There's No Defense for the Rams Offense: Why St. Louis Has Fallen on Hard Times

Kenny SteinCorrespondent IOctober 27, 2009

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 20:  Mark Bulger #10 of the St. Louis Rams tries to avoid Phillip Daniels #92 and Cornelius Griffin #96 of the Washington Redskins during their game on September 20, 2009 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

When the New England Patriots beat the Tennessee Titans 59-0 in week six, it was a sight to behold. You knew you were watching a highly talented offense firing in perfect harmony on all cylinders.

They were working so well together that they had put up 45 points by halftime and the full 59 by the end of the third quarter. 

There were a lot of amazing topics of discussion to come away with after a game like this, such as Tom Brady's five second quarter touchdown passes or Randy Moss and Wes Welker catching two TDs apiece. 

But as I sit here this afternoon, there's just one fact that has been boggling my mind:  The New England Patriots managed to put up 59 points in three quarters, whereas the St. Louis Rams didn't surpass 59 points in the season until the third quarter of their seventh game of the year. 

A decade after winning the Super Bowl with one of the greatest offenses of all time, I must stop to wonder: What the heck happened?

Ten years ago the Rams shocked the world. They went 13-3 and averaged over 32 points per game on their way to a Super Bowl win over the Titans. Their defense was fourth in the league in points allowed at just over 15 per game. 

But the next season they were the league's worst defense and lost six of their last 10 games before a first round loss in the playoffs to the New Orleans Saints. Just as the Rams had become used to scoring at will, so did their opponents. 

Despite the fact that the Rams would make the Super Bowl the following year, this really was already the beginning of the end. 

The bread and butter of the Rams was really quite simple: Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Orlando Pace—five Hall of Famers on the same offense. Mix in a little Az-Zahir Hakim and some Ricky Proehl, and you've got a team that won 56 regular season games between 1999 and 2003, with two Super Bowl appearances and one championship. 

So why then is this team headed for its sixth straight non-winning season? 

When the Rams got the reputation of a horrible defensive team, that's where they started focusing all their attention. It's a strategy that makes sense when your offense is No. 1 in the league for three straight seasons (1999-2001).

However, as the years went on, the Rams got older, and coaches got fired (Mike Martz specifically), the offense got awful.

In the draft, the Rams completely switched their gameplan from previous seasons. 

Flashback to 1996 when St. Louis had five picks in the first three rounds. All five of those picks were on offense. Specifically, all five were skill position players (Lawrence Phillips, Eddie Kennison, Tony Banks, Ernie Conwell, and Jerald Moore).

Back in 1994 they drafted Bruce. In 1997 they took Pace. And in 1999, the year they won it all, they drafted Holt and traded for Faulk. 

The Rams plan was clear: Get very talented on offense. That's exactly what they did, and they made history. 

However, despite the fact that the plan worked very well, they didn't stick to it.

In the 10 NFL drafts since their Super Bowl win, the Rams have drafted 29 players at skill positions. Most of them were taken on day two, and most of their names have never been uttered in a game telecast. Out of those 29 players, just two were drafted in the first round (Trung Canidate and Steven Jackson) and just two more in the second round (Brian Leonard and Donnie Avery).

In 2001, the Rams found themselves with five picks on day one of the draft again, and like 1996, every pick was dedicated to one side of the ball—only this time, that side of the ball was defense. 

With three first round picks, the Rams selected Damione Lewis, Adam Archuleta, and Ryan Pickett. They passed on such players as Marcus Stroud, Nate Clements, and Steve Hutchinson.

It's okay to focus on an area of need, but it also helps when you're good at finding talented players for that need. 

In 2002, a year after going 14-2 and just barely losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Kurt Warner played below expectations and got injured. By 2004, he was let go as the team decided to go with the younger and cheaper Marc Bulger. Five years later and it's Warner who is still going to the Bowls (Super and Pro), while Bulger looks like the aging vet who needs to hang it up. 

Perhaps Warner's departure from St. Louis set off a curse that may never be broken. That curse rings out in first round busts like linebacker Robert Thomas, Jimmy Kennedy, Tye Hill, and Adam Carriker—all defensive players who have yet to show they belong on this level of play. 

They could have also focused some of that attention on offense. Like after Bulger went 2-10 as a starter in 2007, they could have drafted Matt Ryan over Chris Long. When Isaac Bruce started to truly show signs of aging in 2005, they could have drafted Santonio Holmes over Hill in 2006. 

This isn't pure shoulda, coulda, woulda. This isn't rosterbation. This is a matter of "you have a need, you need to fix it."

This is an organization ignoring a problem that's been developing over several seasons. The only smart move they've made in the last 10 years was drafting Steven Jackson. 

It's not a move they've even tried to replicate.

They've spent so much time trying not to ignore the bleeding on defense that they've completely ignored the slow but steady crumbling of any talented players on offense. Despite all that effort they've put into improving the defense, they haven't finished in the top 20 in that category since 2004.

So how can the Rams improve on their 5-34 record since the start of the 2007 season? 

The first step would be to not forget what got you to the Super Bowl: acquiring highly talented players at the skill position. Many people say that Kurt Warner lucked out by being the quarterback of that team, just like he's lucky to have Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. But luck had nothing to do with it.

Those players were there because management made smart moves. They're no longer making smart moves.

It's not that they're just trying and failing either. In the last nine first rounds the Rams have drafted just one skill player (Jackson) and not attempted to get a fresh set of hands in the wide receiver corps or a fresh arm at quarterback. Because of that they've finished 28th and 30th in points the last two seasons and currently sit dead last this year. 

Drafting Jason Smith second overall this year is a start. If he can turn into the type of player that Pace was, they've got a foundation. Now they just need to find the next Warner, Bruce, and Holt. 

Or at least...try to.


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