"We never got into a rhythm. We never came close to getting into a rhythm."-- Sam Bradford, on the Rams' offense
The internet wolves are howling for Pat Shurmur's blood after a brutal offensive performance against one of the league's very worst second-half defenses, and it's hard to blame them. This loss, and lonely flight home that begins the offseason, can be laid entirely at the feet of the offense.
The rhythm that Bradford was looking for, that we all were looking for, is what should form the very identity of this offense. The snap, the drop, the unfolding of the play, the hammer thrown by a lead block or the break in the route and the sudden appearance of the ball in exactly the right spot. Bradford, like any great performer, excels at playing within the rhythm of the offense, when that rhythm has been established. But Sunday, there was more noise than melody, and it resulted in dropped beats and misteps and missed blocks and dropped passes.
Like you, I watched this game for more than 3 hours and never once had an idea of what the Rams really wanted to do, or who they wanted to be, on offense.-- Bernie Miklasz, on the loss.
For one series, though, the Rams had it right. They really had it working. Digging out from their own 3 yard line, Bradford established a steady cadence revolving around the 5-step drop. (See it unfold, after the break.)
- 3 step drop: inside handoff to Karney. 6 yards.
- 5 step drop, play-action, turn & throw. 10 yards to Fells.
- 5 step drop, hand off to Jackson. 13 yards.
- 1 step! slant to Gibson (audibled). 13 yards.
- 5 step drop, hand off to Jackson. 2 yards.
- 5 step drop, play-action, backpedal & throw. 13 yards to Jackson.
- 7 step drop, rollout right, throw. 2 yards to Jackson.
- 5 step drop, hand off to Jackson. 6 yards.
- 5 step drop extends to 13 steps back, scan the field, throw. 15 yards to Fells.
- 5 step drop, hand off to Jackson. 5 yards.
- 7 step drop, turn and throw. Incomplete to Amendola.
- [Shotgun] rollout right. Incomplete to Robinson.
The Rams earned five first downs and 83 yards on this scoring drive; in their other 12 drives, they totaled only five more first downs and 101 more yards. Only a fortuitous turnover yielded their second score.
The rhythm they so briefly established was lost, and I can pinpoint the exact moment in time when it was gone for good: the aftermath of a third-and-one carry on their very next drive.
The cadence of the Rams's run blocking was the key. The five step drop gave the line enough time to do their work, and gave Jackson a "read step" and the downhill momentum to push through that inevitable first wave of arm tackles. But Shurmur tried to get cute, for the second time in the game, with a quick inside handoff on third and short. There was no time to make a hole, no time to make a read, no momentum, no push, and the Rams came up inches shy. And with a punt instead of a play on fourth and an inch, they set up an unfortunate new cadence: five 3-and-outs in their next seven drives.
Now, as seasoned musicians and performers know, when something goes wrong once -- a bad note, a flubbed opening, a joke that bombs -- you still have the option to plow right on ahead, dive right back into the song and pick up. But it takes guts and charm and ultimate confidence in what you're doing and who you're playing with. If you don't have that, you might as well get off the stage.
Sunday night, Spagnuolo, Shurmur and the Rams showed that they weren't ready to be up on that stage. The question now is whether they can find their rhythm again in time for next year. Or perhaps the bigger question is, who should be leading the band?