Sunday, March 25, 2012

St. Louis Rams Need to Ignore Defense In the Draft and Focus on Offense

After witnessing Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray trample the Rams defense for 253 rushing yards during Week 7, it's difficult to ignore the gaping holes on the defensive side of the ball.

That is, unless Rams offense is much, much worse. Which it is.

The St. Louis offense was not just conventionally bad in 2011. They were inept even in comparison to some of the worst teams in recent NFL history.

The Rams scored a measly 12.1 points per game after finishing with a 2-14 record.


The 2007 Dolphins (1-15) scored 16.6 points per game.

The 1999 Browns (2-14) scored 13.5 points per game.

The 2000 Chargers (1-15) scored 16.8 points per game.

The 2008 Lions (0-16) scored 16.6 points per game.

But forget the fact that the Rams were outscored by some of the worst teams of the last decade, or that they're just one of five teams in the last 10 years (with the 2009 Rams being another) to score less than 200 points in a season (193).

The simple fact is that the St. Louis defense was not the reason for the Rams losing 14 games last season.

The offense was the worst in the NFL when it came to converting third-downs (28.0 percent), while converting just 64 out of 228 third-down attempts.

Just to give you an idea of how truly awful those numbers are, the New Orleans Saints converted 118 times on 208 attempts (57.0 percent), and the average conversion rate in the NFL was 38.1 percent.

On top of that, the Rams were 30th in average time of possession per game (28 minutes, 11 seconds).

With that in mind, did the defense have a realistic shot at succeeding?

The offense couldn't score and they forced the defense back onto the field 72 percent of the time on third downs. On top of that, they could not maintain possession for any significant amount of time whatsoever.

The defense had to deal with fatigue after constantly being forced onto the field, which resulted in a false portrayal of their true capabilities.

But other than being forced into an impossible situation thanks to the offense, what other factors indicate that the defense is better off?

Level of Talent

The offense has two Pro Bowl-caliber players— running back Steven Jackson, and newly-acquired center Scott Wells.

Jackson will turn 29 years old before the start of next season, and Wells is 31.

Meanwhile, the defense has four players who can perform at a Pro Bowl-caliber level— linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive end Chris Long, safety Quintin Mikell and newly-signed cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

The two premiere offensive talents are aging, while the defensive stars are all well within their prime, except for the 31-year-old Mikell.

Additionally, the defense has three up-and-coming players who are expected to greatly contribute as starters— defensive end Robert Quinn, safety Darian Stewart and defensive tackle Kendall Langford.

The defense has one more starter, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who is expected to play at an acceptable level if injuries are no longer an issue for him.

As a result, eight of the 11 defensive starters are thought of as dependable players, but there are still questions regarding both outside linebacker positions, as well as the second defensive tackle position.

While the defense has just three questionable positions, the offense is lacking in multiple areas— left guard, right tackle, tight end, wide receiver, and backup running back.

Clearly, the offense is desperately in need of reinforcements. More so than the defense.

Severity of the Needs

While the offense is lacking top-notch playmakers, who are typically found early on the the draft, the defense has needs that can be addressed with late-round picks.

Defensive tackle and outside linebackers are the only desperate positions on the defensive side of the ball, but neither of those positions require premiere draft picks.

The Rams run a 4-3 defense, and while the outside rush linebacker is a vital part of a 3-4 defense, there's not a lot of value in 4-3 outside linebackers.

There were 16 NFL teams who ran the 4-3 defense on a regular basis last season, which means there are 32 starting linebackers for that system.

Of those 32 starters, 21 of them were acquired in the third round or later, while 15 were drafted in the fourth round or later.

Only seven of the 32 starters were first-round picks, while just four were selected in the second round.

Of the 11 outside linebackers selected in the first or second round, Chad Greenway (Minnesota Vikings) is the only one who has been to a single Pro Bowl (2011).

In fact, of the 32 starting outside linebackers, the only one who can be considered an elite defensive talent is Lance Briggs (Chicago Bears), who was a third-round draft pick in 2003.

When taking all of that into consideration, maybe using a second-round pick on Zach Brown (North Carolina) is not such a hot idea.

Defensive tackle, on the other hand, is more of a priority in the 4-3 defense, but it's another position that doesn't require top-notch talent.

Of the 32 starting tackles in a 4-3 defense, 19 of them were acquired outside of the first two rounds.

Out of the five 4-3 teams who finished with a top 10 defense, just three of the 10 defensive tackles from those teams were first-round picks, while just one was a second-round pick.

Meanwhile, offensive production requires more of an investment.

When looking at each NFL team that finished with a top 15 offense and taking the two top receivers from each of those teams, here's what you'll find...

Half of those 30 receivers are either first or second round picks, while 20 of them were selected in the first three rounds.

Just 10 of the 30 receivers were found in the fourth round or later.


The Rams own four picks in the first three rounds of the upcoming draft, but there's honestly nothing more nauseating than seeing a mock draft that has the Rams using two or three of those picks on defensive players.

Obviously, mock drafts don't dictate the actual mindset of the front office, but there has to be some concern considering head coach Jeff Fisher has a defensive background.

Since the defense is the better unit, perhaps it's logical to dedicate more resources towards that side of the ball in order to build a dominate defensive team.

However, at the end of the day, no matter how "shut down" a defense is, a team cannot win without outscoring the opponent.

Also, there's Sam Bradford and his $78 million contract. As long as he's averaging $13 million per year, the Rams must do everything in their power to allow him to succeed. That means surrounding him with talent.

Out of the four receivers currently on St. Louis' roster, Austin Pettis was drafted higher than any of them (third round), which isn't going to cut it.

As long as the people in charge treat offensive production like a joke, we'll continue to get a laughable performance from that side of the ball.

Not that Fisher and Co. are striving to ignore offense, but at this point there's no reason to believe that the offense has improved compared to last year's team.

So whether it's help at receiver or help on the offensive line, the Rams will not produce more wins until they can score points.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rams Sign Pro Bowl Center Scott Wells

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense lit up the NFL after leading the league in scoring with 560 total points.

And while most are familiar with the contributions of Rodgers and his offensive weapons, it's easy to overlook the men up front on the offensive line, including the man who snapped Rodgers the ball on every play during every game in 2011.

Center Scott Wells started all 16 games for the Packers last season and was a vital part of an offensive line that produced one of the top offenses in the league. And as a result, Wells was elected to his first Pro Bowl.

On top of that, Wells also started all 16 games during the Packers' 2010 Super Bowl winning season, and he has started 100 total regular games throughout his eight NFL seasons.

He has been a Packer for his entire career, but next season he'll be wearing the horns on his helmet and snapping the ball to quarterback Sam Bradford.

As of Friday evening, the St. Louis Rams agreed to terms with Wells. The signing was confirmed by ESPN insider Adam Schefter.

Although the exact details have not been confirmed, it's been estimated that Wells will make approximately $6 million to $7 million a year.

The Rams had a need for a center ever since cutting Jason Brown earlier in the week. Brown was due $5 million in base salary in 2012, which is likely far too lopsided for a player who has generally underperformed ever since being signed in free agency in 2009.

Not only will Wells be an upgrade over Brown, even at the age of 31, but he'll also provide third-year passer Sam Bradford with invaluable insight that can only be gained after years of snapping the ball to great quarterbacks such as Rodgers and Brett Favre.

Wells will not only benefit Bradford, but his veteran presence will provide the younger linemen, such as Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith, with the proper leadership necessary for them to succeed.

Wells is only the Rams second signing since the the beginning of free agency on Tuesday (the other was cornerback Cortland Finnegan), but regardless of their slow activity, they are making their dollars count with yet another solid acquisition.

Top Remaining Free Agency Targets for the Rams

The Rams inked cornerback Cortland Finnegan to a five-year deal worth $50 million, but he remains the team's only acquisition so far.

Here is a piece outlining the players currently being targeted by the Rams:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Free Agency: Day One Recap, Rams Sign CB Cortland Finnegan

The St. Louis Rams began free agency by instantly casting out multiple lines, but they failed to hook anything in the early hours.

The initial rumors focused on wide receiver options, such as Pierre Garcon (Indianapolis Colts) and Robert Meachem (New Orleans Saints), as well as Atlanta's Harry Douglas.

While most of the rumors involved receivers, there was also talk regarding cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Carlos Rogers (San Francisco 49ers), tackle Eric Winston (Houston Texans), defensive tackle Jason Jones (Tennessee Titans), safety Jarrett Bush (Green Bay Packers) and even quarterback Jason Campbell (Oakland Raiders).

Meachem, Porter, Winston, Jones and Bush remain unsigned.

However, as the sun began to set on the first day of free agency, frustration grew among the Rams fans after multiple "players of interest" were finding new homes, while no new faces were signing with St. Louis.

It was beginning to look like the Rams would conclude the first full day of free agency without any major additions, but around 8:30 PM (CST) it was reported that the Rams signed cornerback Cortland Finnegan to a five-year, $50 million contract.

Finnegan was an All-Pro in 2008 and will immediately start for the Rams, who were particularly desperate at the position after cutting veteran Ron Bartell on Monday.

The Rams had 10 total cornerbacks sent to injury reserve last season, so it's reassuring that the team now has Finnegan, who has started in 77 of his last 80 possible games.

Finnegan is the only signing today (Tuesday), but there are still several hours remaining in the day, which may allow for another signing or two before the day's end.

Of the previously mentioned free agents, defensive tackle Jones (Titans) is thought of as maybe the most likely to sign a deal with St. Louis. Rams beat writer Jim Thomas even suggested on Twitter that a deal could be done before Wednesday:

Jim Thomas‏ @jthom1:

"Deal with another Titan, defensive lineman Jason Jones, could also get done tonight by Rams."

Jones played three seasons under coach Jeff Fisher at defensive tackle and was thought of as a rising star. However, he was switched to defensive end last season and experienced a slight regression.

Fisher will presumably allow Jones to return to defensive tackle, which is where he has seen more success.

Also, offensive tackle Winston (Texans) has scheduled a visit with the Rams, which makes him a realistic option. Although, he has set up meetings with the Chiefs and Dolphins as well.

In the end, even if there are no more players brought in, it was still a very active first day with the signing of Finnegan.

It took a $50 million contract to finally seal the deal with a player, but that's to be expected when a team finishes with a 2-14 record.

There will undoubtedly be more signings in the upcoming days, but Finnegan will surely remain the biggest splash for the Rams in this year's free agency class.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

NFL Summons Gregg Williams to New York City, Suspension a Possibility

On Friday, Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was exposed for his role in a "pay for performance" program that was operational during his three-year span with the New Orleans Saints, and possibly during his time with the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills as well.

The program offered incentives to players who made big plays, such as fumbles and interceptions, but it also rewarded players who injured members of opposing teams.

The NFL security department claimed in their investigation that players were rewarded $1,000 for forcing an opponent to be carted off the field and $1,500 for knocking them out of the game. Although, the payments increased during playoff games.

Some former players have come to Williams' defense.

"It's ridiculous that someone is trying to say that we made bounties on knocking guys out, when basically all it was is that when a guy gets an interception, then he might get paid. That's something that guys do amongst themselves."

That was a quote from former Saints safety Darren Sharper from an interview with Sharper player under Williams in New Orleans from 2009 to 2010 and is currently retired.

Another former safety, Matt Bowen, who player under Williams with the Washington Redskins in 2004 and 2005, also discussed the situation.

"Price tags started low during the regular season — a couple hundred bucks for going after the quarterback hard or taking a running back out below the knees. Chop him down and give a quick smile when you got back to the huddle. You just got a bonus."

Bowen was also supportive of Williams by claiming the allegations are not unusual and should be expected.

"Bounties, cheap shots, whatever you want to call them, they are a part of this game. It is an ugly tradition that was exposed Friday with Williams front and center from his time coaching the defense in New Orleans. But don't peg this on him alone. You will find it in plenty of NFL cities."

Regardless of the support, Williams realizes that he was in the wrong, as is evident from the apology he issued:

"It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it... Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again."

But whether or not he's apologetic, the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell have made safety a top priority over the years, which leaves little empathy for Williams' actions.

The general consensus suggests that a hefty fine is in his future, as well as a possible suspension.

An anonymous source from the NFL has suggested that the league is considering lengthy suspensions for not only Williams, but also Saints head coach Sean Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis.

However, our speculation should be put to rest shortly.

According to, the league's security department has requested the presence of Williams in New York on Monday to discuss the situation and possibly determine his fate, although the purpose of the meeting has not been determined.

In the end, Williams will ultimately be hit hard by the league, whether in the form of a fine, a suspension or both.

However, while his future with the St. Louis Rams is still murky, it's likely that he'll resume his role as the team's defensive coordinator at some point.

Between Rams head coach Jeff Fisher (a close friend of Williams) and owner Stan Kroenke, there's surely enough influence to retain the shamed coordinator.

But whether or not he's wanted back...that's another question.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Gregg Williams In Hot Water for "Bounties", Rams Shouldn't Fret

An NFL investigation that began in 2010 has identified St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as the ring leader of a bounty-hunting defense during his time in New Orleans.

Following in the footsteps on former-NFL coach Buddy Ryan, who was notorious for putting out "hits" on opponents, Williams distributed cash payments to his players for injuring opponents.

Over 20 players may have been involved in the bounties in one way or another, whether as participants, payment recipients or fund contributors.

Payments allegedly reached $1,500 for "knocking out" an opposing player and $1,000 dollars for forcing a player to be "carted off" the field. Although, there were also rewards for positive plays, such as interceptions and fumbles (which is also a violation of NFL rules).

The NFL does not take it lightly when a coach encourages players to injure opponents, especially when the coach offers compensation for their efforts. Possible sanctions include fines, suspensions and even a loss of draft picks.

And while it sounds like quite the undesirable predicament for Williams and the Saints, the situation should have little to no effect on the Rams.

Any loss of draft picks will come at the Saints' expense, obviously, while suspensions are likely reserved solely for the players involved in the incident rather than coaches (a suspension for any NFL coach is a very rare occurrence).

The likely punishment in Williams' case is a fine. And while that sounds like a light punishment, the NFL will certainly ensure that it's a hefty fine, as opposed to a slap on the wrist.

There will likely be no repercussions handed down from the Rams directly. It's the Saints' problem, so the Rams will likely trust the NFL's discretion in the handling of the situation.

Don't expect Williams to be fired either.

Jeff Fisher and Williams are close friends. Their history dates back to their time together in Tennessee during the 90s, which means Fisher will more than likely go to bat for Williams in any way possible.

Also, the situation will not likely influence the style of coaching that Williams and Fisher bring to the table this season. They will still be hard-nosed and make toughness a top priority. The only thing they'll leave out is the cash reward.

And while this was certainly a unforeseen incident that's surely igniting some uncertainly among the fanbase, it's likely that this situation that will be forgotten in just a couple of short month.

There's no excuse for the behavior and we should hope that it doesn't continue in St. Louis.

However, it's better to have coaches who are criticized for being to violent, rather than coaches who are far too soft, which was clearly the case during the Steve Spagnuolo era.