While the St. Louis Rams may be out of the playoffs, it does not mean that we cannot learn from the games that were played this past weekend. In fact, with almost every game this Saturday and Sunday, the Rams organization and fan base could find something to take away that could relate back to St. Louis. Put aside the niceties, here are the three biggest things we pulled out of this weekend:
1. Regardless of the coaching staff, if you don’t execute, you won’t win.
The Cincinnati Bengals are going to get a lot of criticism this morning, having lost in the opening round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Much that blame will get lumped on offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, and head coach, Marvin Lewis, who has been “heading” the organization for 11 seasons. However, despite the perception of the coaches’ influence on the eventual outcome of the game, it is still up to the players on the field to follow the pre-set gameplan, understand and follow-through with in-game adjustments, and, generally, execute the plays that are being called on the field. Translate that over to the overwhelming criticism that Brian Schottenheimer receives after nearly every “three and out” in St. Louis. While he had his fair share of blunders (i.e. the final two plays against the Seattle Seahawks), it is still down to the players on the field to make the blocks, the catches, the cuts, and the throws. We lose track of that far too often in the NFL, especially in St. Louis.
2. No amount of surrounding talent can compensate for lack of quarterback play.
Andy Dalton will also be a major talking point this morning, which is well deserved after his performance on Sunday. He completed only 56% of passing attempts (despite 24% of completions going to the running back), threw two devastatingly ill-timed interceptions, and lost a fumble on an attempted first down dive. Worse, the “Red Rifle” has little excuse for his horrendous quarterback play. The Cincinnati Bengals arguably have the most talented skill position unit in the league, with two monster, pass-catching tight ends (Eifert and Gresham), two stud running backs (Green-Ellis and Bernard), solid #2 (M. Jones) and #3 (M. Sanu and/or Hawkins) receivers, and… oh yea, A.J. Green! Translating that over to the St. Louis Rams, the 2014 season should truly be a defining season for Sam Bradford. Players like Tavon Austin, Zac Stacy, and Stedman Bailey all showed some tremendous progression in the latter portion of the season; and, with “big potential” players like Brian Quick and Jared Cook, the Rams should now “officially” have the talent to be successful offensively.
3. The St. Louis Rams can compete in the playoffs…
This may seem like a massive “push,” especially considering the blandness of the previous two points. However, both the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts pulled out victories this weekend. In case you don’t remember, both teams got thoroughly dominated in all three phases of the game against the St. Louis Rams, including the Colts taking their beating at home and the Saints taking their beating on turf in the Edward Jones Dome. In fact, the Rams have beaten every remaining team in the NFC Playoff bracket (with the exception of Carolina) at least once over the last two seasons. If St. Louis can ever break through the NFC barrier and into the playoffs, there should be no doubt that they can compete with the “best of the best” in January. The tricky part is finding a way to clinch a berth in a conference where 10-6 (i.e. Arizona Cardinals) is still not good enough to punch a ticket to the tournament.