It's a funny thing in sports when we talk about "rivalries." It feels like as a fan, you have to have a rivalry. You have to have a game every year that gets you more pumped up than any other game. Maybe it's a way to ease the pain of a failure of a season. I know that any year that the Cougs fail to make a bowl (which is basically every year now) that an Apple Cup win helps ease the pain.
I mean, seriously, the Cougs were probably the worst team in the nation a few years ago, but a win over the Huskies in the Apple Cup to keep the Dawgs winless and bring home the bragging rights for a calender year made me completely forget about our streak of being terrible. On that day, we were champions.
It seemed like when the divisions re-aligned in 2002 and the Hawks were moved to the NFC, that we'd have to find a new team to be a rival. The Raiders had given us memorable games, but in reality, we were no competition for them. We were no competition for anybody. Before we moved to the NFC that year, the Hawks hadn't won a playoff game since 1984.
It's the same argument many people made about the Yankees and Red Sox for years: You can't have a rivalry if one side always wins.
Duke and North Carolina. Now that's a rivalry.
In 2002, the Rams were the class of the league. Two Super Bowl appearances in three years. The league's number one offense in each of those seasons. A minimum of five Hall of Fame players on offense. I distinctly remember thinking something along the lines of "God damn it."
Mostly because at that same time, the Seahawks looked like a team on the rise. It was year four of Mike Holmgren. Shaun Alexander was coming off of a 1,300 yard, 14 TD season. Darrell Jackson was coming off of his first 1,000 yard season. It was going to be year two of top pick Koren Robinson. If the Seahawks were going to get over the hump and return to the playoffs, they were going to have to get over the hump known as St. Louis.
Funny enough, the Rams and Hawks tied at 7-9 in 2002 and the Niners won the division.
But San Francisco never felt like a rival. It was either the Rams or bust. In reality, the idea of St. Louis being a rival has been total bust.
Between 2002 and 2004, the Rams were the thorn in our sides. The team we could not beat in order to get where we wanted to be going. A complete pain in the ass that we couldn't overcome. Seattle was 2-5 against the Rams, ending in a 27-20 defeat in the playoffs that fell just shy of a Bobby Engram victory.
WILL WE EVER BEAT THESE BLASTED RAMS?!!?!
Well, we've won 11 of the last 12. So yeah. Yeah, we kind of took care of that. That's not a rivalry, that's them being better than us for awhile and then us being better than them for awhile. We need more than a year or two where we are both good. You won't get much attention for having a lot of years where "We were 9-7 and you were only 8-8, HA!" Our end-of-season game against them in 2010 to see which team with a non-winning record would represent the NFC West in the playoffs was a perfect microcosm of our "rivalry."
The 27th meeting between Seattle and St. Louis won't be that much different than any other. The Rams sitting at 2-7, and our Seahawks sitting at 3-6, jockeying for position in the draft and not the standings. Both of these teams can make an argument that they're on the way up to competing again in a year or two, (and I believe the NFC West is on the verge of being a good division,) but as of now it's just another box score where bragging rights won't hold much weight.
This is my first time tackling a preview of the Rams, so let's just stick to the basics since we will be seeing them again this year. Here's eight things you may or may not know about the Rams.
The Rams Once Boasted the Greatest Offense of All-Time
Last week the Hawks played against the Ravens, a team with a historic defense. This week, it will be the Rams, a team with one of the most historic offenses to ever play in the league. The difference being that unlike Baltimore, there's an emphasis on the word "historic" as this team can't compare in any way to what they had in 1999-2001.
It's also just an opinion to say "Greatest of All-Time" because that's always up for debate, but I'd rather just stick in my comfort zone of teams I watched play. Since I started watching football seriously, which really was around the late-90's, nobody has compared to the Rams of that era.
The most interesting thing about those 1999 Rams has to be the fact that Kurt Warner was a complete unknown, having spent his first four years out of college (Northern Iowa) playing in the AFL, the NFL Europe, and the Hy-Vee grocery store stockboy All-Stars. If it weren't for Trent Green tearing his ACL in the preseason in 1999, the story of Warner may have never existed.
Before that year, the record for most three touchdown games by a quarterback to start his career was two by Dan Marino. Warner threw for three touchdowns in each of his first three games, and then threw five more in his fourth, coming against a 49ers team that had won the division in 12 of the last 13 seasons. A new era had begun.
Warner would throw for three or more touchdowns in seven of his first eight career starts and finished with 4,353 yards, 41 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and was named MVP.
I used to hate on Warner, saying that he got "the luckiest opportunity of any player in NFL history" because he played with Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Orlando Pace, but screw that. It's an amazing story, and I don't still believe that Trent Green would have put up the same kind of numbers. Warner was an overlooked talent that did land in the right place at the right time, but he deserves the accolades.
Behind those players the Rams would score 500 or more points in every season between 1999 and 2001 and made two Super Bowl appearances with one championship. By comparison, the Rams scored 959 points total between 2007 and 2010, and are last in the league in scoring this year too.
Warner threw for five touchdowns in two separate games in 1999, including one in the playoffs. The Rams have thrown five touchdowns this season.
Steven Jackson is a star athlete and Sam Bradford has a lot of potential at quarterback, but comparing the "Greatest Show on Turf" to the current version of the Rams is like comparing Master of Puppets to St. Anger. Please don't. One of the biggest issues being that the Rams don't have any receivers that compare to what they used to have because at one time...
The Rams Had Two of the Greatest Receivers Ever, and Then Some...
I hadn't much felt like writing over the last few days. For the first time all year, I just wasn't feeling good and didn't know if my brain had stopped functioning. I knew it was time for me to write "Eight Simple Things" but I had no idea what I was going to write about. It's funny what little facts will spark my interest to write something, but it was this odd little nugget that I found that made me say "Yeah, I want to share that with the readers."
The Rams all-time leading receiver is Isaac Bruce, with 14,109 career yards. His 15,208 yards total ranks third in league history. The funny thing is that Bruce only led the team in receiving three times in his career. Torry Holt led the team from 2000-2008. The major difference is that Bruce was there for 14 years and Holt was only there for 10.
Henry Ellard is ninth on the all-time list with 13,777 yards and he played for the Rams from 1983-1993. Ellard left the Rams and Bruce was a second round pick that joined them the very next year. So they didn't skip a beat going from Ellard to Bruce and then adding Holt in 1999, and Holt is 10th on the all-time yards list.
Holt was the 6th overall pick in the draft in '99, and the 6th overall pick in 1978 was James Lofton.
Lofton is 7th on the all-time receiving list with 14,004 yards, and in 1993 he played one game with the Rams, alongside Ellard, and caught one pass for 16 yards. Ellard is not in the Hall of Fame, but alongside those other three, the Rams had four of the top ten receivers in terms of yardage playing for them at one point over a six year span, and Bruce/Holt spent much of their careers together making history.
Of course, they aren't the only two historically great receivers to play together:
#1 and #2 are Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens.
Jerry Rice and Tim Brown (#4) played in the Super Bowl together for Oakland.
Between 1984 and 2009, the Rams would boast some of the best receivers in league history, (Lofton is a only an interesting factoid) but until they added Brandon Lloyd they were really hurting to find players that could make explosive plays from the WR position. About that...
The Rams Have a New Weapon
Brandon Lloyd is one of the most interesting players I've ever come across statistically. As a stats and research junky, I really enjoy seeing anomalies. Brandon Lloyd is certainly an anomaly.
I remember watching his highlights during the 2003 draft coming out of Illinois and thinking "Wow, that guy can play." He had some incredible highlights from my recollection, and I thought he was a steal in the fourth round. He went to San Francisco and I'm sure many of you remember seeing some of his highlight catches. But as things really started to become clearer, Lloyd was usually nothing more than highlight catches.
Over the first seven years of his career, spanning four teams and 81 games, he totaled 164 catches for 2,370 yards and 15 touchdowns.
In 2010 with Denver he totaled 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. lolwut?
Still, Lloyd was the product of opportunity, Josh McDaniels, and big plays. He was targeted 153 times, fourth most in the NFL, but only caught 50.3% of his passes. That's the lowest catch rate of anyone in the top 30 other than rookie Mike Williams of Tampa Bay. What he did have was the highest percentage of deep targets behind only Malcom Floyd and Lee Evans and 9.5 yards per target.
Mike Wallace is a more talented receiver for Pittsburgh that averaged 12.7 yards per target, 43.4% of deep passes, and a 60.6 catch percentage, but this was like Lloyd doing his Mike Wallace impression but doing it at age 29 and catching a lower percentage of passes on many more targets.
When the Broncos and Brandon Lloyd fell off the same page this season and he hit the trade block, Denver managed to get him somewhere else and he was sent to a Rams team that was in desperate need of help, reuniting him with McDaniels, the offensive coordinator of the Rams.
2010 receiving leader Danny Amendola went on IR after a week one injury. Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas, Danario Alexander, and Austin Pettis are an average age of under 24 and Mike Sims-Walker was released. Salas is also now out for the year. Those players have potential, but this year those four have combined for two touchdown catches. Two.
Lloyd provides experience and big-play ability, but not every pass that heads his way goes for yards. In four games with the Rams he has been targeted 51 times and caught 21 passes for 255 yards. That's a 41% catch percentage. Somebody has got to give this following guy a hand.
Unlike the Hawks, the Rams Have Their QBOTF
Sam Bradford was not considered a major recruit when he was coming out of high school. Not that going to Oklahoma could ever make you a mediocre recruit, but his "three stars" paled in comparison to the five stars of Tim Tebow and Matthew Stafford. It was at this time that he should have quit football, knowing that Rivals.com was aware of his complete mediocrity.
Still, he decided to stick with it and after Rhett Bromar was kicked off of the team before the 2007 season the Sooners were looking for a quarterback. The rest is a common story that happens all the time; redshirt freshman breaks records of legendary football school in his first game (most yards in a half with 363) and second game (consecutive completions) and then throwing five touchdowns and winning national offensive player of the week. Finally breaking the NCAA record for most touchdowns by a freshman. No big deal.. happens all the time.
Of course, Bradford won the Heisman as a sophomore and then lost the national title game to Tebow. He could have gone into the draft after that, but decided to return because he had a dream of injuring himself which he accomplished in the very first game of the year.
Bradford would return for one more game, becoming the Sooners all-time leading passer in only two seasons and spare change, then entered the draft in 2010. I admit I was surprised a little bit by the fact that Bradford didn't hurt his draft stock at all, but it's understandable why the Rams picked him first overall.
Bradford signed a six-year deal worth $78 million and $50 million guaranteed. After the lockout was agreed upon before this season, top pick Cam Newton signed a four-year deal worth $22 million, but all in guaranteed money. One might feel bad for Newton, but they aren't taking into account how much money Newton made at Auburn.
Bradford broke some NFL rookie records and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and led the Rams from a 1-15 record to a 7-9 record. However, his numbers have declined this year, the offense is among the worst in the league, and one would think that Bradford's shine as a "quarterback of the future" has lost it's luster. But it's not that dire. You have to take some things into consideration:
- He lost his favorite target, Danny Amendola.
- The Rams receivers are young and inexperienced.
- He's lost important parts of his offensive line and is being sacked nearly twice as often.
- Brandon Gibson is catching 53.3% of his targets, Danario Alexander is catching 41%, Lance Kendricks is catching 43.8%, and Sims-Walker caught 40.7%. His more reliable targets, Greg Salas and Austin Pettis, are not deep threats.
- He faced the defenses of the Eagles, Giants, Ravens, Redskins, Packers, Cowboys, Saints, Cardinals, and Browns. Many of those range from "pretty good" to "prettay, prettay, prettay good."
- He's throwing for a lower percentage of interceptions than he did last season, a higher yards per attempt, yards per catch, and yards per game. Not all of those matter in the grand scheme of things, but while it's easy to point out a lower completion percentage as a negative, there are numbers that have improved.
Give Sam Bradford a healthy offensive line, some protection, a number one wide receiver, and a healthy Amendola, and I wouldn't doubt that he'd make the progress we all expected him to make. The Rams probably won't have to decide between Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford, and it should have been an easy decision anyway. With the amount of holes they have on the team, and the amount of money they have guaranteed to Bradford, the Rams probably would have traded that pick for a bounty and greatly improved. I will be surprised if they don't target an offensive lineman or a wide receiver at the top of the 2012 draft, and Bradford could be the best quarterback in the division soon.
Fun Fact: Sam Bradford is 1/16th Cherokee, making him the first Native American division I quarterback since Sonny Sixkiller of the University of Washington. It's hard to tell if you don't look at him, especially since he changed his name to Bradford from Sam Tomahawkchoposki, which would have been cooler than even "Sixkiller."
How Did the Rams Get This Bad?
The Rams were no less than competitive for the better part of eight seasons, and they went 8-8 in 2006. Then they won six games over the next three seasons. That's pretty bad. How did it happen, why aren't they better after all of those draft picks, why did they regress from 7-9 last year to 2-7 this year?
How did it happen?
The Rams were an 8-8 team in 2006, with Marc Bulger throwing for over 4,000 yards and 24 TD/8 INT on his way to the Pro Bowl along with Steven Jackson and Torry Holt. They started 4-1 and they won their last three games, but they also lost seven of eight in the middle of the year, including two two-point losses to the Seahawks. So we can happily take four-points worth of credit for the Rams being 8-8 and not 10-6.
They turned it over 14 times during that eight game stretch, compared to four turnovers in the other eight games. They had a terrible run defense, but the offense seemed good enough at times to be a division-winner. So why the total collapse in 2007?
First, the Rams didn't have a great free agency period. They signed WR Drew Bennett to a six-year, $30 million deal. He had 33 catches for 375 yards in 2007, and that was basically the last year of his career.
In the draft, they used the 13th pick on DE Adam Carriker and moved him to DT. He played for the Rams for two seasons. The only players in that draft still in the league, besides Carriker, are FB Brian Leonard (now with the Bengals) and career backup DB Jonathan Wade (with the Dolphins.)
They got nothing in free agency, nothing in the draft. They were a bad defense that didn't get better and so they would need their offense to be just as efficient as it was the previous year. It wasn't.
Bulger had the worst season of his career, completing 58.5% of his passes for 199 yards per game, 11 TD/15 INT in 12 games. It was the beginning of the end of his career, he would never be productive again.
Steven Jackson missed four games, saw a dip in his production, and went from 90 catches for 806 yards in 2006 to 38 catches for 271 yards in 2007. It would also be the last year of Isaac Bruce in St. Louis, a player who was now 35. The only player to remain productive on offense was Holt. The Rams got exponentially worse, and they needed some major changes. They went from "team on the cusp if they had a better defense" to "total rebuild."
In the 2008 draft, they picked second and took DE Chris Long, son of Howie. They could have elected to address the "Uhh.. does Bulger suck now?" question and drafted Matt Ryan, but they decided to take Long. If they had been slightly worse the year prior, maybe they take LT Jake Long, one of the best offensive players in the game, but they went with the other Long. Luckily, Chris Long has improved, but he got off to a slow start. This season, he has 8 sacks in 9 games.
Still, his slow start was a part of their collapse.
Second round pick WR Donnie Avery showed potential, and was released after two seasons. Third round pick, T John Greco, was gone after three years.
Bulger continued to post terrible numbers, Jackson missed four games again, Holt was declining, and the defense still couldn't stop anybody. Head coach Scott Linehan was fired after four games. The Rams were built as a house of cards because they weren't very good at drafting during all of those years they were being held up by Hall of Fame players. About those drafts...
The Rams Ask "Is there a draft in here?" and the Fans Reply "Apparently not."
Consider all of the drafts after they won the Super Bowl:
2000 - Trung Candidate in the first round. 0 Pro Bowls among 7 players taken.
2002 - Robert W. Thomas in the first round. 0 Pro Bowls among the 8 players taken. (One of which was Eric Crouch, proving their ego at the time that they thought they could draft whoever they wanted.)
2003 - Jimmy Kennedy taken in the first round. 0 Pro Bowls among the 11 players taken.
2004 - Steven Jackson in the first round. Jackson has been to three Pro Bowls. Their first great selection since Holt in 1999. Please note that I'm not saying Pro Bowls define a players career, its subjective, but it's just a point of reference.
They drafted 35 players in four years and not one of them turned into a star. How do teams become dynasties? Ask the Steelers, Patriots, Ravens, Colts, or any other team that constantly picks at the back end of the draft and finds top-end talent.
Steven Jackson is the ONLY player they've drafted since 1999 to make the Pro Bowl. That is a fact. That is a true sign of how you get this bad in a league where you can't just trade and free agency your way into dominance like you can in the NBA or the MLB more easily. You have to be good at drafting. The Rams were terrible at it for a very long time.
Why did they regress from last season?
Besides everything I said about Bradford and what he's had to work with, there are two major factors involved in the Rams starting 0-6: Strength of Schedule and injuries.
Jackson barely played in the first three games. Bradford missed two games. The offensive line has lost players like Jason Smith for the last three games, amongst others. Salas and Amendola went on IR and Danario Alexander has missed the last three games. TE Lance Kendricks has missed time. The defense still isn't very good, and they've played a pretty tough schedule.
The Rams lost early season games to Philadelphia and Washington, but I think if they played those games over again, the outcomes would at least be a lot closer.
The Rams aren't a good team yet. But if they stay healthy, if they don't continue to screw up their drafts, then they could be decent again very soon.
Do the Rams Have Players on Defense?
The Rams have finished 31st in points allowed in four of the last six seasons. Their defense actually wasn't terrible last season, but statistically it has declined this year, ranking 25th in points against and 24th in total D. The funny thing is that those '99 and '01 Super Bowl teams actually finished 4th and 7th in points allowed.
Still, it's hard for anyone to name players on this defense over the last decade. Here's a look at a few of the names you'll hear on Sunday, ignoring anyone that doesn't appear to be a part of the "future":
Chris Long, DE
Briefly speaking on him before, Long was the 2nd overall pick out of Virginia. He was considered to be the top defensive end in the country and he finished 10th in the Heisman voting after recording 14 sacks.
Long didn't show up big on the stats sheets over his first two years, recording nine sacks combined. He moved from right defensive end to left, and has recorded 16.5 sacks in the last season and a half. Interestingly, Long restructured his contract and will actually count $18.5 million against the cap next year. I'm not a money expert, that just seems like a lot. That seems like Julius Peppers money.
His dad Howie played at a time when defensive ends and players in general were considered mean, ugly, and a terror on the field. This is what a 2011 defensive players looks like:
Where my lady readers at?
Robert Quinn, DE
Quinn was the Rams first round pick in 2011, a defensive end out of the University of North Carolina. He was taken 14th overall, but he had the talent and physical ability to be a top five pick. However, after being suspended for his junior season, he declared for the draft and fell not just because he was suspended, but because he had a year off. He also had a benign brain tumor removed after high school, giving him a slight medical flag.
In his two years of playing though, he was near impossible to stop. He has three sacks in seven games this season. It's often said that Quinn and I have almost identical bodies:
After completing one of the greatest careers for a linebacker in NCAA history at Ohio State, Laurinaitis was drafted in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. It's another case of a player who did everything you could have asked of him on the field but considered to be too slow or too something-else at the combine. His measurables didn't measure him up to being a first round pick, but after recording 234 tackles, five sacks, and three interceptions in his first two seasons, he probably should have been.
In my opinion, he's the kind of guy you draft if you want to turn a shitty defense into a good defense. He doesn't have the physical ability of many great middle linebackers, but like what Lofa Tatupu did for the Seahawks, he has the right attitude. He is also part snake. Here he is eating a turducken last Thanksgiving:
The Rams Are In St. Louis Now
You know me, I love a history lesson.
The Rams started out as the Cleveland Rams and in 1937 joined the NFL to actually replace the St. Louis Gunners. The history of early football is quite interesting, just as long as you ignore the movie Leatherheads which was not very interesting. (Renee Zelwegger is a love interest because why?)
The team was bought by Dan Reeves in 1941 (no, not that Dan Reeves) and then won the NFL championship in 1945. So they did the natural thing and moved to Los Angeles the next year.
Interestingly enough, it was this move that sparked racial integration into a league that banned black players from participating but the LA Coliseum demanded that as part of the agreement of moving the team to LA included that black players could play. So Kenny Washington and Woody Strode were signed and became the first black players in the NFL, post-WWII. But I mean, you already know that because when you think of people to break the color barrier in sports you think "Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, and that Jackie guy."
Before he was a legendary commissioner, Pete Rozelle turned the Rams into one of the most popular sports franchises in America, setting records for attendance and television appearances.
Rozell left his position with the team and then in 1979 owner Carroll Rosenbloom had died in a drowning accident and left the team to his widow, Georgia Frontiere. Her first major move was taking over major control of the team and then moving them to Orange County and renaming them the Los Angeles Rams of Anaheim Orange County Represent.
Basically, they were trying to turn Raiders-Rams into Dodgers-Angels. Separating fanbases so that you could make more profit.
I guess that didn't work out because despite being very successful on the field in the mid-to-late eighties, when the Rams started to lose in the nineties, Frontiere claimed the team was broke and in trouble. So you do what anyone would naturally do, get the hell out of the second-largest market in the U.S. Shortly after, the Raiders left and now Los Angeles has no NFL team because why?
St. Louis is the 58th largest city in the U.S. and has the 16th largest urban area, it's got the Golden Arches (or something) and the Nelly that raps, but like comparing Oklahoma City to Seattle, I just don't get it.
The population of Greater Los Angeles is at least twice as big as any other city in the U.S. except for New York, Chicago, and Houston. I'm biased because I want to see some NFL games in the city I currently reside, but it just really confuses me that the NFL isn't here.
Of course, there are always rumors about a team moving back to the City of Angels (there are as many angels in Los Angeles as there are lakes) and currently those rumors reside around these teams moving here: Minnesota, Jacksonville, San Diego, Oakland, and.... St. Louis. (Just rumors of course, I don't think that St. Louis would let them go without a fight.)
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