the bigger question.
Since Jeff Fisher arrived in St. Louis, he's often discussed the value of building continuity. That idea isn't limited just to the roster but also the coaching staff where turnover has been few and far between. Aside from the failed marriage with original defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and the subsequent dismissal of his son, Blake, last year, the Rams haven't made any coaching changes under Fisher and general manager Les Snead. The team hired Frank Bush to coach linebackers in place of Blake Williams and Tim Walton as defensive coordinator to replace Gregg Williams.
In his final 2013 news conference, Fisher said he didn't expect to have any coaching staff changes, leaving a little wiggle room for some unforeseen circumstances. This would certainly qualify as it took a series of coaching dominoes to fall for Schottenheimer to land in the mix at Vanderbilt.
Just last week, Snead emphasized the importance of continuity.
"I think continuity especially in today's age is way underrated," Snead said. "It seems like it's always the easy answer is an entirely different human being, a different system, 4-3 to 3-4. We're in a microwave society. You see the teams that are really successful consistently there's not a lot of changeover. It doesn't mean we all don't have to get better at our jobs."
Looking strictly at the numbers and judging based on a lot of the Twitter reaction I've seen this morning, many Rams fans would like to see Schottenheimer depart. The Rams finished 30th in the league in total yards and 22nd in offensive points per game. Those numbers came while playing nine games against the league's top seven defenses (in terms of total yards) and seven of those games without the services of starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
The numbers can also be a little deceiving. While the Rams struggled mightily against stout defenses like Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco, the yardage numbers would indicate they struggled against pretty much everyone they played. That's not necessarily the case. The Rams posted just 216 yards of total offense against Houston but scored 38 points with the help of the defense and special teams. When the offense was needed early in the game, they moved the ball pretty easily.
Beyond that, the Rams' scoring output has improved in each of his two seasons in St. Louis. Although special teams and defense deserve credit for some of the uptick, the Rams' 348 points scored in 2013 were the most they've scored since posting 367 in 2006. Not that the bar has been set very high by the teams in between but there were at least signs of progress for a group that's been one of the least productive in the league for a while.
That isn't to say Schottenheimer should be excused from scrutiny. The early season attempt to shift the offense to a more wide-open pass attack was nothing short of an epic failure. Part of that was a miscalculation on what the current talent in place could do, part of it was a lack of creativity by Schottenheimer and all of it should fall in the lap of the coaching staff.
When the Rams got back to a more run-heavy attack in Week 5, the offense played much better and it was clear Schottenheimer was more comfortable with the style. There were still hiccups along the way, including an atrocious play call in the closing seconds of a home loss to Seattle in which the Rams went with an empty backfield with running back Zac Stacy split out wide despite rushing for 200 yards in the game.
Much like the quarterback, the offensive coordinator is often placed in the line of fire when things don't go right. Schottenheimer has done enough to deserve criticism but -- unpopular opinion alert -- he's also done some things to deserve praise as well.
Moving forward, Fisher is likely going to want to continue with a power-rushing, ground-heavy attack. If that's the case, Schottenheimer is a fine fit for that style of offense. Just like anything else in the NFL, it's easy to ask for change. It's not always that easy to change for the better.