Buried under a pile of penalty flags -- some just, some not -- the St. Louis Rams' loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday reaffirmed just how far the Rams have to go to be contenders in the NFC West division.
The Rams racked up 12 penalties for 87 yards in an ugly 27-9 loss to the Seahawks, a game in which St. Louis was never all that close. Seattle wasn't far behind in the infraction department, posting seven penalties for 65 yards.
In fact, the Seahawks finished the season as the most penalized team in the league with 128. The Rams weren't far behind with 121.
Despite that, Seattle is 13-3 and has home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Rams finished 7-9 and will watch the postseason for the 10th consecutive year.
The difference? Put simply, the Seahawks are talented enough to overcome their own miscues and the Rams simply can't afford to accumulate yellow flags and still get victories, especially with a backup quarterback under center.
"We need to rein it in at times," end Chris Long said. "Some of those were probably, now that we look back at it…I don’t know, we definitely have to rein it in as a whole, for sure. But, basically, we made a lot of mistakes even without the stupid penalties. When you make that many mistakes and the stupid penalties compound that, your chances of losing go up ten-fold. It was really hard for us. We made it hard on ourselves. That’s something we need to work on.”
For all the bluster about the Rams playing “with an edge but not over it,” the 2013 season again saw a team that too often went over that edge, especially when playing teams every bit as physical.
That might not be a glaring problem in the future were it not for the simple fact that three of the most physical teams in football reside in the NFC West. Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle won't back down from any fight the Rams choose to pick and they all have as much or more talent to boot.
In the Rams' three NFC West road losses to wrap up the season, they had 34 penalties for 282 yards. For comparisons sake, that's more yards than the offense had against either the Cardinals (257) or Sunday against the Seahawks (158).
For the season, the Rams had 57 penalties for 476 yards in six NFC West games, an average of 9.5 flags for 79.3 yards.
The result of that is what came through Sunday. Seattle ran the ball, played nasty defense and did its share of pushing and shoving. The Seahawks also found ways to avoid penalty flags for their actions.
St. Louis didn't run the ball with any success -- 18 carries for 13 yards as a team -- played pretty good defense and was on the receiving end of a dozen penalties and a handful more that were either offset by Seattle flags or outright declined.
The undisciplined Rams hit their crescendo when defensive tackle Kendall Langford was ejected in the third quarter for striking an official as he argued an unsportsmanlike penalty called on linebacker Alec Ogletree.
Langford didn't strike the official on purpose, hitting him with his arm as the official approached from behind but the reality is he wouldn't have been in that position in the first place were it not for previous penalties.
"I don’t agree with the call," Langford said. "They made it, and it was unfortunate that I was ejected from the game for that. It was that kind of game. At the end of the day, we can’t hurt ourselves as a team with all these penalties. But I’m not going to say all the penalties were good calls.”
While the Rams have been on the receiving end of some questionable at best calls, especially as it pertains to the 15-yard variety, they've also brought many of those on themselves with their incessant chirping and chippiness.
Being physical and not backing down is one thing but the Rams undoubtedly have earned a reputation around the league for their combination of penalties and flapping gums.
In the Rams' seven wins, they averaged 6.4 penalties for 55.1 yards while they had 8.4 flags for an average of 69.2 yards in their nine losses.
Of course, many will point to the Rams' youth as the reason for the immaturity and lack of discipline but one would think the other times those actions have hurt the Rams would be enough to affect some sort of change.
As the offseason arrives sooner than the Rams would like once again, there is plenty the team must do to get better. The list includes making tough decisions to create salary-cap space, making the most of prime draft position and doing everything possible to improve the roster.
Those duties fall in the hands of coaches and personnel types. It's up to the players to figure out the difference between toughness and immaturity, especially in the league's most brutal division.