In firing offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, the Rams have just scratched the surface of their issues.
On Monday the team fired Cignetti after generating just three points in an embarrassing 27-3 defeat at the hands of division rival Arizona over the weekend.
It was the fifth straight week in which the Rams scored 18 or fewer points, and it was the second consecutive game that the team scored fewer than 10 points.
In firing Cignetti, the Rams also promoted tight ends coach Rob Boras to offensive coordinator. Boras was in the mix to be the team’s play-caller this offseason when Brian Schottenheimer left to become offensive coordinator at the University of Georgia.
Boras last coordinated an offense for the 2003 UNLV Rebels and has been a tight ends coach in the NFL ever since.
Maybe Boras will jumpstart the offense in the final four games. Maybe he won’t fail to get the ball into the hands of Tavon Austin (one of only two playmakers the Rams have on offense, with Todd Gurley being the other) like Cignetti failed to do against Arizona and Baltimore. Maybe Boras won’t be as vanilla with his schemes as Cignetti was over the past five weeks.
Or maybe Boras will find play-calling for this team just as challenging as Cignetti did because the Rams simply don’t have the personnel to match up with defenses on a consistent basis.
Not finding more ways to get Austin involved last Sunday was inexcusable.
For Austin to only be targeted three times in the passing game and to be limited to two carries is unexplainable, especially juxtaposed with the fact that Jared Cook saw nine targets in the passing game. If you only have two reliable weapons at your disposal, discarding one doesn’t make sense when you’re trying to win games.
But the reality is Cignetti was also limited as a play-caller because of his personnel.
Outside of two games this year, the quarterback play has stunk, the offensive line has been unproductive because of injuries and inexperience, and there are no reliable targets in the passing game outside of Austin, a player for whom offensive coordinators need to manufacture targets.
Imagine trying to build a house with only a hammer, a few nails, and a saw. Could you do it? Maybe. But why even start? You don’t have a realistic shot. You need more help.
Jeff Fisher and Les Snead needed to give Cignetti more help. They rolled the dice believing that young draft picks Greg Robinson, Jamon Brown and Rob Havenstein would grow on the job and mesh with Rodger Saffold and Tim Barnes.
But the reality is that, just like quarterbacks, many college offensive linemen are taking longer to develop because of the systems run at the lower level. Plenty of offensive tackles aren’t taught proper technique in pass protection and it’s taking them years to learn the NFL game.
Robinson is a perfect example of this. The system he learned under Gus Malzahn at Auburn turned him into a road-grader at the college level, but he’s completely lost when it comes to pass protection. That’s not a good thing, given the investment the Rams made in him in the 2014 NFL Draft.
So what you have is a left tackle that needs years to develop, a veteran guard in Saffold that can’t stay healthy, a starting center in Barnes that’s struggled for more than a month in run-blocking, another injured guard in Brown, and a rookie right tackle in Havenstein who also just returned from his own injury.
No experience. No depth. No running game. No play-action.
Nick Foles didn’t help Cignetti either.
Not only did the 2014 version of Foles make his way to St. Louis, but it was an even worse version at that. From consistently throwing off his back foot, to holding onto the ball too long, to not having a good feel inside the pocket, Foles is a fundamental mess.
Foles could have greatly benefited from a consistent rushing attack (which was supposed to be the plan all along), but the offensive line took care of that and he doesn’t have any weapons in the passing game.
Austin is a home run threat with the ball in his hands, but offensive coordinators have to manufacture his touches (i.e. actually design ways to get him the ball as opposed to him beating defenses with his size, speed and route-running ability).
Ultimately, results are the only factor that matters.
Cignetti was in charge of an offense that ranks 31st in total yards per game (296.3), dead last in passing yards (178.0) and 31st in points scored (15.8). Fisher admitted on Sunday after the game that he was about out of answers when it came to his offense, so why not replace the guy that was calling plays?
But Cignetti didn’t stand much of a chance.
The failures of the Rams’ offense can be traced back to previous drafts and the decisions by Fisher and Snead this past offseason to not be more aggressive when it came to acquiring veteran depth along the offensive line.
Firing Cignetti might spark the offense for the time being, but unless the Rams fix the myriad of personnel issues they have, the long-term problems will remain.