The Rams finished 7-9, which, under the circumstances of losing their quarterback and starting horribly at 1-3, is a qualified success. They lost their finale, 27-9, in Seattle and, of course, I have my 10 takeaways…
1. I hope that, until the Rams become dominant, that they become more disciplined. It’s great to be a tough guy, but the unnecessary roughness penalties are killers for a team that isn’t as good as the opposition. The Rams were flagged for an astounding 19 penalties against Seattle, 12 of which were enforced. Of the 19 flags, nine were for unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct, taunting or ejection. If you don’t expect to win, you can melt down like the Rams did. If you plan on actually winning big games, you can’t have emotional fits like the Rams did against Seattle and earlier Carolina.
2. That being said, it is nice to know that the Rams care. This is a franchise that has lost late-season games of losing seasons by scores of 28-6, 48-19 and 31-10 recently. At least this group gave a fight, literally and figuratively. The defense allowed just two touchdowns, and allowed 269 yards of total offense. The Rams’ offense couldn’t stay on the field (they converted just 2 of 11 third downs), and that put pressure on the defense. But strong effort was put forth, and Jeff Fisher deserves credit for that.
3. Bad officiating made its way into the finale. Robert Quinn was held by Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung on almost every play the two went against each other, but holding was called only once. That did negate a first-half touchdown, but Quinn easily could have had a monster day. Jeff Triplette’s crew, and mostly Triplette himself, failed to call numerous penalties and lost control of the game at one point. The NFL must do something about its officiating and more importantly, its rules. Because of the rules, the game too often is unwatchable.
4. The Rams did a great job with Kellen Clemens as quarterback, but you simply can’t expect him to throw the ball downfield against a defense like Seattle’s in an environment like CenturyLink Field. His pick-six on the Rams’ opening possession set the tone for the contest. Clemens is a wonderful quarterback to have with a lead at home, or with the running game humming on the road. In a scenario like Sunday, it’s hard to expect him to come up with a win. The Rams aren’t good enough to lose the turnover battle and win, and they lost the turnover battle to Seattle because of those two picks.
5. Zac Stacy had 15 carries and 15 yards. His last game was a disappointment, but his overall rookie year was incredible. In 12 starts, he amassed 973 yards on 250 carries. The Rams have their running back for the present and the future in Stacy. He was running behind a decimated offensive line on Sunday. If the Rams can put together a durable group up front, he should be a 1,300-yard-or-better back next season.
6. Punter Johnny Hekker is as good as there is in the NFL. The Pro Bowler pulled off an amazing feat on Sunday, averaging 48.1 yards on his seven punts, but having a higher net of 48.4 because of negative Seattle returns. The Rams have a huge advantage in winning the field-position battle because of Hekker. He’s a great piece of property to have for the future.
7. Jared Cook tied for the league lead among tight ends with seven dropped passes. However, his 51 catches gave him the St. Louis Rams team record for receptions by a tight end. Troy Drayton had 47 in the Rams’ first year here back in 1995. In fact, the last time a Rams tight end caught as many as 51 was in the NFC championship game season of 1989, when Pete Holohan caught 51 for the Los Angeles Rams.
8. One item the Rams have to decide this offseason is who Chris Givens is. Is he the player who caught 42 passes, including five straight games with a 50-yarder, as a rookie, or is he the guy who caught nine passes for 160 yards in the last seven games of this season? His major regression was alarming. Hopefully he can rebound, but the Rams better have a backup plan in case he can’t. It would be a shock if Brian Quick were to start next season, and the Rams appeared to downgrade Austin Pettis as the season progressed. So, you’re looking at this year’s rookies as the headliners heading into the offseason. It would be smart to address a definite upgrade to the receiving corps.
9. After going 4-1-1 in the NFC West in Fisher’s first season, the Rams went 1-5 in 2013, losing them all after taking the opener against Arizona. Fisher said during the week that the Rams are closing the gap in the division, and from a talent standpoint that would seem to be the case. But the combined scores of those five losses were 129-52, an average of 26-10. The reality is that the Rams not only lost in the NFC West, but they were blown out. They must close that scoring and winning gap in 2014 – not just the talent gap.
10. The trade with Washington two years ago will net the Rams the second pick in the draft. As opposed to the numerous needs the Rams had when Fisher took over, the need now is more for quality than quantity. They need help at cornerback and safety, and they’ll need to replace Jo-Lonn Dunbar at linebacker. The defensive line looks great. They will need depth on the offensive line, especially if Rodger Saffold is allowed to leave as a free agent. The Rams also need, as noted, an upgrade at receiver and a young, backup quarterback. They might use eight draft picks. They’ll have opportunities to trade down with both of their first-rounders (their own pick falls at No. 13) and accumulate more choices. There are tons of options for Fisher and Les Snead this year.
Bonus takeaway: Now that the Rams season is over, our focus turns to college basketball and Blues hockey. The Blues’ game against Chicago was one of the top, if not the top, midseason sporting event I’ve ever seen. Take out opening days and stretch runs, and it’s hard to imagine a more heart-pounding, thrilling event. It wasn’t the best-played game, but in terms of entertainment, competitiveness and atmosphere, it was right there. I would probably put it in the top two for me, with the Mel Gray catch game against the Redskins in Nov. 1975 right there. Others for me include Albert Pujols’ three-homer game at Wrigley in July of 2004, when the Cards came back from a 7-1 deficit to beat the Cubs; the Ryne Sandberg game at Wrigley in June of 1984; and the Rams’ overtime win against San Francisco last year. Any thoughts and ideas that you have are welcome, but the point is that the Blues-Blackhawks game, with the Blues rallying and competing so hard, both fan bases being out in force and the Blues winning in a shootout, was great theatre.