St. Louis Rams: 2013 Week 4 SFO at STL

The regression of the St. Louis Rams

September, 27, 2013
Jeff FisherAP Photo/Tom GannamJeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams are 1-3 and have looked bad getting there.

ST. LOUIS -- Signs of progress for the St. Louis Rams have been few and far between for most of the past decade.

A drastic improvement to 7-8-1 in 2012 provided some real hope that the sinking ship that was the U.S.S. Rams was finally going to come up for air.

This season was supposed to provide more signs of progress, to provide tangible evidence that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel down in the deepest depths of football purgatory.

After another complete no-show in Thursday night’s 35-11 beatdown at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, it’s blatantly clear that somewhere along the way progression turned into regression.

“Everybody in the building is disappointed,” defensive end Chris Long said. “Our fans are pissed. We’re pissed.”

Dallas manhandled St. Louis last week, but this week we were told the Rams would bounce back. One game can be a hiccup, two can be a trend. In retrospect, it might be generous to not extend that to three given how Atlanta dominated the Rams in the first half of their Week 2 matchup.

Playing a division rival on a short week on a prime-time stage offered St. Louis a chance to recover. The 49ers flew halfway across the country for this game and played without linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith. They, too, were coming off a poor performance.

If nothing else, the 49ers appeared to be an opponent the Rams could use to get back on track. The only problem is that the Rams’ current track isn’t the one they seemed to put themselves on a year ago.

It’s not so much that the Rams are carrying a 1-3 record that’s alarming. It’s how they’ve arrived here.

The defense that kept the Rams in games by getting key stops, rushing the passer and slowing down opposing run games? It’s now a group with no direction other than backward.

San Francisco didn’t even hint that it would do anything but run Frank Gore over and over. No matter, Gore did whatever he wanted on his way to 153 yards and a touchdown.

That performance didn’t even match the 175 yards Dallas’ DeMarco Murray put up last week.

“It’s disgusting. Really, it just is disgusting,” Long said. “When you give up that many yards in the run game, there’s a lot of things going on and we have got to fix a lot of things.”

The 49ers were without injured wideout Michael Crabtree, and tight end Vernon Davis is playing hurt, leaving Anquan Boldin as the team’s only proven receiving threat. That didn’t stop Boldin from posting 90 yards and a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Chris Long
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY Sports"It's disgusting," Chris Long said of the Rams' run defense. "Really, it just is disgusting."
Things certainly aren’t much better on the other side of the ball. The Rams spent big money and draft capital to give quarterback Sam Bradford the pieces needed to make the offense his own.

The return of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was supposed to give the offense the continuity it needed to take the next step. The Rams signed tight end Jared Cook and drafted wide receiver Tavon Austin with the belief that the duo would more than be able to compensate for slot receiver Danny Amendola's exit.

At running back, the Rams mostly stood pat, steadfast in the belief that some combination of Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead could replace the departed Steven Jackson.

None of those suppositions have proved true in the first four weeks. The running game, in particular, is a complete non-starter. The hottest debate in St. Louis right now might be whether the running game isn’t working because of a lack of blocking or the lack of a starting-caliber back.

The answer is probably both. Whatever it is that the Rams call a running game right now carried 19 times for 18 yards. The longest run of the night came from rookie Benny Cunningham, who gained 7 yards on a late carry. The 49ers had 219 rushing yards Thursday night; the Rams have 189 in four games.

“We had two less carries than they did at halftime for no yards, and that’s pretty much the issue we’re facing right now,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “Because everything spins off of that.”

The list of red flags piling up around the Rams right now is too long to fit this space. Penalties continue to be a problem (they had eight for 82 yards), and what might be the second-hottest debate in St. Louis is whether the offense or the defense has been worse on third down.

Thursday night, the Rams converted three third downs on 17 attempts (17.6 percent) and allowed the 49ers to convert 6 of 15 attempts (40 percent).

The Rams are again the youngest team in the league, a fact that they insist will not be used as an excuse. It shouldn’t be. The Rams were 2-2 after four games a year ago with a team that also was the youngest in the NFL.

That was the team that looked poised to deliver this franchise back into contention. Through four weeks this season, that seems like nothing but a distant memory.

Locker Room Buzz: St. Louis Rams

September, 27, 2013
ST. LOUIS – Observed in the locker room after the St. Louis Rams35-11 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Quick Fisher: Clearly unhappy with his team laying another egg, Rams coach Jeff Fisher wasted no time getting in and out of his postgame press conference. Fisher offered an opening statement and answered two questions, then took advantage of a short pause and exited quickly after expressing his disappointment in his team.

McDonald hurt: One question Fisher didn’t answer was on the status of safety T.J. McDonald, who exited the game in the third quarter with a leg injury. It doesn’t look good for McDonald, though. He was wearing an air cast on his right leg and left the locker room on crutches. It’s the third game in a row the Rams have had a player leave in such a state.

Searching for answers: It’s hard to have much buzz when you enter a somber, quiet locker room. Rams players deserve credit for facing the music, but nobody had any answers for why the team has nosedived so dramatically the past two weeks.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 35, Rams 11

September, 26, 2013

ST. LOUIS -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 35-11 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night.

What it means: For the second consecutive week, the Rams essentially didn’t show up, this time on a national, prime-time stage. It's being kind to give them the benefit of the doubt for mounting some sort of charge in the second half in Atlanta in Week 2. That’s officially a trend.

At this point, rather than being a young team on the rise as many expected, the Rams have regressed in all three phases and it’s fair to wonder which direction this supposed steppingstone season is headed.

Stock watch: Up: None. Last week, we gave a mention to punter Johnny Hekker. The team no-showed again, and the only thing that seems to be improving is its potential draft position in April.

Down: The St. Louis Rams. Offense, defense, special teams, coaching, you name it, it’s trending in the wrong direction.

Division dominance done: Under coach Jeff Fisher the Rams were 5-1-1 against NFC West foes entering this one and they seemed to have a particular spell over the Niners in 2012. Forget all of that.

An ailing San Francisco team -- missing two of its best defenders on a short week -- got healthy in a hurry against the Rams and atoned for a winless showing against St. Louis last season with a thoroughly dominant and convincing victory on the Rams’ home turf.

What’s next: The Rams will have a long weekend to lick their wounds from the past two games and try to figure out where everything has gone wrong. Some serious reflection will be important because after a home game against Jacksonville, which no longer looks like a gimme, the Rams play a stretch of three games that includes trips to Houston and Carolina and a home game against Seattle.