I received a tweet from a guy wondering what I’ve seen from Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to make me think the Rams can win with him. I pointed out that, despite losing their top receiver in Brian Quick, their left tackle Jake Long and quarterback Sam Bradford, the Rams were seventeenth in the NFL in points scored.
I asked what, specifically, he wanted to see from an offensive coordinator, he replied that he DIDN’T want to see a pass in an obvious running situation. I wasn’t sure if he was referring to the 3rd and goal from the one yard line against Dallas (a touchdown pass to Lance Kendricks) or a 1st and 10 play against Denver from the Rams 37 (a 63 yard TD to Kenny Britt), but I pointed out this little factoid: over the last three seasons, the highest scoring teams in the NFL have been Denver (1,472 points), New England (1,402), Green Bay (1,273) and Indianapolis (1,155)
Each of those teams has had an offensive coordinator leave for a head coaching job in that time. Mike McCoy left Denver for San Diego, Bill O’Brien left New England for Penn State and then the Texans, Joe Philbin left the Packers for Miami, and Bruce Arians left Indianapolis for Arizona.
Are those teams THAT good at identifying offensive coordinators, or is there something else at work here?
I would suggest that it’s something else.
That something would be franchise quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck. Not surprisingly, those four are among the touchdown pass leaders in the NFL over that period…with Manning throwing 128, Rodgers 91 (despite missing seven games in 2013), Brady 89 and Luck 82.
So I must ask the question; does the coordinator make the offense, or does the quarterback? When Rodgers was out for seven games in Green Bay last year, they averaged 21.7 points per game. When he played, they averaged 29.4. Same offensive coordinator. Same play caller. Same supporting cast. Different results. Manning’s injury in Indianapolis turned a team that scored between 377 and 522 points for eight straight years into a 243 point offense. Same offensive staff, but a different quarterback, and a much worse offense.
Not that there’s no reason to question Schottenheimer. We all love to question and criticize play calling. But the best coordinators, the guys who wind up getting head coaching jobs, are inevitably the guys who have the best quarterbacks to work with.
Another tweet I received after the 12-6 loss to Arizona said “I guess we can stop talking about how the Rams are ‘close.’ Tonight showed pretender vs contender.” I would suggest that wins over the Seahawks, Broncos and 49ers at San Francisco provide evidence that the Rams are close to being competitive for a playoff spot. A bad team, like the Rams teams of 2008, 2009 and 2011 would have had no chance against those teams. In fact, that team lost by an average of 13.4 points per game. This Rams team has been outscored by a TOTAL of six points all season. As good fans know, a team can be close to being good but not be in the playoffs. That doesn’t make them bad. The Rams right now define mediocre. They’re likely to win seven games for a third straight year.
However, if you would have told me before that monstrous nine game stretch of Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco (twice), Seattle, Kansas City, Arizona, Denver and San Diego that they’d go 3-6 without their three highest paid players, I would have taken it. Especially after an 0-3 start to that stretch.
At the end of the day, I don’t judge teams on one game. I’m going to take a longer view. And in MY view, the Rams are a much better team than the one that allowed either 34 or 31 points six times in their first nine games. In fact, since the last time the Rams allowed 31 or 34 (34 against Arizona in game nine), they’ve allowed 46 points in five games. So I see progress. The Rams ARE close. They need a quarterback and they need to add muscle and toughness on the offensive line. And like every other team, they need to add young depth throughout the roster, especially at linebacker and cornerback. But to say the Rams aren’t close because of the loss to Arizona is ridiculous.
I love the reactionary passion after wins or losses, but in football it’s important to get away from emotion and look at reality.