St. Louis Rams Must Get More Production from Veteran Leaders
The typical Rams fan can handle a loss—they've experienced 73 in the last six years. What they can't handle is a total lack of competitive play, which was certainly an issue against the 49ers.
One of the more troubling symptoms present in St. Louis' current three-game losing streak is the total lack of veteran production on both sides of the ball.
Successful NFL teams require a healthy dose of veteran leadership, and the poor play from St. Louis' veterans has been alarming.
The quarterback is the most important position in the NFL, second to none, and Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has not done his part this season.
Bradford is on pace for 28 touchdowns and over 4,000 yards this season, which would give him career-best numbers, but his statistics have been inflated with junk-time production after the game is already well out of hand—he has just one first-half touchdown this season.
Bradford has been sacked 10.5 times in the last two weeks, so his poor play can be partially blamed on a lack of protection, but several of those sacks were avoidable—including Glenn Dorsey's one-handed sack in the first half against San Francisco.
Bradford clearly suffered from a lack of protection and dropped balls by the receivers last week against Dallas, as I pointed out, and here's a video reminder:
Unfortunately, it's hard to give Bradford the benefit of the doubt two weeks in a row.
Bradford missed an easy touchdown throw to receiver Austin Pettis in the first half—a throw any mediocre college passer could easily make—and it forced his team to settle for a field goal.
Bradford cannot carry the team on his own, that's a given. However, as a four-year veteran, there eventually has to be some accountability for the former No. 1 overall pick.
If Bradford cannot become the leader of this offense and produce a better performance in the final 12 games, the Rams will bring in competition a year from now.
You have to give Chris Long credit for recording his first sack of the 2013 season, even if it was only half a sack in the fourth quarter with his team down 21-3.
Long has been one of the few bright spots on the team since being drafted No. 2 overall in 2008, but he has been invisible on the field this season with just seven total tackles.
Long talked a lot of trash against the 49ers on Twitter during the offseason, but the 28-year-old veteran failed to back it up on the field.
i see where some niners fans talked pretty bad 2 @CortFinnegan today. just remember yall havent beaten us in 500 days or so— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) June 13, 2013
Long signed a $58.5 million contract prior to the 2012 season, according to NFL.com, and while he produced 11.5 sacks last season, he hasn't come close to earning his game checks this time around.
Long is a vital part of a St. Louis defense that was supposed to be stout against the run.
The defensive line is his unit. He's the sole leader. It was his group that surrendered 219 rushing yards to San Francisco.
To his credit, Long appeared to be fired up entering the game. His intensity was through the roof. But that intensity died down as the game progressed.
If this disaster of a season continues to go downhill for the Rams, the front office will evaluate the leaders on the field. If Long does not up his production, the Rams may look for a replacement.
The way things are going, it's possible the Rams will have a shot at South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney in the draft, which will be a hard name to pass up if the defensive line continues to get trampled.
The Rams signed Cortland Finnegan to a five-year, $50 million contract prior to the 2012 season, according to Spotrac, but it appears the team grossly overpaid for the veteran corner.
Finnegan came on strong in 2012 with an interception in each of his first three games, but the 29-year-old veteran has obviously lost a step.
Finnegan has surrendered a touchdown in all four games this season. The latest blunder came against Anquan Boldin, who secured a 20-yard touchdown reception to give the 49ers the lead in the second quarter.
Finnegan was pulled from the game shortly after due to an apparent "thigh injury."
It's possible that Finnegan's thigh is legitimately in pain, but it's difficult to believe that his poor play wasn't a factor in the decision to bench him.
Cortland Finnegan has thigh injury. Return questionable. Trumaine Johnson becomes second corner.— Jim Thomas (@jthom1) September 27, 2013
The Rams lost veteran safety Quintin Mikell in free agency last spring, so Finnegan was expected to step up and provide a veteran presence in the secondary, but he has been a total liability.
Unless Finnegan has a complete turnaround in the final 12 games, it's hard to visualize a scenario where he's a member of the Rams beyond 2013.
The Rams are the youngest team in the NFL, according to ESPN, so they desperately need the few veterans on the roster to have a major impact, but it hasn't worked out that way.
Rather than the key veterans leading the way and keeping the Rams in games, they've been holding back the team and dragging it down.
If the veterans have not been able to overcome diversity and dominate opponents, how can anyone expect the youngsters to do so?
The Rams have an incredible group of young talent at their disposal, but with no leadership and no example to follow, there's no shot at success.
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