Pro Bowl snubs for the 2012 NFL Pro Bowl were expected for the St. Louis Rams, who, at 2-13, are battling for the No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2012 NFL draft. When a team falters to this degree, it's very tough to land individual players on the Pro Bowl roster, regardless of how deserving they might be. This is the case with three St. Louis Rams.
It's been a rough year in St. Louis: Former No. 1 pick Sam Bradford has struggled and Andrew Luck speculation has arisen; head coach Steve Spagnuolo has landed on the hot seat with rumors abounding about his future; and countless cornerbacks (including the top four on the roster) have landed on injured reserve.
But a few players have stood out and played Pro Bowl-caliber football.
Although all three have since been named Pro Bowl alternates, none were named to the NFC Pro Bowl team that will represent the conference in Honolulu, Hawaii as they showcase their talents against the AFC Pro Bowl squad.
With that, let's look at the three men in St. Louis who rose above the ashes and disappointment that has been the 2011 Rams' season, but still found themselves snubbed by the Pro Bowl.
Perhaps the most obvious Pro Bowl snub for St. Louis is Chris Long.
To sum up both Long's and the Rams' season succinctly:
Long has as many sacks, 13, as the St. Louis offense, led by Josh McDaniels, has touchdowns.
That is hard to comprehend but is nonetheless true.
Chris Long's production is all the more impressive when considering four things:
1. Long has rarely played with a lead this year, greatly limiting his opportunities to rush the passer. With teams ahead of the Rams the vast majority of the time, opponents throw less and run more, which leads to point No. 2.
2. The Rams have given up the most rushing yards in the league, 2,317, and are second in the league in most yards allowed per rush, at 4.9 per attempt. Why throw the ball with a lead, especially when facing the worst run defense in the NFL?
3. Long has battled an ankle injury for a good chunk of the season. To his credit, he has battled through it. However, he has not been close to 100 percent for several weeks now, making it tougher to get to the quarterback.
4. The Rams lost their top three projected corners in Ron Bartell, Bradley Fletcher and Jerome Murphy. Along the way, they also lost several others, including Al Harris and Marquis Johnson.
With less talent in the secondary, it goes without saying that Rams' pass-rushers, including Long, have had less time to get to the quarterback, on average.
If one were to point at one area to justify Long's Pro Bowl snub, it is his tackle total of just 34.
By comparison, other sack leaders have much higher totals.
The aforementioned Jared Allen has 61 tackles along with 18.5 sacks. DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys has 53 in addition to his 18 sacks. Jason Pierre-Paul, along with his 15.5 sacks, has tallied 81 tackles. Even part-time player Aldon Smith, (a strong candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in San Francisco), has managed to earn 35 tackles on top of his 14 sacks.
Long will lock down a Pro Bowl berth next year with more personal production against the run and more team production in the win-loss column, while continuing to amass double-digit sack totals.
Pro Bowl snub James Laurinaitis is tied for fifth in the NFL in tackles with 133 on the year thus far.
Furthermore, he is fourth in the NFL in solo tackles at 97. Amongst the Top 10 tackle leaders, Laurinaitis is second with three sacks. Finally, within this group (nine of whom are linebackers), he is tied for first in interceptions with two.
His statistics are certainly Pro Bowl-worthy, especially when considering the multitude of injuries this team has incurred in the secondary.
Laurinaitis runs the defense, lines up his teammates and communicates the plays to his defensive brethren.
With all these injuries in the defensive backfield, his job has been tougher than it should have been. Players have been entering and exiting the lineup at a prolific clip.
Thus, keeping players lined up correctly has been tougher than normal. His job would have been easier if not for the injuries to Bartell, Fletcher, Murphy and the soon-to-retire Al Harris, among others.
However, as mentioned before, landing players in the Pro Bowl is tough when a team is 2-13 on the year.
In addition, middle linebackers are downgraded when their teams struggle against the run, as is the case here, with St. Louis fielding the statistically-worst run defense in the NFL this season.
Even so, Laurinaitis' individual production speaks for itself. Of the NFL's Top Five tacklers, two play in the AFC. With that, a spot should have been given to Laurinaitis on the NFC Pro Bowl squad.
However, playing on a poor team with a poor run defense did him in and contributed mightily toward his snub.
A better team run defense and more wins by the Rams should secure a Pro Bowl selection for Laurinaitis next season.
Jackson has also tied his best yards-per-carry average of those seven seasons this year (4.4 YPC).
When considering the ineptness of the St. Louis Rams offense this season, and the season-ending injuries to starting tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith (among other offensive line injuries), Jackson's rushing numbers are all the more impressive.
In essentially just 12 full games, Jackson amassed a full season's worth of production.
On the first run of the season, a 47-yard dash to the end zone in the season opener versus Philadelphia at the Edward Jones Dome, Jackson injured his thigh.
It was not until the Green Bay game, the fifth of the year, that he returned to full strength. In essence, then, he played healthy in only 11 games this year after attempting to come back against Washington before he was fully recovered.
In essentially just 75 percent of the season, Jackson amassed a full season's worth of production and Pro Bowl quality numbers.
In his shortened season, Jackson is still 10th in the NFL in rushing yards and fifth in the NFC, respectively. Only one of those four other NFC running backs (LeSean McCoy at 4.8 per rush) has averaged more per attempt than Jackson's 4.4 YPC.
Amidst this absurdly grotesque offense, Jackson has also managed to haul in 41 receptions at eight yards a clip.
Of the Top Five runners in the NFC, only McCoy has more catches (48) than Jackson. The other leading rushers (Frank Gore, Michael Turner and Marshawn Lynch) have far less receptions. Gore and Turner each have 17, while Lynch has 26.
To earn a Pro Bowl berth next year, Jackson needs to stay healthy all season and continue to produce at the rate he has in 2011.