Monday, December 12, 2011

Will Spagnuolo Be the Next Coach Fired Before the Season is Over?

The coaching trees of both Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells took a major blow on Monday after Todd Haley of the Kansas City Chiefs and Tony Sparano of the Miami Dolphins were fired from their head coaching jobs. 

Haley's firing was the first to be made public. 

Haley led his Chiefs to a 10-6 record and a AFC West division title in 2010, but injuries to key players such as Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles have slowed the team to a crawl in 2011, which has resulted in a modest 5-8 record. 

The Chiefs' 37-10 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday was likely the final straw. 

Just hours after Haley's firing was announced, the firing of Sparano was made public as well. 

Sparano took over the Dolphins in 2008 and led them to an 11-5 record after the team went 1-15 in 2007. It was one of the best one-year turnarounds in NFL history. 

After a 7-9 record in both 2009 and 2010, along with a 0-7 start to the 2011 season, the Dolphins relieved Sparano of his duties following a 26-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

The two firings came just 13 days after the Jacksonville Jaguars let go of Jack Del Rio, who has been the Jaguars' head coach since 2003 and left with a 69-73 regular season record. 

Is Spagnuolo Next?

Since the Rams have a Monday Night Football matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, Steve Spagnuolo is obviously safe for now and will not be the third head coach to be fired on Monday. 

However, if the Rams leave Seattle with an embarrassing prime-time loss on their hands, then the sudden trend of firing head coaches could continue—this time in St. Louis. 

The Rams already have one embarrassing loss against Seattle this year. They lost in front of their home crowd at the Edward Jones Dome in a humiliating game that ended with a final score of 24-7. 

Furthermore, the Rams have not won in Seattle since 2004, so escaping the state of Washington with a victory is a tall order. 

With the recent firings of Del Rio, Haley and Sparano, Rams owner Stan Kroenke may follow the lead and let Spagnuolo go sooner rather than later if he wants to be in the mix for a top coaching candidate such as Jeff Fisher or Bill Cowher. 

The Spagnuolo era is clearly in shambles, so it might not make sense for Kroenke to merely delay the inevitable. 
Spagnuolo is 10-34 (.294) as the Rams head coach, which actually gives him a worse winning percentage than his predecessor Scott Linehan, who was 11-25 (.306) and widely regarded as a catastrophic disaster of a head coach. 

It made sense for the Rams to keep Spagnuolo on for the remainder of the season since a coaching change with a 2-10 record and only four games remaining would not change the outcome of the season, but now that there's suddenly clear competition in the market for a new head coach, the Rams cannot afford to wait.

The last thing fans in St. Louis want to see is for their team to miss out on a experienced head coaching candidate, which would force them to once again settle for a promoted coordinator with no head coaching experience whatsoever. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

St. Louis Rams: Early 2012 Mock Draft

The St. Louis Rams (2-9) have no shot at making the playoffs, and with their most recent loss against the Arizona Cardinals, they blew their shot at maybe the last clearly winnable game on their schedule. 

The rest of their 2011 season will play out as follows:

at San Francisco 49ers (9-2)

at Seattle Seahawks (4-7)

vs Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)

at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3)

vs San Francisco 49ers (9-2)

The game at Seattle seems like a winnable match-up given the Seahawks' 4-7 record, but the Rams already lost convincingly to the Seahawks in a 24-7 loss two weeks ago at the Edward Jones Dome. Also, the Rams haven't won a game in Seattle since their 2004 comeback victory that went into overtime. 

With only five games left this season, and with a 2-14 record a realistic possibility, Rams fans are struggling to find any positives from a disastrous season that was suppose to provide them with their first division title since 2003. 

Frankly, the 2012 NFL Draft could not come any sooner if you're a St. Louis fan. 

The team is struggling to stop the run on defense, while the offense cannot protect the quarterback and possesses very little firepower. 

The team needs some young reinforcements, so here is how the 2012 draft could play out for the Rams...

Round 1 (3): Justin Blackmon (Wide Receiver, Oklahoma State)

School: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 215 pounds
Position: Wide Receiver

Justin Blackmon is the best college receiver in the country by a mile. There are some out there willing to give that honor to Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina) because Jefferey is three inches taller, but that's simply absurd. 

Rams fans know perfectly well that height doesn't make a receiver special given the failed Drew Bennett experiment. On the other hand, there have been plenty of elite receivers who lacked towering height: Jerry Rice, Torry Holt, Steve Smith, Marvin Harrison. 

Meanwhile, in the last two seasons for Oklahoma State, Blackmon has scored 35 touchdowns and has 3023 yards. 
Blackmon catches everything thrown to him and will fight for the ball, which is perfect for a Rams team that has struggled with dropped passes. 

He lacks elite straight line speed, but he has great quickness and solid route running. He's also capable of gaining yards after the catch. 

There's a decent chance that the Rams could lose the No. 2 overall pick to the Minnesota Vikings, who will almost certainly draft offensive tackle Matt Kalil (USC). That would make Blackmon a no-brainer for the Rams with the No. 3 pick. 

Round 2 (35): Levy Adcock (Offensive Tackle, Oklahoma State)

School: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 322 pounds
Position: Offensive Tackle

It's becoming painfully clear that Jason Smith, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 draft, has proven to be a bust. 

If Smith doesn't quit the game due to his struggles with concussions, then the Rams will certainly attempt to restructure his $62 million contract and perhaps try him out at left guard. If he refuses, then the Rams will flat out cut him and take the dead money, which won't hurt nearly as much as the $10 million due to him next season. 

Whether Smith is at left guard or off the roster in 2012, the Rams will need to find a replacement for him. And by pure coincidence, they'll take another Oklahoma State Cowboy in the second-round: Levy Adcock. 

Adcock is a pure right tackle with an absolutely massive 322 pound frame. With Rodger Saffold on the blindside and Adcock on the right, the Rams could be set at tackle for the next 10 years. 

Adcock has plenty of experience with pass blocking given the Cowboys' trigger happy aerial attack, but it will take some time for him to adjust and become an efficient NFL run blocker. 

However, even though right tackles are traditionally better run blockers, the number one priority is to keep Sam Bradford upright, which Adcock will be able to help with from day one. 

Round 3 (67): Ben Jones (Center, Georgia)

School: Georgia Bulldogs
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 316 pounds
Position: Center

Jason Brown has been the Rams' center ever since signing his $37.5 million contract in 2009, but he was benched after a poor performance during the team's Week 9 match-up against the Arizona Cardinals.

Brown was forced back into the starting lineup at right guard last Sunday during the team's rematch against the Cardinals, but he committed three penalties, including a 10-yard holding penalty that knocked the Rams out of field goal range, which was the difference in the team's 23-20 loss. 

With $11.2 million due to Brown over the next two seasons, the Rams will likely cut ties with him and eat the dead money. 
Tony Wragge will likely enter training camp in 2012 as the team's starting center, but if they draft Ben Jones with their third-round pick, then he has a shot at winning the job by Week 1. 

Jones has started 47 games during his four seasons with the Bulldogs, so he has plenty of experience with snapping the ball. 

He is a team captain for Georgia and should continue to show solid work ethic and determination at the NFL level. 

With Levy Adcock as the team's second-round choice, the addition of Jones would go a long way towards fixing the Rams' atrocious offensive line. 

Round 4 (99): Marcus Forston (Defensive Tackle, Miami)

School: Miami Hurricanes
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 300 pounds
Position: Defensive Tackle

Miami defensive tackle Marcus Forston injured his knee in early October, which ended his season prematurely. With the injury, combined with his NCAA suspension for taking improper benefits, the Rams have a realistic shot of drafting Forston with a fourth-round pick. 

Fred Robbins will turn 35 after this season, so there's a good chance the Rams will lose him to retirement. The Rams' other starting defensive tackle, Justin Bannan, will turn 33 in April. 

Forston will provide the Rams with some much needed youth in the middle. 

The Rams also rank dead last in run defense (159.0 yards per game), so acquiring a talent like Forston this late in the draft would be a bargain too appealing to pass up. 

Round 6 (162): Chris Galippo (Linebacker, USC)

School: University of Southern California Trojans
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 250 pounds
Position: Inside Linebacker

For far too long, the Rams have had thin depth all around. If middle linebacker James Laurinaitis were to go down with a major injury, then the Rams would struggle to recoup from a loss like that. 

As a result, the team would be wise to draft Chris Galippo out of USC in the sixth-round (the Rams will lose their fifth-round pick to the Denver Broncos as a result of the Brandon Lloyd trade).  

Galippo would provide the Rams with an insurance policy behind their star linebacker. In the meantime, Galippo will appear on defense in certain goal-line and short-yardage packages, while also being a contributor on special teams.

Galippo has good instinct on the field and enough strength to burst through the line and make a tackle for a loss. He's also able to play outside linebacker in a pinch if necessary. 

Round 7 (194): Steven Johnson (Linebacker, Kansas)

School: Kansas Jayhawks
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 237 pounds
Position: Outside Linebacker

Steven Johnson is a good linebacker on a very bad Kansas Jayhawks football team that finished in last place in the Big 12 with a 2-10 overall record. 

The Jayhawks defense gave up an average of 43.75 points per game in 2011, which will possibly make some NFL teams shy away from Kansas defenders. However, Johnson is talented enough to earn some attention from scouts.

The Rams have been struggling to find a solid starter to play alongside star middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. They signed Ben Leber and Brady Poppinga in free agency as an attempt to fill the void, but both players are 32 years old and have been too slow to stop the run. 

Johnson will likely take some time to develop and will only see special teams play as a rookie, but he has the speed and talent that the Rams are looking for at outside linebacker and could be handed a starting job somewhere down the line.  

Round 7 (201): Joe Halahuni (Tight End, Oregon State)

School: Oregon State Beavers
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 255 pounds
Position: Tight End

The Rams' 2010 fifth-round pick Mike Hoomanawanui has struggled with multiple injuries in his first two seasons and it looks as though he's incapable of maintaining health for any significant amount of time. 

Lance Kendricks, the Rams' second-round pick of 2011, is having a slow start to his career (19 receptions, 240 yards), which is a disappointment considering he's supposedly a dangerous threat in the passing game a potential boost to the offense. 

The only other tight end worth mentioning in Billy Bajema, who is a blocking specialist. 

Hoomanawanui may not be back at all next year, so it's clear the Rams still need help at tight end, which is why Joe Halahuni makes sense as a late round pick.

Halahuni racked up 1,147 yards and 12 touchdowns during his four year tenure with the Oregon State Beavers.

Though he's a raw prospect, his 255 pound frame and his respectable height (6'2") could make him a formidable option in the redzone, which is an area where the Rams have struggled greatly on offense this season.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

St. Louis Rams: 10 Trends That Will Surely Continue Next Week Against Arizona

Despite winning two out of the last four, making it the most successful four game stretch of the season, the St. Louis Rams (2-8) are still showing some disturbing trends. 

Obviously, any team with a .200 winning percentage is not going to be a fundamentally sound group, which is certainly the case for the Rams. Consistency, or a lack thereof, has been detrimental to their 2011 season.

Fans are witnessing the same mistakes week-in-and-week-out from a team that was widely thought to be talented enough for a run at the NFC West title. The way the talent is under performing can certainly be pinned on a coaching staff that hasn't been able to develop the players or get the most out the roster. 

And there is no end in sight. 

Other than poor football, here are some trends that will continue against the Arizona Cardinals. They are not all bad, but regardless, this it what we can expect out of the team this Sunday...

10. Robert Quinn Will Continue To Grow

Despite being inactive in the Rams' opening day game against Philadelphia and receiving very little playing time in the first few weeks of the season, defensive end Robert Quinn is still putting together a quietly magnificent rookie campaign. 

Quinn was the No. 14 overall pick in last April's draft and has been flashing some of the monster potential he possesses. 

He has three sacks and two blocked punts in the last four games. He has four total sacks on the year and he also had a blocked field goal against the Kansas City Chiefs during the preseason. 

Expect Quinn to continue his rampage against Arizona this Sunday, especially since the Cardinals have a poor offensive line. 

9. Sam Bradford Will Continue To Be Inefficient

Sam Bradford is due for a breakout game at some point this season, he's too talented to continue his downward spiral. 

Bradford was just starting to click with the offense against Green Bay (29-for-45, 328 yards), but his sprained ankle at the end of that game kept him sidelined for two games and he has been unable to continue his growth ever since. 

At some point this season the offensive line will gel for a game or two and Bradford will start to click once again with the receivers. 

However, it likely will not happen against Arizona. 

Despite the Cardinals being ranked 27th in pass defense, they have talent in the secondary, such as Adrian Wilson and Patrick Peterson. They will be able to keep Bradford in check, especially with some help from their pass rush, which will dominate the Rams weak line. 

The Rams will have to win the game on the ground with Steven Jackson, which brings us to the next point...

8. Steven Jackson Will Pound Away

After rushing for 417 yards in three weeks, Steven Jackson finally cooled off against the Seahawks last week with only 42 yards on 15 carries (2.8 yards per carry). 

Both of the Rams' starting tackles are out with injuries (Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith), so Jackson is running behind a patchwork line, which might lead you to believe that he'll be contained. 

However, the Cardinals are not stout against the run (ranked 24th in run defense), and Jackson is an elite player. He is too good to be completely held in check two weeks in a row, despite the inevitable poor run blocking that he'll receive.

7. The Receivers Will Be Unproductive

Brandon Lloyd has been very good ever since arriving in St. Louis, he has 26 catches and 322 yards in five games and has been one of only two consistent players on offense (the other being Steven Jackson). 

Lloyd has averaged 64.4 yards per game since arriving in St. Louis and had 80 yards against Arizona two weeks ago. So in the team's rematch against the Cardinals we can expect him to finish somewhere in the range of 65 to 80 yards and maybe a touchdown, which he has three of with the Rams this year. 

Lloyd is solid, but Bradford has no "bailout" option in the slot. Greg Salas and Danny Amendola, who were both solid options in the slot, are both out for the year with injuries. The only other slot option is Austin Pettis, who has been very mediocre so far in his rookie campaign (16 catches, 133 yards).

With Danario Alexander's return from a hamstring injury still questionable, the only other receiver capable of producing is Brandon Gibson, who has been a ghost the last two weeks with only four receptions and 37 yards. 

The injuries, combined the dropped balls that have been cursing the unit, so it's safe to say that the receivers will have yet another underwhelming performance. 

6. Chris Long Will Impress

The Arizona Cardinals' offensive line has surrendered 33 total sacks through 10 games, which is the third most in the NFL. 

Defensive end Chris Long has been an absolute beast for the Rams recently, with six total sacks in the last four games and nine total sacks on the season (already a career high). 

With the way Long has been playing, the Cardinals' line is in for a long day on Sunday. 

5. Penalties Will Hurt the Rams

Penalties have killed the Rams so far in 2011. They have 74 penalties on the year, which is the ninth most in the NFL. 

It's not that they can't survive going at the rate of 7.4 penalties a game, although that makes things tricky, but the timing of their penalties has been awful. 

Outside of their win against New Orleans, the Rams never fail to disappoint. Their ability to commit a procedure penalty on a promising drive, or hold in a unnecessary situation to wipe out a solid gain, is uncanny.

Then there is the occasional delay of game or unnecessary roughness, which always seems to hand the momentum right over the the opposing defense.  

There's no reason to expect a change in this trend on Sunday against Arizona. 

4. Quinn Porter Will Be Tackled Behind the 20-Yard-Line

The Rams are certainly missing Danny Amendola in the return game.

Amendola, who is out for the year with a dislocated elbow, was never a "take it to the house" type a returner, but he certainly was a fighter that found a way to give the offense some solid field position. 

Quinn Porter, a former practice squad running back for the Cleveland Browns who was claimed by the Rams early in the year, has taken over kick return duties and has not excelled, to say the least. 

Porter has attempted a return 19 times this season, and only 11 times has he brought it past the 20. But he never gets too far past the 20, as he's averaging 20.7 yards per return.

On the other eight attempts he has been tackled behind the 20, which has really been hurting him in recent weeks. 

The NFL moved the kickoff spot forward in 2011, so that's something to consider, but someone needs to tell Porter to play it safe an take a knee. He's not good enough to take it for a score, so don't even try. 

3. The Defense Will Give Up a Fourth-Quarter Touchdown

The defense has been a strong point for the Rams in recent weeks, keeping opponents relatively in check and giving the offense a reasonable opportunity to come up with a win, which they've only done twice. 

However, the defense has been letting opposing offenses slip by in the fourth quarter. 

Over the last five games the Rams' defense has allowed six fourth quarter touchdowns, which was particularly harmful against Arizona two weeks ago when Larry Fitzgerald's touchdown with just under four minutes left was the difference in the game. 

You can't really blame the Rams' defense. The stale offense commits so many three-and-outs that no one can reasonably expect the defense to stay rested and effective for four full quarters. 

2. The Offensive Line Will Be Dominated

The Rams have been forced to put together an amateur offensive line due to injuries at the position, but the line wasn't even good to begin with when healthy. 

Tackles Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold are both injured. Saffold is out for the season, and while Smith has a chance to return, his serious concussion makes missing the season a realistic possibility.

Saffold's replacement at left-tackle, Mark LeVoir, was injured last week against Seattle with a pec injury and could be sidelined for up to four weeks. Third-stringer Kevin Hughes is the current left-tackle, despite having a pathetic performance against Seattle. 

Jason Brown, the Rams' starting center since 2009 and a $37.5 million free agent, lost his starting job ever since his poor performance against the Cardinals two weeks ago. However, he could possibly be forced into action again if the injuries continue.  

Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and rookie outside-linebacker Sam Acho are capable of creating a dominate pass rush for the Cardinals and the three of them should excel in St. Louis this Sunday. 

1.  The Offense Will Be Atrocious

The Rams have scored only 120 total points through 10 games this season, which averages out to 12.0 points per game, making them the worst ranked offense in the NFL. 

The Rams have scored only 33 points in their last three games combined. If you take away their win against the Saints, a game where they score 31 points, the Rams next highest point total in a game this season is 16, which was against the Giants back in Week 2. 

The word "pathetic" does not rightfully describe the state of the Rams' offense. The point of the NFL is to provide entertainment and the Rams are certainly not entertaining to watch while they lose.

In other words, they are even bad at losing. 

There's likely nothing that will revitalize the offense by Sunday, so expect another poor offensive performance against the Cardinals, who the Rams were only able to score 13 points against two weeks ago.