(Graphic by: Ryan Leopando – Arch City Sports)
Sack City. The name given to the 2014 St. Louis Rams defense before the start of the season. It seemed comical after the team recorded just 1 sack through the first half dozen games. Statistically the worst sack total though 6 team games since the sack became an official stat. Sack City showed up today. In a big way. This is what I expected coming into the season. Sort of.
I am not a big fan of giving things nicknames, cough…BFIB. But, I digress. Before we look at this game specifically, I want to go back to the culmination of my expectations of this year’s Rams. It all started when the Rams landed Jeff Fisher as their head coach…
When Fisher was hired as the St. Louis Rams Head Coach, I had guarded optimism. Actually, it was more like restrained jubilation. I understand that Jeff Fisher’s overall Win/Loss record as a head coach isn’t unbelievable. He does not have a Super Bowl victory to his credit, thanks to the GSOT in Super Bowl XXXIV. Do some digging, as I did, and understand the unique circumstances that he was dealt when he took over the Houston Oilers and then transitioned to Nashville and became the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. Do the research, it’s really unbelievable.
The Rams had just gone through two of literally the worst consecutive head coaches in the league’s history. I don’t name names. Naming names gets people black listed. 15-65 over the previous 5 seaons, the Rams were in the midst of literally the worst play on the field in the history of the league. I was certain that Fisher was the guy to turn around the Rams, but I thought it would take 3-4 years to build a complete team. Fisher then over achieves in his first season and the Rams go 7-8-1. The timetable was accelerated by me, and by the Rams’ fans due to this factor. The 2nd year showed promise early, but the Rams couldn’t get out of their own way. Sam Bradford, battered by Rams fans and opposing defensive lines throughout his first 3 seasons, was off to a great statistical start before tearing his ACL in Week 7 in a loss at Carolina. Kellen Clemens steps in and the Rams finish a very respectable 7-9. Bradford was on the come, and tore his ACL…again, and was lost for the season…again. Season over. Right?
At the time, I had a morning radio show “STL AM” on AM 590 The Man in St. Louis. Before the Bradford injury I pegged the Rams to go 12-4, and win the NFC West. After the injury, I softened it to 10-6, but I used the defensive line, the addition of new DC Greg Williams and draft pick Aaron Donald from Pitt as a way to justify my still lofty expectations and predictions. I was laughed at by callers and ribbed by fellow station personnel and friends. I expected the Rams to be dominant on the defensive side of the ball. So dominant it wouldn’t really matter who the QB was, and that the defense alone would win 6-7 games by taking over the game and imposing their will on the opposition.
Today was just such a game. The defense dominated from the opening kick, sacking San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick a season-high 8 times. The pressure built consistently on Kaepernick throughout the game, culminating in the fumble at the goal line with literally seconds left on the clock on an attempted QB sneak. Kaepernick was so worried about Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers getting a push up the middle that he backed out of the snap early and never had control of the ball from the beginning of the play. The ball was recovered by MLB James Laurinaitis in the end zone for a game ending touchback. The play was reviewed, and the call on the field stood.
The Rams had finally won a game literally with their dominant defense. I expected this defense to be on the field Week 1 in 2014, but that was compromised from the start by losing Left DE Chris Long to an ankle injury in the opening game, an injury that still sidelines him. Playing with 2 rookie CBs, a rookie Nickel Back and one rookie Safety, the Rams punished the 49ers throughout the game and imposed their will. It is well documented that the Rams are the youngest team in the NFL. The above look at the secondary goes a long way to illustrate this fact.
It is not uncommon for a defense in a new system with a new defensive coordinator, many rookies and a load of expectations to take a while to get going. I am not making excuses, just making an observation.
I do not expect the Rams to play that way on defense every week, but damn close. Effort, flying to the ball, forcing TOs, and playing pissed off can be brought to any field in any weather against any opponent. I picked the Rams to be 10-6 even without Sam Bradford. Games like today prove that I’m not a complete idiot, I just got the prediction wrong.
Just remember, if Jared Cook can catch an 8-yard pass against Dallas and Jonoris Jenkins doesn’t perform the worst defensive play in the history of the NFL in late in the 2nd quarter agianst SF at The Terror Dome, the Rams would be right on schedule at 5-3. I know, it’s the NFL. I get it. The margin of error is minute for every team, especially when you have no proven QB, a decimated roster by injury and inexperience everywhere. When you can remember the plays by memory that cost the Rams games, it shows that they are not as far off as you think.
I would also like to point out that the Rams were without their preseason Starting QB, Left Tackle, Left Defensive End, Left Corner Back, #2 Receiver and facing an opponent that hadn’t lose a Division home game since 2008. That is not a typo. 2008. Think about that. Coaching in this league matters. It was on full display today.
Those calling for Jeff Fisher’s head just don’t get it. It’s a process. Sack City returned today, and the Rams emerged victorious. The rest of the season could be a lot of fun.
Thanks for the time!