Your team is 0-4. Not only are they 0-4, but they have looked absolutely awful in those four losses. You were expected to compete for a playoff spot and now it looks like you will be competing for the first overall draft pick in the NFL Draft. Your fans are ticked off. Your owner is eerily quiet. The seat you are on has gone from tepid to boiling hot in just a month. Your team is off this week, which is the only bright side to your first month, but then you have to face the defending Super Bowl champions, on the road, who look better than last year. That is St. Louis Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo’s life right now. The team is in shambles and if he doesn’t get something going here in the next month or two then his stay in St. Louis could be severely limited.
Everyone wants to hammer Spagnuolo right now, but there are not many inside Rams Park that appear to have answers on how to fix things. While I don’t claim to have all the answers I do have 5 suggestions for Spagnuolo that I believe would help things turn around quickly.
#1 The beatings will commence until morale improves: Steve Spagnuolo has been very good this season at not throwing anyone under the bus in the media. It has gotten to the point that everyone outside of Rams Park is scratching their head wondering what is going on in Spagnuolo’s head. Is he really that clueless or is he just being quiet about it and handling it behind closed doors? Either way it is not working based on the team performance and attitude.
So if I was Steve Spagnuolo I would immediately change the way I handle the bye week and practices heading into the Green Bay Packers game. Within the new NFL collective bargaining agreement there are parameters set up on how many off days the team has and how many times a season they can practice in full pads. If I were the head coach I would put the pads on every possible day that I could during this two week stretch and go full out.
The reason is two-fold. First this team is a horrible tackling team and not very physical up front offensively. The only way to bring those two things up is by going full speed and beating it into them. Being nice and soft is not working, so it is time to raise that intensity. Full tilt in practice will make some of that better. Possible injuries be damned. Your season can’t get any worse than it is right now.
The second reason is that you need to find about your team’s mental toughness. If this season is really going to go down the tubes then the players who are going to quit on you later are going to be the ones complaining about going full speed in practice. Find those guys out now and you will save yourself a lot of headaches later in the season.
#2 Put Jobs on the Line This Week: It is time to put some people on notice. If that means that you put Mike Sims-Walker on the bench, because he isn’t producing then so be it. If that means that Brady Poppinga and Ben Leber are benched this week for a Josh Hull or Jabara Williams so be it. Maybe it is Jason Smith who needs to benched for a less talented Adam Goldberg. Even if it is some higher profile player, it is time for a shakeup in the Rams locker room. You don’t need to go complete youth movement, but it is time to see if someone else can do better. The play of some of the 22 starters is simply not good enough for the NFL.
#3 Draft Picks Thrown Into the Fire: Billy Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo are running short on time after a 0-4 start. Ultimately both of these men will be judged on their recent Draft Picks and how they are used. They gambled on certain guys in the 2011 Draft and now they will have to live or die by those guys. Their first round pick Robert Quinn has to play more. Two months in the league should be enough to have learned enough to play more than just an occasional down. Lance Kendricks has played plenty, but he has to play even more and they have to keep throwing to him. If he can’t figure out how to catch the ball in the NFL then it is on Spagnuolo and his coaching staff to get him there. Austin Pettis and Greg Salas both need to be on the field too regardless of the short term consequences. They either can play or they can’t and playing the in and out game with those two without truly finding out if they are keepers is a bad situation. You made the decision to get these guys and now your jobs are riding on them. They better produce and fast.
#4 Have a heart to heart with Josh McDaniels: The Rams new offensive coordinator is either too stubborn to admit that he doesn’t have the players to run his system or too stupid to realize it. I suspect it is the stubbornness. Coaches at every level of football think that it is the system and not the players that make the difference. The great coaches cater the system to the players. Tom Brady, Wes Welker and the Patriots offensive line is not going to walk through the door at Rams Park. The Rams don’t have those parts to make the system work. So McDaniels has to figure out a way to get the offense running despite the obvious flaws.
Steve Spagnuolo needs to walk into McDaniels office and say that I know we don’t have the pieces to make this work and I know this is killing you, but you have to dumb the offense down and simply find a way to keep Sam Bradford upright and find a way to start scoring 20 points a game. Whether that means that the Rams have to roll Bradford out on every play or keep seven in to block for Bradford, it simply has to change. Seven sacks are no longer going to be acceptable any more. The Rams highest priority the rest of the way is to keep Bradford healthy and that is what you have to tell McDaniels to do, above everything else.
#5 Give the Keys to Bradford: When you look at the top teams in the NFL there is no question who the leaders are. Tom Brady runs the Patriots. Peyton Manning runs the Colts. Drew Brees runs the Saints. Aaron Rodgers runs the Packers. It is time for Steve Spagnuolo to call in Sam Bradford and tell him this is your team and you are the leader from here on out.
God bless Steven Jackson, but this cannot be Jackson’s team any more. Jackson has done everything the Rams have ever asked, but frankly he has never had the full attention of that locker room. Quarterbacks, not running backs or any other position have to own that locker room. Bradford cannot be afraid to take over that entire locker room any more. Even though he may only have 20 games under his belt, he has to be the one that holds other accountable.
Spagnuolo should extend that to not just the offense either. Chris Long and James Laurinaitis are both good guys and capable leaders, but the quarterback is who everything has to revolve around in the NFL. I sense hesitancy by both the coaching staff and Bradford to do that, but it is time. The coaching staff may not want to throw everything on Bradford, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Bradford can certainly handle it as he showed at Oklahoma.
Bradford’s hesitancy comes from only being in the league for a little over one year. That should not be a factor any more. The league turns over too quickly to worry about that and frankly the veterans in this locker room have left a leadership vacuum. It is time for Bradford to grab the leadership reigns and make this his team.
You can get into some of the x’s and o’s, but there is only so much you can do. Everything is on the line for this team and they have the luxury of an extra week to get back to respectability. Singing around the campfire is not what this team needs. This team needs a swift kick in the rear in a lot of areas. The head coach may or may not be doing that, we’ll see in the next couple of weeks. I do know that these five things would make things better immediately. It is time to have a makeover of the 2011 St. Louis Rams.
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