Five hundred at the break is one hellava achievement for a second year coach, a rookie quarterback, no name defense, and a team that lacks playmakers and depth on the back end of the roster. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has instilled direction, discipline, and returned passion not only to the organization, but his football team. There were and still are individuals that were reluctant to change with the new ideas of Spagnuolo and Kevin Demoff, as they still have a long way to go the future really looks bright for all.
As the Rams welcome a much needed bye week, healing is the main focus for this young team. The most recent players with bumps and bruises: Steven Jackson, who played Sunday with a surgically repaired left pinkie finger. Safety James Butler is still hampered with a bum knee and needs rest. Tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui (bruised ribs, X-Rays negative) and Fendi Onobun has back issues. Defensive Tackle Fred Robbins is battling a toe injury, and Defensive Tackle Darrell Scott has been struggling with ankle issues since training camp. Defensive backs Darin Stewart and Justin King are suffering from recurring hamstring pulls or strains. Corner Ron Bartell has neck problems, Linebacker James Laurinaitis is dealing with a sprained knee.
The biggest injury concern comes with more head trauma in the form of a concussion to Jason Smith, sustained after contact with Chris Long in last Thursday’s practice. Jason missed several games and weeks of development his rookie season with a severe concussion and post-concussion syndrome sickness, fighting vertigo.
Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur and QB coach Dick Curl have done an exceptional job with rookie quarterback Sam Bradford better known as the “Big Easy.” Slowly force feeding Bradford the playbook so he doesn’t regurgitate and aspirate the X&O with poor and inconsistent play on the field. Shurmur’s play calling of balance, with SJ39 running the ball and Bradford throwing the ball around to numerous receivers, has been key to the current success, along with keeping Sam in a nice rhythm. This is a quarterback driven league. I learned from my mentor Bill Polian when building a franchise you start with a great quarterback that is why I pushed hard for drafting Sam Bradford. I feel the Rams have not only a great one, but the best quarterback to be drafted since Peyton Manning.
The Offense has been hampered with only adequate receiving production. It is a group that lacks deep speed, run after catch production and playmakers on the edge. They do play good as a group and within their talent level giving Coach Spags everything they have. They are just limited. The tight-ends have played a very important part throughout the first two quarters. Inline blocking has improved, with good foot work with UOH (use of hands) to strike and finish, while receiving skills have put a fingerprint on this offense, giving Sam Bradford a safety value on the inside.
The offensive line while young on the edges, had grown into a solid cohesive unit until Smith’s concussion last week. The two offensive tackles (Saffold and Smith) have held their own against some top talent in pressure situations. The interior linemen are the elder statesmen in guards Jacob Bell, Adam Goldberg, and center Jason Brown. Others contributing to much of the success up front are guard John Greco and tackle Renardo Foster.
The offense has played extremely well in the Red Zone, and on first and second downs. The Big Easy is developing well. He has also shown the ability to slide and escape pocket pressure, creating opportunities with his feet outside the pocket. Mobility by design and throwing on the run makes the line feel good, and Sam delivering on the move makes his receivers better.
Defensive Coordinator Ken Flajole, along with a touch of magic from the head coach, has this defense flying high with blitzes and stunts to create pressure. They have thrown the rhythm off the opposing quarterbacks. The addition of Fred Robbins has had several major impacts on the defense. He brings stability to the middle with his strength and power against the run and his quickness out of stance to attack the gaps to split double teams and put pressure on the pocket with sacks and TFL (tackle for loss) production. James Hall is having the best year of his career. In his second year in the Spagnuolo defense, he feels comfortable and no longer thinking, but reading and reacting and having fun.
The bell cow of the defense is James Laurintiais, who has stepped up his play after leading the team in tackles in his rookie season. James has picked up where he left off 2009 and is benefiting from the arrival of Robbins, a player that takes up space and allows James the ability to use his talents to play downhill.
The Secondary’s continuity suffers due to injuries. They really lack the feel for each other right now. Corner Bradley Fletcher and Safety Oshiomogho Atowge have displayed their ball skills with several interceptions among them.
Tom McMahon is in charge of the special teams and does a great job with return schemes, blocking and attacking in all coverage units. Danny Amendola has contributed as a receiver, but he really excels as a return man. Once this unit gets a true KOR (kickoff return) man, the return units will be very dangerous. Injuries have played havoc on the core of the special teams, but the replacements have held it together. Pro Bowler Donnie Jones is booming punts and Josh Brown striking the ball with his head down and good follow thru, after an early injury that slowed him coming out of training camp.
With majority owner Stan Kroneke observing every facet of the Rams organization, he must be extremely pleased with Coach Spagnuolo at the helm of a young ship picking up speed and headed in the right direction. As I said during training camp, and I feel good about saying it again, Spags is the right man for the job. He instills discipline and direction in the team, his coaches, and the organization.
The Rams face an uphill battle and a true challenge with the back eight of this 2010 schedule. Five of the eight remaining games are on the road. Three of the eight are against NFC West foes, and the Rams have not played well enough to win on the road. As the Rams play in the worst division in the NFL, seven wins (maybe eight) will win the NFC West crown. As the Rams sit four and four at the break, this young team with a second year head coach are playing very well. Barring injury because of poor depth, the Rams truly have a shot at the NFC West championship. This young team will need to grow-up quickly and learn how to win on the road.