As the Rams embark on the final five games of another lost season, they face some embarrassing records of futility if they can’t win another couple of games.
Having won three games in 2007, two in 2008, one in 2009 and seven in 2010, if the Rams remain at two wins in 2011, they’ll have a total of 15 wins in the last five years. By comparison, the 1999 Rams and the 2001 Rams each won 16 games, including playoffs. There’s a chance that their five-year run of seasons won’t match the win total of two of their predecessors single seasons, and that they won’t match, in five regular seasons, what the Patriots did in the single regular season that started the awful run, when New England went 16-0 in 2007.
What’s more, the Rams are chasing the lowest levels of futility of recent times. Without doubt, the Lions under Matt Millen became the example of hopelessness in the NFL. In the stretch from 2005-2009, Detroit amassed 17 wins; five in 2005, three in 2006, seven in 2007, zero in 2008 and two in 2009 (after Millen was fired during the winless season). That five-year stretch was the worst Detroit did. With games at San Francisco, at Seattle, against Cincinnati at home, at Pittsburgh and home against the 49ers, there’s a very real chance, even a probability, that the Rams will have a worse run than Detroit or the Cincinnati Bengals ever did.
Heading into the San Francisco game, Steve Spagnuolo is 10-33 as a head coach, good for a .232 winning percentage. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, there has been only one coach who has been in charge for 40 or more games with a worse winning percentage. That was Rod Marinelli, who went 10-38 in his three full seasons in Detroit and compiled a .208 percentage. Oh, there have been worse over a shorter period, like Marty Mornhinweg’s .156 (5-27) with the Lions or Cam Cameron’s .063 (1-15) with the Dolphins. But nobody in recent times, save Marinelli, is getting a chance to survive that Spagnuolo is.
As opposed to the tumultuous, dysfunctional Rams of the last decade, there are clear leaders of the football operation in place right now, with Billy Devaney as general manager and Spagnuolo as coach. They have been given power to run the draft, to sign free agents, to remove older veterans from the roster when they came in. Even changing the culture in the building–changing trainers and equipment guys, barring team alumni from the facility–was the power given to this hierarchy at Rams Park. We know where the buck stops, and it’s at the desks of Devaney and Spagnuolo.
This administration walked into a terrible situation and has had terrible luck. Was there a horrendous roster to take over? Absolutely, and they did the right thing in completely gutting and taking one for the team in 2009. But the Dolphins turned over their roster, and went from 1-15 to 11-5. The Falcons went from 4-12 to 11-5 with significant roster turnover in one year.
Was there an untenable situation this past offseason, when Pat Shurmur left to become head coach of the Browns and the lockout prevented new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels from installing his new offense? Yes, Spagnuolo and his staff were put behind the eight ball. But was their situation any worse than Jim Harbaugh’s in San Francisco or Jay Gruden and Andy Dalton’s in Cincinnati? Has there been bad luck in the injury department? Absolutely. Not many teams, if any, can lose their top wide receiver (Danny Amendola), top running back (Steven Jackson), quarterback (Sam Bradford) and left tackle (Rodger Saffold), and still be a prolific offense.
But the bottom line is the bottom line. The Rams have scored more than one offensive touchdown in one game, and that was when Bradford was hurt and A.J. Feeley was the quarterback against New Orleans. With 140 points, the Rams have scored the second fewest in the league. The one place the Rams have been healthy is in the defensive front seven. Yet, they’re last in the NFL against the run, and have allowed team-record rushing totals to DeMarco Murray of Dallas and Beanie Wells of Arizona. This is with the defensive players they chose, in the same system they ran last year. And they’ve allowed 270 points, 10 most in the NFL. Three teams in the league have a point differential of -100 or worse: the Colts are minus-177, the Rams are minus-130, and the Chiefs are minus-112.
On the roster front, according to Mike Sando of ESPN.com, the Rams have the third-oldest roster in the NFL, and have just 12 players that they drafted on their 53 man roster. This is a football administration that talked about drafting and developing players when they came in, but it hasn’t happened. Even if we add in the drafted players on injured reserve, and there are eight of them, the 20 players drafted in the Rams employ put them in the bottom 10 of NFL franchises.
This is opposed to division leaders Pittsburgh and San Francisco having 33 players they drafted on their rosters, and Green Bay having 32. When Dick Vermeil coached the Rams, young players were developed. In 1999, London Fletcher was ready, in his second year, to take over for Eric Hill. Billy Jenkins Jr. was ready to step in at strong safety, Robert Holcombe at fullback and Roland Williams at tight end. When Vermeil left, Ryan Tucker had been groomed to replace Fred Miller at right tackle, and James Hodgins was ready to step in at fullback.
With all due respect, why is James Butler on the Rams roster and Jermale Hines not being developed? Why is Ben Leber here but not dressing, and Jabara Williams in Chicago? Why was John Greco never given a chance, yet the Rams had to go out and sign Harvey Dahl, and renegotiate Jacob Bell’s contract? Why is Stephen Spach on the roster and Fendi Onobun not being readied to step in? What required the signing and cutting of Mike Sims-Walker, and why weren’t Mardy Gilyard and Donnie Avery nurtured more? Why C.J. Ah You and not George Selvie?
The best teams in the league nurture their own talent, and the Rams devour it. Let this marinate: a 2-9 team is the third oldest in the NFL, has the most players over 30, and doesn’t have young players ready to ascend.
In the last two years, the Rams have drafted 18 players, and 11 are still with the organization. The Green Bay Packers, who have been in the playoffs both seasons before and won the Super Bowl last year, have drafted 17 players, and 16 are still on their roster, with the other being traded for another draft pick. We aren’t expecting that from the Rams, but we are expecting some youth to succeed.
Somewhere, there’s a disconnect with the Rams. Either many of the players the Rams draft aren’t talented enough to crack the roster of a losing team, or the coaching staff is unwilling or unable to develop those draft choices. That, or the Rams were fooled into believing that they were a lot better than they really were, which is entirely possible.
The bottom line is that the Rams have a horrific recent past, and have been victimized both by outside forces and by mistakes of their own doing. Fans don’t care about outside forces. All fans know is they’re watching a team averaging three wins a year for five years. As the saying goes, don’t tell me about the labor, just show me the baby. Regardless of luck, you are what your record says you are. And the natives are growing restless for this horrific history to be reversed.