Crushed Optimists

We are twin brothers who grew up in Central Washington. This blog is devoted to the life of Seattle sports fans, as well as various other topics that we will espouse for your enjoyment. We could be called another OFFICIAL SEATTLE SEAHAWKS site, but we'll take our uneducated crack at the Mariners, Sonics, and Huskies as well. A Seattle Sports Blog? Must be the land... of crushed optimism!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

NFC West Overview: St Louis Rams

In the limited history of the NFC West as currently constituted, the St Louis Rams have always been around the top of the heap, always either first or second in the division. The year before the restructure, of course, was their 14-2 first place finish and Super Bowl run. Basically, the Rams have had a pretty long window of success.

Last year, however, signified the end of that window. You heard it here first last summer in our season preview. We correctly pointed out that when you are an 8-8 team, it is generally a poor move to stand pat and believe you are going to make large improvements. Petey Prisco thought otherwise, but that's because he's a moron.

So one would think the Rams would have noticed the end of this era and try to start rebuilding appropriately with young talent. And then you would be wrong. The Rams apparently would like to go the route of the Mariners, clutching at wins with aging veterans past their prime. Note to Rams fans: it sucks.

Also, I'll be using Football Outsiders stats here today (explained here), because they're better than what Colin (lazy) used yesterday.

Also, you better believe we're doing all these previews again in August. Would you rather read about Carl Everett?

2005 record: 6-10

Quarterback:
Marc Bulger - DPAR 37.5, DVOA 15%
(Backup Gus Frerotte)


Marc Bulger is starting to die a slow death. Mike Martz set him up as a human pinata for defensive ends everywhere. Now he can't stay healthy and it takes about a sneeze to dislocate his elbow. This means his stats last year were pretty darn pathetic. In comparison, Matt Hasselbeck had a DPAR of 88.4. Ouch. Bulger can still throw a nice deep ball, but is prone to inconsistent stretches, and in a pass-first offense like the Rams, inconsistency equals three-and-outs. Many three-and-outs equals the Rams defense having to, well, defend, and bad things happen for St Louis at that point. Basically, the Rams REALLY needed to draft a young QB, and to get a better backup than Gus Frerotte, because the drop off is huge.

Running Back:
Stephen Jackson - DPAR 5.4, DVOA -7.2%
(Backup Marshall Faulk, Tony Fisher)

These numbers are difficult for me to understand. For someone who is as talented as Jackson, the Rams got basically what they would have from Maurice Morris (or Bam Morris). In fact, Jackson had a NEGATIVE impact on the game. What does this mean? It starts with the fact that Jackson is not a good pass blocker, never a good sign in the Rams offense. His offensive line did not open holes well enough for him last year, and Jackson hasn't shown the top end speed to outrun secondary players. He's still a bruiser, and I think he can turn his career around, but the Rams really have to start committing to the run, something new coach Scott Linehan should be willing to do. Jackson has the talent to be a top 10 back, not top 30. Marshall Faulk is also still around for some idiot to take in his fantasy draft only to be sorely disappointed.

Wide Receiver:
Torry Holt - DPAR 22.o, DVOA 5.0%
Isaac Bruce - DPAR 2.3, DVOA -7.4%
Kevin Curtis - DPAR 7.5, DVOA -3.7%
Shaun McDonald DPAR 7.1, DVOA -.6%

The numbers aren't looking much better for the Rams as they look to climb off the mat. Torry Holt, of course, is amazing, but Isaac Bruce was a complete waste of space who is only getting older. Kevin Curtis started off hot and was generally good for one long play a game if nothing else, and Shaun McDonald is a passable #4 receiver. Bruce, by the way, had a DPAR of 26.0 in 2004, so those injuries played a large part in his ineffectiveness. I think Rams fans can see a bit of an uptick in Holt's numbers, but need to add a better playmaking #2 receiver for their spread formations. They still don't have a true downfield threat in the Randy Moss mode that gave Linehan this genius label. There's not a lot of depth and help on the way either. Converted QB/WR Marques Hagans is a big question mark, and TE draft picks Dominique Byrd and Joe Klopfenstein will take time to groom. Byrd has the most talent but can't block (vice versa for Klopfenstein). If the injury bug hits again the Rams don't have much in the larder to plug in.

Offensive Line:
Alex Barron, RT, Adam Timmerman, RG, Andy McCollum, C, Claude Terrell, LG, Orlando Pace, LT

The offensive line is where the Rams won their championships and is where their downfall has been created. St Louis gave up sacks 7.6% of their pass plays (number adjusted for opponent, down, and distance) in 2005, basically meaning whoever is dropping back to pass becomes a punching bag. This number isn't even indicative of the number of big hits a St Louis quarterback took in Martz's offense as the receivers ran their deep routes. Alex Barron showed some promise but also was very inconsistent. Adam Timmerman is OLD, same with Andy McCollum. Imagine Chris Gray has the RG and C. Yeah. Bad. Claude Terrell is an unproven rookie at LG, and of course Orlando Pace is good at the other tackle, although not nearly as good as he used to be. Who knows if they really can run block (stats say no) because the Rams have never asked them to get into any semblance of a rhythm. As with everything with the Rams, there's far too much consistency here for a bad team.

Defensive Line:
Anthony Hargrove, DE, La'Roi Glover, DT, Jimmy Kennedy, DT, Leonard Little, DE

And now we reach my real beef with St Louis' philosophy... how they've decided to "rebuild" their defense. On the defensive line they've decided to basically stand pat with the rushers, which is good news for Seattle. Then they decided to keep underacheiving Jimmy Kennedy and add La'Roi Glover, who is basically a proven veteran on the downside of his career. Get used to that, because you're going to see a lot more names similar to it. Claude Wroten is the rookie x-factor to this mix. If he doesn't snap or get suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy (and it will happen at some point, anyone who is dumb enough to get caught at the combine will get caught in the NFL) he could make a decent impact. However, Shaun Alexander and most other running backs will continue to find holes in this bunch to get through to the second level.

Linebackers:
Brandon Chillar, Wil Witherspoon, Pino Tinoisamoa

I don't really think the Rams actually know what their depth chart looks like, the NFL.com one is a joke. Witherspoon is the one impact (and I use the term loosely) player the Rams actually signed this offseason in that he is servicable, doesn't take plays off, and is an instant upgrade over the crap he's replacing. However, he's not near a Pro Bowl caliber player and when he's the suppsoed catalyst of your improvement you have issues. Chillar is a second year player with some promise (not that much though). Depth again is a serious issue. Any injuries here and the Rams are going to continue to be awful in the middle of the field.

Secondary:
DeJuan Groce, CB, Tye Hill, CB, Corey Chavous, S, Fakhir Brown, S?

Corey Chavous (really overrated) is the supposed replacement for Adam Archuleta. Yeah, like that's an upgrade. Tye Hill is a good young corner, but he'll have a sharp learning curve when he's hung out on an island as often as he will be. Groce will be looking to bounce back from an injury and is pretty talented when healthy. Who knows who the other safety will be. Brown is listed on the NFL.com depth chart, but on the roster he's listed as a corner. So they don't even know. The fact is that the Rams were terrible against the pass last year. If Groce is healthy they have a start. They even have a serviceable third corner in Travis Fisher. Still, an awful lot of veterans on a team trying to improve.

Basically, the Rams are a team that has finished 8-8 and 6-10 the past two seasons and has done precious little to upgrade key positions, especially on defense. Any hopes for a large rebound have to rest on Marc Bulger and the offense getting healthy and doing a rapid turnaround to outscore opponents 35-30. Until then the Rams are the antithesis of the Cardinals, getting older and slider backwards.

Tomorrow: Those pesky Cardinals!

posted by Gavin @ 2:16 PM  0 comments

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