The Rams are a mediocre offense. They have mediocre skill position players . They have a mediocre Qb. Sam Bradford last year, in what was his third year, had a career high Qb rating of 82.6 Folks that's very mediocre (or worse). For the last few years young Qb's have been entering that territory or leaving it well behind in their first season (rookie ratings Newton 84.5, Dalton 80.4, Luck 76.5, Griffin 102.4, Tannehill 76.1, Wilson 100.0). In 2012, of the 27 Qb's who played at least 50% of their snaps Bradford's QB rating ranked him 18th (PFF ranked him 19th of 27). As a team the Rams were 21st in offensive NY/A in 2012 and will probably finish in the same area this year.
Last year the Rams D ranked 16th in Yards Allowed Per Play (Y/P). Again perfectly mediocre. I know last year is not this year but this early in the season sometimes it's still very useful to look at how teams performed in the recent past.
So, I'm not of the belief that this was a particularly tough or ascending team we just beat. In a Qb driven league I think it's relevant to the results that Bradford is the worst Qb (with at best an average skill group) we've played this year.
This week against the San Diego Chargers I think will be a really interesting test. Actually, I think the next 2 weeks, Chargers and Broncos, will tell us more than the first 3 about what sort of team we have. We should beat the 1-2 Chargers but it may not be easy and it boils down to one simple reason: Philip Rivers. Through 3 weeks he has been terrific. Unlike Sam Bradford, Rivers is a proven quality Qb. He had a Qb rating of over 100 for three years straight (2008/2009/2010). That's quality play. After 3 weeks he's 2nd in the NFL in Qb rating with a stellar 116.2
This should be a fascinating test especially because Rivers, with a fairly uninspiring WR core, throws a lot of passes to his RB's and TE's against the LB's and Safeties. Out of Rivers 23 targets against the Titans 17 went to RB's or TE's (Woodhead 8, Gates 6, Green 2, McClain 1), roughly 74%.
If Rivers does get a groove going against us we could be in for quite a shoot-out. San Diego's Defense is one of the worst in the league through 3 weeks (D ranked 32nd in Y/P and 30th in NY/P) and our Offense should have good success against them. If the D contains Rivers we win easily. If they don't we can still win in a shoot-out but it may get nerve racking or exciting depending on how you view these things. San Diego are not a very good team they just have a good Qb and good Qb's have had a habit of enjoying themselves against our D the last several years years.
Since writing that we've seen the Rams look really poor against the 49ers and Rivers' Chargers shred the Dallas D. I was wrong about our offense having success against the Chargers though. It was disappointing we couldn't do more. The funny part is the only two comments I received on that post proclaimed that Rivers and Gates were no good and that our D would take them down for big a win.
Now the over-the-top optimism from the Rams win has left us with the inevitable crashing come down from the Chargers loss. The blog has gone from being dominated by "we're Superbowl bound" type comments to "we're at best a .500 team" type comments. The see-saw continues.
Morris and Carter had a really bad day (not the first one they've had either) but let's remember how young they still are. Mo has played 19 games and Carter's start against the Chargers was only his 15th. They're hardly seasoned vets yet. There's still plenty of time for improvement for both.
One thing I will say about Claiborne though because this bothered me at the time of drafting: Claiborne at NFL Combine - 5'11" 188 pounds, 4.50 forty, scored 4 on the Wonderlic. Average size with average CB speed and probable learning issues... for the Sixth Overall Pick in the Draft? So far we've seen him struggle to stay with WR's (speed), we've seen him struggle with the physicality (size) and we've seen him struggle with technique and learning the scheme (mental). He may have been a big play-maker in college but his attributes didn't seem like a great fit in the NFL. As I said, Mo's still young, a turnaround is certainly possible, but considering the substantial investment Dallas made in him there's legitimate reason to be concerned.
My hope is that this is the incident that makes Dallas' GM/Scouts finally realise that building from the inside (OL/DL) first is the best strategy (and that depth is just as important as star players). I think under Garrett this looks to be getting better as 2 of 3 of his first round picks have been Olinemen, something that's never happened under any other HC in Jerry Jones' reign but giving up two high picks for a CB may be a significant personnel blunder that haunts us the next few years.
I'm not going to bother with any Peyton Manning analysis in this post. We all know him, he's been around for 16 years. He looks as good as he ever has and considering he may be the greatest Qb of All-Time that is really saying something.
Can we make a game of it? Yes, I believe so, you just won't catch me putting much money down on that though :) I think that under Garrett's leadership the team has always played hard and always fought till the end. I think we'll see a better overall performance than we did against the Chargers but it will probably come up short. Peyton and all his weapons will just be too much for the D.
A Quarter Mark Summary:
One thing that does fascinate me though is that year after year, as soon as things go bad (for a game or a month or a season) the narrative of the majority of critics often becomes "the play-caller/coaches suck". People love to mitigate responsibility for what happens on the field off the players and onto the guys who aren't on the filed, the coaches. The story of the Chargers game is several dropped passes (a few inaccurate throws/poor decisions helped) that would have converted third downs and extended drives, high round picks Claiborne and Carter getting repeatedly burned, Hayden playing poor, Scandrick playing poor etc. I don't know how you can watch those players simply fail to execute sometimes even simple assignments and then blame the coaches for it.
What have Mo, Carter, Hayden and Scandrick proven in their NFL careers that should give them reprieve from poor performances? Why should coaches take the wrap for their poor play? Kiffen and Marinelli's careers have been far better as coaches than those guys have had as players. Mo has struggled most of his short career. Carter was up and down last year in pass coverage, this year with more responsibility he's looking worse, just because he's fast doesn't mean he's automatically a great cover guy. Hayden's previous stint in the NFL went terrible, that's why we found him sitting around on the couch. After a nice opening game he's gotten worse each week (2.7, -1.1, -2.1, -3.2). He's ranked 62 of 66 on PFF (minimum 25% snaps). Scandrick's grades over the years have never elevated him to much more than average (though in general this scheme does seem to suit him better).
This is just pie in the sky stuff. I'll repeat what I said in another comment, Nick Hayden was a sixth round draft pick of the Panthers who played terribly in 2010 in 10 starts, did not play at all in 2011 with the Cincinnati Bengals and did not even have a team in 2012. So, the facts are, Nick Hayden has been terrible the last 3 years, to the point of not even being able to make a damn team. Without anything other than a few sentences from camp reports we're supposed to erase his last 3 terrible years and presume him a boon to the team. That's Offseason Optimism Syndrome at fever pitch. If Nick Hayden manages to raise his game to an average/mediocre backup then good for him but he's not to be counted as an asset for 2013.
I like the direction we're heading with the D. I like the new coaches. I like the potential of many of these young guys. But young potential can take some lumps as they learn on the job. This D is one or two injuries away from a bottom third ranking.
The funny/sad part is that all this unbridled optimism turns to overreacting angst when the real bullets fly and all of a sudden the young guys start struggling or journeymen like Allen and Hayden play average/poor. So we'll get hundreds of "the coaches suck" and "young player X needs to be cut" comments rather than just admit what should have been obvious from the beginning: young inexperienced players often struggle and journeymen backups don't suddenly become good starters just because your favorite team signed them.
Dallas' problems still predominantly stem from issues with the roster/personnel. All the hype and hoopla about no-names who played "great" in Training Camp and Pre-season and beat up a "really good Rams team" has finally come back down to earth. I'm not saying that coaches mistakes can't play a part in poor games but I think it's certainly not close to being the primary fault.
The team is still handicapped by things that happened in recent years (Poor picks, bad salary cap situation etc). Against the Chargers we had Ratliff, Austin and Spencer all riding the pine. That's $18.3M or about 15% of our salary cap in 2013 being eaten up by guys not playing (Ratliff $4.1M, Austin $3.6M, Spencer $10.6M). There's another $10M in dead money from previous contract issues and there's the $5M cap penalty. That's about $33M or about 27% of our salary cap in 2013 that did not see the field against the Chargers. That impacts our ability to field a competitive well rounded team. When you couple that with the fact that recent investments (high picks like Carter and Claiborne) are struggling it shouldn't be hard to see why the team is inconsistent.
Overall, I have liked what I've seen in the personnel department from Garrett's tenure so far (though it hasn't been perfect either) but there's still a ways to go before this team can claim to have a top tier NFL roster. The sad news is the longer it takes the older (and worse) our once dominant quartet of Romo, Ware, Witten and Ratliff get. The worse news is our seemingly constantly limited salary cap situation means we have little option for some quality quick fixes in Free Agency.
This team can still win the division. There's some talent here, there's good coaches here. I still think the offense will click into gear at some stage the next few weeks. But it will not be a smooth ride, there'll be struggles and bad games from the young guys and journeymen. With a bit of luck 10-6/9-7 and a division win is still possible. We're not the only team with weaknesses and hopefully some of ours can be improved upon as the season progresses: Carter can still settle in and find form, Scandrick replacing Mo as the starter will help for now, the hopeful return of Jay Ratliff and Miles Austin would be a big help too. If those things can happen and the offense finds more rhythm over the next few weeks the second half of the season should bring more joy.