Coach "Spags" Gives St. Louis Rams New Look
Steve Spagnuolo is not Mike Martz.
If the former New York Giants defensive coordinator revives a St. Louis franchise that had just five wins over the last two seasons, it will not be with the same razzle-dazzle the Rams had under Martz.
Martz, most recently the offensive coordinator in San Francisco, was part of two Super Bowl teams while in St. Louis. The Rams won the Super Bowl with Martz as the offensive coordinator in 1999, and went back to the Super Bowl two years later with Martz as the head coach.
Martz was basically run out of town after frequent clashes with the media, and in came former Minnesota offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. The soft-spoken Linehan was sort of the anti-Martz—both in his demeanor and how the Rams floundered under his reign.
Two years and five wins later the Rams turn to Spagnuolo.
Coach "Spags" is sort of a personality combination of Martz and Linehan. He's got the fiery enthusiasm of Martz, with the tranquility of Linehan. But that's not why the Rams hired him. They brought him over from the Giants because of his winning track record and hard-nosed defensive mentality.
The Rams will be much more aggressive on defense and they've already added depth and talent to the front seven through the draft and free agency. What won't change is the Rams 4-3 set, but what will be added are more blitz packages and disguised coverages.
Spagnuolo is no dummy and has to realize the weaknesses in the Rams secondary. How you counter that is by putting pressure on the quarterback. By adding a solid linebacker via the draft in James Laurinaitis and creating a rotation in the middle, it should free up ends Leonard Little, James Hall, and Chris Long to get to the other team's QB.
On the other side of the ball, Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney made a good hire in new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. The former Philadelphia quarterbacks coach was with the Eagles for nine seasons. Under Shurmur, quarterback Donovan McNabb went to multiple Pro Bowls, five NFC title games and a Super Bowl. That's the kind of success the Rams are hoping he can bring to St. Louis.
Shurmur's West Coast Offense, which features quick-release pass plays and emphasizes the run after the catch, is even more dangerous with a productive pass-catching running back.
The Rams have Steven Jackson, who in 2006 had more than 2,300 yards from scrimmage. Jackson accumulated 1,528 rushing yards and caught 90 passing for another 806 yards that season. If he comes even remotely close to that in 2009, maybe the oft-disgruntled player of the last two years could find himself having fun again.
The West Coast Offense can use the pass to set up the run, or vice versa. That versatility eventually softens secondaries for the long ball—a throw St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger can still make given the time.
The Rams made it a point of emphasis to improve Bulger's protection and the running game by selecting Baylor tackle Jason Smith with the second overall pick in April's NFL Draft. They also signed Baltimore center Jason Brown to solidify the middle. The added bulk up front, and the short, quick passes of the West Coast Offense will theoretically keep Bulger healthy and upright.
It won't be the fun-and-gun offense of the "Greatest Show On Turf" years, but what the Rams will be in 2009 is a work in progress. With a green receiving corps and two underachieving tight ends, Bulger doesn't have the weapons on the outside that Kurt Warner had a decade ago.
What he does have is a patient offensive coordinator willing to teach and a head coach determined to win.
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