Home FootballRams Foles and Keenum’s NFC Championship ventures show quite how deliberately bad the St. Louis Rams were

Foles and Keenum’s NFC Championship ventures show quite how deliberately bad the St. Louis Rams were

by Jeremy Bowen

The year is 2018. Nick Foles and Case Keenum are starting for each of their respective teams against one another in the NFC Championship. Yep, you read that right. This is not some Madden simulation, or some alternate universe; these are the two starting quarterbacks for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings and a trip to the Super Bowl is on the line. Crazy enough, one of them is going to go on to the Super Bowl and could potentially win it all, immortalizing themselves forever. Oh, and here’s a fun fact. Two seasons ago, these two were both quarterbacks on the 7-9 St. Louis Rams.

Now here’s something that has been proven. The fix was in long ago for the Rams to head back west. This was not some spur of the moment decision made by Stan Kroenke. This was years in the making and craftily executed by the Rams front office staff, coaches, and players. Recently, former Rams lineman Barrett Jones (2013-2014) went on the air with The Morning After on 590 The Fan and had this to say, when asked if he knew that there were plans for the team to move:

Tim McKernan on Twitter

Listen to former 3x Nat’l Champion of #RollTide and former St. Louis @RamsNFL center @BarrettAJones on @TMASTL when asked if he and his teammates knew the Rams were going to move to Los Angeles: https://t.co/OsrZZh3ZbN

So, the fix was in. Everyone within the Rams organization knew it and kept it under wraps for years. But let’s dive into this whole Nick Foles and Case Keenum ordeal. Foles, a third-round pick in 2012, was a solid quarterback. In his second year in the league, Foles stepped in for the injured Michael Vick and dazzled. He only started 10 games but had a 27:2 touchdown to interception ratio, good enough to earn Pro Bowl honors and win the NFC East Division for the Eagles.

The following year, Foles had thrown for over 2000 yards and threw 13 touchdowns, but broke his collarbone in the eighth game of the year, and Mark Sanchez was forced to take over from there. Foles excelled the first half of the season before the injury, even though the Eagles had released top receiver DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin was coming fresh off of an ACL tear.

Then in March of 2015, Foles was unexpectedly dealt to the Rams along with a second and fourth round pick in exchange for Sam Bradford and a fifth-round pick. Ram fans were rejoicing in the streets, me included. We all thought that the Rams had found their guy at quarterback and finally got rid of the quarterback made of glass in Sam Bradford. Bradford was coming off a 2014 season where he tore ACL in the preseason against the Cleveland Browns. The season before that in 2013, Bradford tore his ACL in the seventh game of the season against the Carolina Panthers. Yikes. But Bradford was gone, and Foles the former pro bowler was in. St. Louis was ectastic.

Unfortunately, this was a common sight for Rams fans. Photo by Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports.

Now how Keenum got there. Keenum was signed to the Rams practice squad back in October of the 2014 season. Keenum was later signed off the Rams practice squad by the Houston Texans where he started the final two games of the Texans season and won them both. One day after Foles was acquired by the Rams, it was announced the Rams acquired Keenum from the Texans in exchange for a seventh-round pick.

So, it is now 2015, the Rams are coming fresh off of a 6-10 season where the two quarterbacks who started games for the team were Shaun Hill and Austin Davis. The Rams had surprisingly drafted running back Todd Gurley 10th overall, and things were looking bright. Things started off great, as the Rams defeated the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks 34-31 in overtime to start the year. As the season went along, things were still looking good. The Rams at one point were 4-3, their first winning record at that point in a season in over a decade. They were even in a playoff spot at that time.

But long story short, if something is too good to be true, it probably is. After that 4-3 start, the Rams dropped five straight, including a 37-13 shellacking by the Chicago Bears at the Edward Jones Dome that I attended in person. It was ugly. This was the losing streak that Mr. Kevin Demoff himself was quite fond of, and I quote: “Thankfully, we went on a four-game losing streak in the middle of November, so we went from being in the playoff hunt and having a seed to woefully out of the playoff hunt, which allowed us a little more time to talk about this (relocation to Los Angeles) and put this together.”

The Rams finished with the notorious Jeff Fisher record, 7-9. Foles started 11 games and went 4-7 before being benched in favor of Keenum who went 3-2 to end the season, including another win over the Seahawks. It is truly sad to see how bad this team underachieved. For the last few years before this season, the Rams had a defense ranked in the top half of the league, despite having a consistently bad record, mainly due to the atrocious offense.

The Rams still had a solid defense, anchored by the defensive line that featured five first rounders including Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and Chris Long. They had a solid linebacking core with James Laurinaitis, Alec Ogletree, and Akeem Ayers. Mark Barron was even thrown into the linebacking core despite being known as a safety. Hard hitting Rodney McLeod and second year stud Mo Alexander took over safety duties. The Rams CB duo was one to be reckoned with as well, with future Pro Bowler Janoris Jenkins and the highly efficient Trumaine Johnson holding it down. That had all the makings for a top 10 defense that somehow finished 23rd in total defense in 2015.

The Rams defense was the only bright spot on the team leading up to their departure. Photo by Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

But to have two separate quarterbacks on your roster who would lead teams to the NFC Championship two seasons later? This has “fixed” written all over it. Now these guys are by no means elite quarterbacks, but they are sure a hell of a lot better than what we saw in 2015. Foles is a great quarterback when surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Look at him now. Granted, Carson Wentz was their guy before going down. But since Wentz down, Foles, who has been accompanied by a solid offensive line, strong running game, and elite wide receivers, has been great. Since Foles took over, he has gone 4-1 (one loss was week 17 when Eagles starters played one series), 76/119 for 727 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. Not bad.

Case Keenum has always had talent. He broke the FBS record for most career touchdown passes with 155 at the University of Houston. This season, he has been outstanding in Minnesota. He took over for the injured Sam Bradford (oy vey), and has led the Vikings to the NFC Championship. Keenum went 11-3 in the regular season, went 335/481 for 3547 yards, 22 touchdowns, and seven interceptions, good for a 69.5 QBR. His QBR was the SECOND BEST IN THE LEAGUE. The only QB in the league with a higher QBR was Wentz. But again, Keenum has been surrounded with an amazing defense, a solid o-line, decent running game, and weapons such as Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph.

So, it is clearly evident that both Foles and Keenum are solid quarterbacks, potentially capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl, given they have a strong supporting cast. Let’s look at that 2015 team. The Rams had a superb defense while these guys were at the helm in 2015. In fact, the defense (and/or special teams) almost had to be relied on weekly to create points because the offense was so bad. The Rams were the only offense in the NFL to average less than 300 yards of offense per game in 2015.

No offense is good without a competent offensive line. Look at the Rams offensive line. Two of the five OL starters were rookies. Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown, second and third-round picks back in April of 2015. Brown also suffered a broken leg midway through the season. Speaking of injuries, Rodger “glass shoulder” Saffold was injured five games in and missed the rest of the season, so the OL depth dropped even more. The line was anchored by center Tim Barnes, a fourth-year player that went undrafted out of Mizzou. The Rams had veteran offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds as a plug-in guy who could played guard and tackle. Reynolds was probably the best lineman the Rams had that season, but that is not saying much. Last but not least, the notorious Greg Robinson. The penalty king himself was drafted second overall in 2014, and panned out to be one of the biggest busts in St. Louis Rams history. He was still a starter as well and it was not pretty. This one is going to hurt but here is a list of players the Rams passed over at the time to draft Robinson:

Jeremy Bowen on Twitter

In 2014, the St. Louis Rams passed over Khalil Mack, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Ryan Shazier, Anthony Barr, Zach Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Derek Carr, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Jimmy Garoppolo, Carlos Hyde, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, & Brandin Cooks to draft Greg Robinson.

That is quite the list. Pro Football Focus rated the Rams offensive line 28th in the league that season, not pretty. Let’s move on to who Foles and Keenum had as weapons. They had just drafted Gurley at RB, who had five games in which he rushed for over 100 yards, and even broke the 1000 rushing yards mark. Most of the time though, teams would dominate the Rams bleak offensive line, meaning the running game got shut down. This forced the Rams to pass and it was never pretty.

At tight end, the Rams had Jared Cook, who was in his third year with the team and had still somehow not earned an endorsement deal with Butterfingers. They also had Lance Kendricks, who was drafted back in the second round of 2011. He was drafted over Randall Cobb, DeMarco Murray, and Torrey Smith.

The Rams had speedster Tavon Austin. At the time, I was ecstatic when the Rams traded up and took him eighth overall. I was a big fan of him at West Virginia University. Austin was and still is a dynamic kick returner, and presented a legit number two option at receiver as the primary slot receiver. Problem being though, Austin was incredibly underused when he was obviously the Rams best offensive weapon at the time in 2015. Funny how they learned how to use him once they landed in LA. But looking back on the pick, the Rams could have had DeAndre Hopkins, Le’Veon Bell, or Travis Kelce instead. Another draft miss.

Kenny Britt was in his second year with the Rams, as he came to play for Fisher after spending time with the Tennessee Titans. Britt was the Rams number one receiver. Now I want you to stop and read that again. KENNY BRITT WAS THE RAMS NUMBER ONE RECEIVER ON THE DEPTH CHART. Throw in Brian Quick who also could not catch a pass to save his life. The Rams even signed concussion riddled Wes Welker midway through the season to try and help the offense. Welker was barely used though, as he was only targeted 22 times over eight games. The wide receiving core was doomed to fail from the beginning.

Welker didn’t play much with the Rams, but he became the 20th player in NFL history to record 900 catches, as he recorded his 900th catch in a win over the Lions. Photo by Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports.

The fact of the matter is this. For the years leading to their departure, the Rams roster and coaching staff was purposefully built from the ground up to fail. Put out a bad team, fans will be fed up, and they won’t show up and you can move the team. If Nick Foles and Case Keenum can lead their teams to an NFC Championship game, it’s proven that it can be done with a solid roster and decent quarterback. The Rams had so many draft misses from 2009 until they skipped town. You can practically take all of their 1st-3rd round picks from 2009-2015 and found nearly three future Pro Bowlers per pick that they passed on. I know you’re not going to nail every pick in the draft every year, but to be that bad, every single time? You can’t sit here and tell me it was not done on purpose.

The Rams were almost never active in free agency either. The extent of their offensive free agent signings was literally Jared Cook and Kenny Britt. If there were any elite free agents on the market, the Rams were not in the conversation, ever. Any good/decent receivers the Rams had since 2010 they let walk. Danny Amendola, Brandon Lloyd, Brandon Gibson. All pretty good, all walked and had success elsewhere. It is quite funny how the Rams staff magically learned how to run a football team once they moved to LA. Trading for an elite receiver, signing an all-pro offensive lineman, hiring an actual good coach? Wow, weird how you couldn’t do any of that in St. Louis.

I know I have thrown a lot of info at you over the entirety of this article, and if you have made it this far, kudos to you. First and foremost, congratulations to both Nick Foles and Case Keenum on reaching the NFC Championship. One of these men will be playing in the Super Bowl and carry practically the little rooting interest I have left in the NFL. But don’t let that deter from the point. Between the hiring of Jeff Fisher, who was literally told he was being brought in because of his experience of being head coach during a relocation (Oilers/Titans) and hiring’s of other complacent coaches, years of horrific drafting, little to no free agency activity, the plan to move was in all along. Bringing in Foles and Keenum in 2015 was nothing more than putting a tiny Band-Aid on a large gashing wound. These guys are good quarterbacks who can get the job done with the right roster.

This is once again a harsh reminder that the Rams leaving was a process that started several years ago, God truly knows when. I hope you’re happy, Stan. You screwed over a town that whole heartedly supported your purposefully bad football teams for over a decade. Only to move to a city where really no one cares about your team, even when they’re good. But I mean come on, you couldn’t even fill a stadium in LA for a primetime night playoff game. But as long as the money is flowing into your pockets, I guess you could care less right? That’s sickening. You are exactly what’s wrong with ownership in the NFL. Sorry to get off on that tangent. But anyway, good luck to both Foles and Keenum this Sunday. No doubt whichever one of them wins, ill be rooting for them in the Super Bowl. Good luck, gentlemen.

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