On Thursday night, there was a statement made on Twitter that sparked a lot of controversy in Rams Nation. That quote was simply this: “Russell Wilson has worse offensive talent [than] any quarterback in the NFC West, including Bradford and Rams.” At first, it is difficult to truly wrap your head around that thought. How could the offense currently playing in the NFC Championship game have worse talent than the team that just finished with a 7-9 record, including a horrid 1-5 record within the NFC West? The case is not necessarily a simple one to make. So, we decided to attempt to make a case for the statement, without being limited to 140 characters on Twitter.
First, one of the fundamental premises of the statement is who the we are actually talking about in terms of talent. Obviously, if we are giving “ownership” of the talent on the team to the quarterbacks, than the quarterbacks are not going to be included in the argument. So, to make that explicitly clear, this is not comparing Sam Bradford and Russell Wilson; rather, the supporting cast around each signal caller. So, instead of trying to tackle the offensive rosters in some “lump sum” form, why don’t we break it down position by position.
Obviously, there is no argument about the talent at the running back position between the two teams. Marshawn Lynch just completed his three consecutive regular season with 1,000+ yards and 10+ touchdowns, including another Pro Bowl berth. However, the St. Louis Rams aren’t slouches in that department either, with Zac Stacy emerging as the “steal of the 2013 Draft,” compiling 976 yards and seven touchdowns, despite missing the opening quarter of the season. Both teams also have arguable, solid depth at running, with Michael Turbin and the newly drafted Christine Michael waiting in the helm for Seattle, while Daryl Richardson and Benny Cunningham backup Stacy in St. Louis.
If you wanted to search for a point in favor of the St. Louis Rams offensive unit, you could obviously point to the age and potential longevity for success. Lynch is coming up on 28 years of age, which is still respectably young, but has had a string of good health over the back couple of season that juxtapose to his start in the NFL. In fact, Lynch missed at least one game in each of his opening six seasons in the NFL, prior to hitting all 16 in the past two years. Averaging nearly 325 touches per season, it wouldn’t be unimaginable to see him tail off sooner, rather than later.
Just like with running backs, there is no debating which team has the better talent at tight end. The Rams trio of Lance Kendricks, Jared Cook, and Cory Harkey managed an impressive 88 receptions for 965 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, despite playing in a run-heavy offense with a backup quarterback for a majority of the season. Conversely, the ‘Hawks “trio” managed only 691 yards and seven touchdowns. However, statistics are not the end-all in terms of evaluating “talent.” Lance Kendricks, by himself, has regularly outperformed Zach Miller on the field, despite playing (in the past) alongside inferior offensive linemen and skill position players. That doesn’t include Jared Cook, who has all the potential in the world to be a top tier offensive threat in the NFL. He showed that in the opening week of the season, putting on a 141 yard showing, and built some consistency at the end of the season, hauling in 3+ catches in four of the last six games and 45+ yards in three out of six games. While their “role” in the offense is dramatically different than the typical in-line usage around the league, there is no denying that the St. Louis Rams have one of the most talented tight end units in the NFL.
Advantage: St. Louis
This might be one of the tougher units in the judge, as most will merely revert back to receiving statistics to make their case. However, using only statistics as a means of evaluating talent as proven over the years to be a faulty system. Eric Decker had more catches, yards, and touchdowns than Larry Fitzgerald, but does that make him the better player or the better talent? No. Receivers, more so than any other position in the NFL, are reliant on the offensive system, creativity in the play-calling, and the ability to the quarterback to produce.
With that in mind, we’ll take a look at the two depth charts. For Seattle, you have Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Jermaine Kearse as the top three receivers on the depth chart. Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin are both “technically” in the corps, but neither can consistently maintain their health long enough to make a difference on the football field. For the Rams, you have (arguably) Chris Givens, Tavon Austin, and Austin Pettis as the top three players on the roster. That is not counting Stedman Bailey or Brian Quick; one player that came on strong at the end of the season, and the other who hasn’t seemed to progress at the rate most had hoped when the Rams used a high 2nd-rounder on him in the 2012 NFL Draft. Statistically, the two units do not compare. However, in terms of talent, one could certainly make the case for the St. Louis Rams. For that case, you may have to look at “odd” statistics, yards after the catch, forced missed tackles, “explosive plays,” etc. For the Rams, you have a number of players that could top out in all three categories:
- Chris Givens, despite his sophomore slump, still managed 7.7 average yards after the catch this season. Moreover, last year, he set a rookie NFL record for most consecutive games with a 50+ yard reception, and was a league leader in 20+ and 40+ yard receptions, despite reduced snaps at the beginning of the season.
- Tavon Austin, once Brain Schottenheimer included him back in the offensive gameplan, had a historic streak of long touchdown grabs, including an 81 yard reception for a touchdown. Despite playing fewer offensive snaps than all three of the Seahawks top receivers, Austin managed 418 yards and four receiving touchdowns, with another 151 yards and one touchdown rushing. More impressively, a majority of those numbers came AFTER the Sam Bradford injury. His shiftiness and playmaking ability also landed him a spot on the PFWA All-Rookie squad, paired with Cordarrelle Patterson as a retuner.
On top of that, the Rams have Stedman Bailey who proved he could be dynamic with more snaps towards the end of the season, including a 27-yard touchdown on a reverse after Tavon Austin was sidelined with an ankle injury. Bailey will certainly get more snaps at the start of the 2014 season, this time with a competent starting quarterback throwing him the football.
Again, the case is hard to make for the St. Louis, especially considering the sporadic performances of the players within the corps. However, considering that a majority of the projected “top receivers” have only one or two season under their belt, it is hard to base their talent off of mere statistical production. Moreover, considering the “dynamics” of both teams (i.e. Seahawks being the No.1 overall team in the NFC), Russell Wilson’s “extending the play” abilities, and the loss of Sam Bradford in the middle of the season, it is difficult to truly gauge and compare individual players without using some subjectivity. Still, having to roll the dice and take one unit headed into the future, based on talent alone, it would be hard to not pick a dynamic St. Louis Rams young pool over the bland, semi-successful, oft-injured unit that Seattle has pieced together.
Obvious, others may differ in opinion. However, we just ask the question, if you put Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey, and the rest of the Rams corps in Seattle, paired with Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, that amazing home crowd, and the top ranked defensive in the NFL, would the Seahawks be a better, more dynamic team offensively? We think so…
Advantage: St. Louis Rams
With so much time debating the St. Louis and Seattle receiving corps, we figured we would make the offensive line debate short and sweet.
|Pass Pro||Run Block||Overall|
Those are the Pro Football Focus grades for the top offensive lineman at each position on both the St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks. Obviously, some of those numbers are going to be skewed to the negative due to a handful of injuries to both squads. However, regardless of the past, the St. Louis Rams were simply a better overall unit this season, highlighted by the dominating performance of Jake Long on the left side of the offensive line. Joe Barksdale finished among the Top 20 in pass protection grades, tied for fewest sacks allowed (among tackles that played in all 16 games), and finished 2nd among that same group in total pressures allowed. Rodger Saffold ended the year as the 18th-ranked guard (tops in the NFC West), despite never having played as an interior lineman in the NFL.
One could easily make the case that Seattle has the better center, that St. Louis has the better guard(s), and that St. Louis has the better offensive tackles among the two teams. All three of those points are easily supported by the PFF grading and their actual performance this last season; and in seasons’ past, if you want to have a debate between Jake Long vs. Russell Okung. Moreover, the Rams are certainly “deeper” on their offensive line, and have more players that have proven to be effective at multiple positions than their are on the Seattle Seahawks. While there could be a number of cuts, re-signings (or not re-signings), and other moves that could drastically effect both units, this comparison is strictly for the rosters in their current state.
Advantage: St. Louis Rams
Call it being a homer. Call it “ignoring” production and focusing on potential. Call it whatever you want. However, at the end of the day, would you swap the entire ‘Hawks offensive roster (minus Russell Wilson) for the Rams offensive roster (minus Sam Bradford) heading into the future? We certainly would not!