No Excuse for Non-Competitive Football

First, the good news. It appears the Rams won’t reach the historic levels of ineptitude offensively that the record-setting 1992 Seahawks did. Seattle amassed just 140 points that season, a low mark for the league since the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978. They also scored just 13 touchdowns, which is another ignominious record that they’ll likely keep.

The 2011 Rams already have 120 points, and it’s hard to imagine that they won’t score more than 21 in their final six games. They also have 11 offensive touchdowns, and have scored at least one in nine games, so it doesn’t seem as if they’ll sink to those depths, either.

That being said (and here’s the bad news), the two lowest scoring teams in NFL history, those very Seahawks and the 1991 Colts, went 2-14 and 1-15, respectively. The Rams’ level of offensive ineptness, even with their injury problems, is stunning. They’ve failed to score with or without Steven Jackson, with or without Brandon Lloyd, with or without Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold, and with or without Danario Alexander. Unfortunately, the only guy we can say they’ve scored without is Sam Bradford. In the Rams “breakout” game against New Orleans, Bradford was shelved with a bad ankle, and A.J. Feeley led the Rams to three offensive touchdowns. At this pace, the Rams would score 181 points on offense, and probably max out at three or four wins.

At this stage, I can give the Rams’ offense the benefit of the doubt. In their 24-7 loss to Seattle, the Rams didn’t have at least eight guys they had big plans for on opening day: Saffold, Smith, Alexander, Danny Amendola, Michael Hoomanawanui, Cadillac Williams and, for other reasons, Jason Brown and Mike Sims-Walker.

But that doesn’t excuse what happened before those guys were out. The offense shut down against Philadelphia when Jackson went down. It did nothing. They counted on Amendola, and couldn’t respond positively in subsequent weeks. Alexander provided a spark against the Giants, but they still only scored one touchdown.

Unfortunately, the Rams can’t fall back on injuries for several reasons. No. 1, they were bad offensively well before all the injuries struck. And secondly, similar things happen to other teams every year, and they respond. In the third year of a program, there should be enough talent when injuries like this occur to score more than one touchdown a game.

As we compare apples to apples (to other teams right now), the Rams come up short. Small picture, Kansas City lost their best offensive player, Jamaal Charles, and their best defensive player, Eric Berry, yet rallied from an 0-3 start to 4-3 before losing their last two. The Steelers have lost starting tackle Willie Colon and starting defensive end Aaron Smith, plus have gone extended periods without starting outside linebackers and pass rushers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, but continue to succeed. Despite losing the right side of their offensive line, the Seahawks still ran for 126 yards on the Rams’ defense. Other teams have injuries, but have been able to acquire enough depth to at least compete despite them.

Big picture, when you look at the teams that made changes when the Rams did, it’s really disappointing that the Billy Devaney/Steve Spagnuolo combination is 10-32. Tampa Bay’s Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris took over during the same offseason as the Rams’ pair, but are 17-25 with a 10-win season under their belts. Scott Pioli and Todd Haley have an 18-24 record in that time in Kansas City, with a playoff spot last year. Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz are 17-25 in Detroit, and are in position for a playoff spot this year.

The NFL is no longer a league of five-year plans. Generally, if it hasn’t happened after three years, it’s not going to happen. Other franchises are dealing with injuries and competing. Other franchises that were woeful in 2008 are seeing the fruits of their changes. When a general manager and coach reach a point that it would take 22 wins just to get back to .500, it’s hard to fathom that things are going to turn around. When a team is as unwatchable as the Rams were on Sunday in the third year of a program, it’s hard to believe the situation is going to get appreciably better.

Coming out of the dome on Sunday, I heard people saying this was the worst Rams game ever (I had heard that earlier, after the Baltimore game), and a guy said, “2-14, Randy. I’m ready for the draft.” That’s being said before Thanksgiving.

The Rams have built up some good will with their business partners and ticket holders with their communication on the business side of the operation. But there’s only so far that good will goes when the football is so bad. Unfortunately, it’s time for another change on the football side of the Rams operation. With 42 games to get better, Devaney and Spagnuolo haven’t. They have a worse record than Scott Linehan did. Injuries are an excuse to lose games, but not an excuse for failing to compete. We’ve seen enough non-competitive football in St. Louis. It’s time to change that.