When last we saw the 2010 St. Louis Rams we watched a team meltdown in a quasi-playoff game in Seattle. The Rams lost 16-6 and the bitter taste that was left in everyone’s mouth was going to be rectified in 2011. Then last Sunday we saw a city ready to watch a team that was supposedly ready to take on one of the elite teams in the NFL only to see them be physically beaten by the Philadelphia Eagles. Fast forward to Monday night, with the Rams making their first regular season appearance on the national stage playing on Monday Night Football. What do we see? We see a punt returner drop a football leading to a touchdown. We see a running back drop a football on a backward pass, stop running, and then watch the Giants run back a touchdown. We see a team commit 8 penalties for another 85 yards. What does that all add up to? It adds up to a 28-16 loss for the St. Louis Rams to the New York Giants, but more importantly it all adds up to a team that is mentally weak.
Saying that a team is mentally weak is a pretty outlandish statement because any time you question a player’s heart you are treading into personal attacks, which is never productive and completely unfair. The problem is that the evidence is stacking up against any argument to the contrary. Committing penalties are mental mistakes. Dropping a punt is a mental mistake. Not being able to score from the one yard line on First and Goal is a mental mistake. Not knowing or covering a backward pass is a mental mistake. It is not like this is the first time we have seen this type of stuff from the Rams. We have now seen this in multiple “important” games over the past two seasons.
When teams continue to have problems scoring in the red zone it is a sign that a team is seizing up under the pressure. Defenses dial up the pressure and you have to have all 11 players execute to score touchdowns. The Rams scored once in four attempts in the red zone on Monday night and only because Danario Alexander made a tremendous play. When you go back and look at the tape you see one player missing an assignment here and another one there. It is never just one guy. It is one guy different times. That is mental, not physical. The Rams are not the most talented team in the league, but there is enough talent there to make plays and win football games.
The Rams desperately tried to address the red zone situation this offseason. They went out and signed Mike Sims-Walker. They went out and got two rookie wide receivers that scored in the red zone a lot in college. They went out and got a tall rookie tight end that can put the ball in the end zone. All of that has gotten the Rams nowhere in 2011.
Then there was the infamous Cadillac Williams play. I am pretty sure that Williams played running back in little league, high school and at Auburn. As well he played the position in the NFL at Tampa Bay. How in the world can you drop that pass and merely let the football sit on the ground? Everyone knows that the backward pass is a live football and I am certain that it has happened to him before. What happened there? Another example of a horrible mental mistake.
The scary part is now what do you do if you’re the Rams coaching staff? I know that Steve Spagnuolo is a stickler for detail and this has got to be driving him nuts. The only thing that the Rams can do to fix the mental problems is to continue to look for players who are mentally tougher than the ones they have on the roster and beat the mental side of the game into the current players on the roster. It is not a quick answer or an easy answer, but it is the only thing the Rams coaching staff can do now.
Here are some other things to note from the Rams loss to the Giants
Josh McDaniels’ Play Calling: I thought the offensive coordinator showed some innovation tonight and really had the offense clicking. The no-huddle offense to start the game was a great maneuver and I know he will be crushed this week for the red zone offense, and he should, but this week was much closer to where the Rams should be offensively.
Sam Bradford: The second year quarterback is getting better, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. There were too many passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and there was some decision making in the red zone that was questionable. The stats are a little misleading tonight. Sure there was the 331 yards of passing, but as hard as it is to say he needed to be even better tonight to carry this team to a win.
Danario Alexander: I didn’t understand the reasoning for not having Danario Alexander play last week against the Eagles and after his performance tonight you have to really question what the Rams coaching staff is looking at. I know this much. The only wide receiver that has that “special” quality on the Rams roster is Danario Alexander. He is a difference maker. I don’t care how bad he looks in practice or how much you worry about his health. You have to play him and you have to target him multiple times in a game. On game day he is something special.
Greg Salas: Just an awful night for the rookie. The dropped punt was inexcusable. Then you throw in multiple drops in the game and the Rams rookie wide receiver was directly responsible for changing the game in the wrong direction. I knew the Rams were going to miss Danny Amendola, but I had no idea that the drop off from Amendola was going to be as dramatic as it was tonight.
Mike Sims-Walker: 6 Receptions for 92 yards. Thanks for finally showing up.
Austin Pettis: Great that the third round draft-pick can’t even dress out for the second week in a row. Hopefully we are not headed toward another Mardy Gilyard situation here.
Offensive Line Better: This was not a great night for the Rams offensive line, but for all of the blitzing that was going on, the offensive line responded much better than they did last week against the Eagles. That being said that was nowhere near good enough. 3.1 yards per carry on the run and 2 sacks against is still not good enough.
Robert Quinn: I have been nervous about the first round draft pick this season, but when he finally got an opportunity he started to make a difference. Quinn was used on third down pass situations and he had good rush up the field and had his first career sack. This was a good first step for Quinn. His play tonight was further proof that he needed to be on the field last week.
Justin King: The Rams are going to be in for a long season unless Justin King gets better than he was on Monday night. King is simply overmatched and the Rams really have no other options. Al Harris looked lost out there and the only other options are rookies which may be the only option left for the Rams by midseason. King is not the answer.
Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Rams. They have a short week and much like this week they will be facing a good football team who is coming off of a bad loss. The Baltimore Ravens come to the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday and they are going to be looking for blood themselves. The Rams need to get it back together and quickly or the season could start sliding away.
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