Monday, September 29, 2008
Linehan doomed by aging offense, lack of respect from players
By John Clayton ESPN.com
The Rams lost their last eight games under Scott Linehan and were outscored 288-110 in those games.
Scott Linehan's firing after an 0-4 start in which the St. Louis Rams were outscored 147-43 shouldn't come as a surprise.
The franchise that billed itself as "The Greatest Show On Turf" under Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz has deteriorated to the "Greatest No-Show in the NFL" under Linehan. During St. Louis' current eight-game losing streak -- dating to last season -- the Rams have been outscored 288-110. Other than maybe showing feistiness along the sideline, the team has been completely non-competitive.
Unfortunately for Linehan, he came to town during a down cycle for Rams talent. The offensive stars from earlier this decade became old, and Isaac Bruce left for San Francisco. Torry Holt is still a good receiver but he can't get as much separation from cornerbacks as he used to, and he needs that separation to create big plays. Quarterback Marc Bulger lacks mobility and was a standing target behind a porous offensive line before losing his starting job to Trent Green. Offensively, the Rams have been a disaster.
Rams president John Shaw leaned toward hiring a defensive-minded coach to replace Martz three years ago, but he decided to take one more chance with offense: Linehan was a bright offensive coordinator with a plan. The Rams showed promise in his first year and finished with an 8-8 record, but some of his players and many people in the media questioned some of his calls in key moments of games. Management attributed the questionable calls to the fact Linehan was a first-year coach -- he was learning on the job.
Linehan's second year was a total disaster, but it wasn't completely his fault. Injuries decimated the offensive line, and years of poor drafting and shaky free-agent acquisitions doomed the Rams to a 3-13 season. Worse, though, was what was happening on the sideline. Because the Rams had had success in the past, they cared about winning, and some of the offensive players -- Holt and running back Steven Jackson -- snapped at Linehan on the sideline during games.
Because he's a nice guy, Linehan didn't punish them, but head coaches need to show authority. Linehan didn't. By the preseason Linehan had pretty much lost this team. The Rams looked terrible and non-competitive in the preseason, and the carryover effect was embarrassing. Though they showed some life in the first three quarters of Sunday's game with the Bills, the Rams rolled over in the fourth and lost 31-14, giving up 18 unanswered points.
It has been said nice guys finish last: Linehan's a nice guy, and the Rams are in last place. It will be up to Jim Haslett to carry over some of the aggressiveness of his blitzing defensive schemes to the offense and to try to salvage something of a horrible season. Good luck.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.