St. Louis Rams: 5 Things That Will Save Their Season from Going Up in Flames
St. Louis fans are frantic at the moment trying to figure out what went wrong with their beloved Rams.
But honestly, it's not rocket science. The answers are quite clear.
Steven Jackson, an elite running back in this league and their best overall player, has been sidelined since Week 1 after only two carries.
Their most reliable wide receiver, Danny Amendola, who happens to be Sam Bradford's favorite bailout option, dislocated his elbow during the Rams' 2011 opener against Philadelphia. This explains why the team is converting only 25.5 percent of their third downs.
If those two injuries weren't crippling enough, they also lost Ron Bartell for the season from a neck injury. He was by far the team's best cornerback heading into 2011.
But with both Jackson and Amendola possibly returning for the team's Week 4 matchup against the Washington Redskins, both the excuses and the patience are running thin.
The Rams have to get their act together soon if they want to avoid a catastrophic outcome. That means Sunday is practically a must-win situation.
Here's what they have to do to get back on track not only for the Washington game, but for the remainder of 2011...
1) Fix the Leak in the Seconday
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The secondary is one of the most obvious faults with the team currently.
You won't hear Ron Bartell's injury being discussed on ESPN or the NFL Network, but truthfully his injury has had just as much negative impact as any other current injury in the NFL besides Peyton Manning.
He does not have multiple Pro Bowls on his resume, but he is a veteran presence with superb coverage and tackling skills. He truthfully lies between the top 10 to 15 cornerbacks in the NFL, but don't tell ESPN—they'll never admit that since he's not playing on a coast.
Bartell was injured with a fractured neck during Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Ever since then, in his place, the Rams have relied on their 2008 fourth-round pick Justin King. The results have been disastrous to say the least.
Last week against the Baltimore Ravens, King allowed rookie receiver Torrey Smith to score three touchdowns in the first quarter alone. The Rams lost in a 37-7 blowout.
The Rams have to resolve the situation before every remaining team on their schedule destroys their secondary, simply by attacking the weak spot (King).
The Rams just recently made their first effort toward clogging the leak by signing veteran corner Rod Hood.
Here are the details regarding the Hood signing. Basically he's the best veteran available and should produce better results than any corner currently on the roster.
For the sake of their 2011 season, the Rams better hope that Hood is a somewhat-dependable response to their cornerback situation.
2) Quickly Synchronize with Amendola and Clayton
The Rams need offensive production and they need it fast.
They have converted only 25.5 percent of their third-down conversions and their offense has given up just as many defensive touchdowns as they have scored all season (three).
It's not overly shocking due to them losing their two most productive offensive weapons to injury (Danny Amendola, Steven Jackson).
However, they'll possibly be getting both of their top two weapons back from injury as soon as this Sunday against the Washington Redskins.
Along with the return of Jackson and Amendola, the Rams will be reacquainted with another familiar face—wide receiver Mark Clayton.
Clayton was the Rams' top receiver the first four weeks in 2010. Clayton had 22 catches for 300 yards and two touchdowns in his first four games with the Rams last season before going down with a season-ending knee injury during the team's fifth game against Detroit.
After a year of rehabbing the knee, Clayton has returned to the Rams and has been placed on the team's PUP list (physically unable to perform), which automatically makes him inactive for the first six weeks, but allows him to return to the team for Week 7.
This means that Sam Bradford will be reunited with two of his favorite offensive targets within the next couple of weeks.
On the bright side, this could result is a major boost for the team's offensive production.
However, Bradford hasn't thrown a pass to Amendola in three weeks and he hasn't thrown to Clayton in a year, which could result in sloppy routes and poorly timed passes.
The Rams need to avoid setbacks. They don't have time for an adjustment period. Bradford needs to be in sync with both Amendola and Clayton as soon as they return. If he can accomplish that, then the payoff could be huge.
3) Remember Who's Boss
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It was exciting to watch Sam Bradford play last season since he was a No. 1 overall draft pick, so much so that people forgot who the team belongs to—Steven Jackson.
It was like a child getting a new Game Boy for Christmas and temporarily forgetting about the Xbox hooked up to the flat screen (not that Bradford doesn't have the potential to be every bit the difference-maker Jackson is).
This team does not have the receiving arsenal required to excel through the air, although the return of Amendola and Clayton could help make that a reality.
What the team does have, however, is an elite running back in Jackson.
Call him old, say that he lost a step, but he is elite whether you like it or not.
When Jackson is in the game, defenses have no choice but to respect the run. Cadillac Williams played decent at times filling in for Jackson while he's been out with his quad injury, but Williams does not strike fear in opponents.
When the defense is respecting the run, they are not respecting the pass. And Bradford has the physical tools to make them pay for that, no matter how mediocre his receivers are.
Jackson is a difference-maker in this league. If you need proof, then look no further than the past three games when he has been out of the lineup. Give Bradford responsibilities, but put the outcome of the game on Jackson's shoulders.
4) Threaten Steve Loney's Job and Make the Offenisve Line Earn Their Money
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The Rams have been struggling with a below-average offensive line for several years now.
Players have come and gone. The Rams have drafted linemen, cut linemen, signed free agents and switched up their positions.
They spent a No. 2 overall draft pick on Jason Smith, a second-round pick on Rodger Saffold and they've invested in three mid- to high-priced free agents (Jacob Bell, Jason Brown, Harvey Dahl).
The effort toward finding offensive line talent is undeniable. The front office has spent a lot of resources in building a solid front five.
But after the first three games of 2011, the Rams offensive line is still playing at a below-average level.
With all the resources and all of the change, there is one constant that still remains—offensive line coach Steve Loney.
Loney was hired during the Scott Linehan regime of 2006 to 2009. He is the only coach from that era still remaining, for some reason unknown to the St. Louis fanbase.
At the very least, given the continued futility, the front office should at least put some pressure on Loney. Threaten his job and demand results. He has no excuse. The front office has gone to hell and back finding him talent to work with and still he has yet to produce a respectable product on the field.
But it can't be 100 percent on Loney. The players need to have personal accountability. The coaching staff should have a private meeting with the starting five linemen and remind them what each of them are earning each game. Warn them that there will be changes sooner rather than later if they do not perform at an admirable level.
And finally, the surrounding players need to get involved. Sam Bradford needs to get in Jason Smith's face every time he gets bull-rushed to the ground. Steven Jackson needs to chew out Jacob Bell every time he runs into a brick wall.
5) Smack Someone in the Mouth, Taste Some Blood
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The team is flat and lifeless on the field, and the emotion is just not visible.
Someone needs to light the fire under the rear end of this team and get them fired up to play on game day. Enough with the foolish penalties during critical situations. If they are going to get penalties, fine, but at least get something out of them.
To quote the great Al Pacino from the movie "Any Given Sunday":
"If you're going to make mistakes make them big. I'm not going to eat your lunch for that."
If you feel the need to get a penalty, don't do it when the team is on a promising drive trying to get its first score of the game.
Do it during a low-risk situation when the opposing team has the momentum. Chop-block someone, head-slap someone, draw some blood. Be nasty.
If the you're going to lose, fine. If the other team is going to end up winning, fine. But at least make the other team leave the game beat up. At least establish a scrappy reputation.
Don't let the other team leave the game hoping that they can play you again every single week for the remainder of the season.
Establish that identity, show that swagger, then future opposition will enter the games with less confidence.