Yesterday, though...well, yesterday was a big, ugly reality check for Rams fans (and hopefully for the Rams themselves); yesterday showed everyone watching just how far the Rams still have to go before they can be considered something remotely resembling a quality NFL team, much less contenders for anything.
The Chicago Bears handed the Rams their second defeat of the season by the score of 23-6, and to be honest, it was more disheartening than the story the score tells. Not because it was one of those games that wasn't nearly as close as the box score suggests; if anything, it was more disheartening for the opposite reason. This was a tight, close game for most of the way. A game the Rams were completely in. A game the Rams had an actual chance to win. But watching the Ram defense fend off the attacks of the Bears slowly sank from exciting to encouraging to excruciating to watch when it became clear the Rams had absolutely no ammo of their own to return fire.
A few notes:
-- Jeff Fisher can talk all he likes after the game about how the Bears got a lucky bounce on the interception throw by Sam Bradford that Major Wright returned for a touchdown, but that's just not cutting it, at least not for me. The fact is, it was a bad throw, and worse yet it was a telegraphed throw.
If there's one bugaboo which has consistently been an issue for Sam Bradford in the NFL (other than that whole constantly running for his life thing), it's that he has yet to master the fine art of looking off defenders. And by yet to master I mean he stares in the direction he's throwing, at the guy he's throwing to, only at the guy he's throwing to, and yells at the opposing secondary, "Hey, guys, number 81! Right there! Yeah, that guy! That's the guy I'm throwing it to! I'm throwing it to 81! You should probably guard number 81! Because, you know, that's where I'm throwing this ball in 3...2...1..."
At this point, I'm honestly not sure if Slingin' Sammy is ever going to figure out that the players on the other team can totally see where he's looking. We made excuses his rookie season because he was a rookie. We made excuses last season because of the lockout. Complex system of Josh McDaniels, Bradford didn't really have an offseason to learn said complex system, etc etc etc. Now, though, I'm beginning to think this is just a skill which is going to elude Sam. There were times last year I wondered aloud (or maybe not aloud, but by typing, you know?), if we had already seen the best of Sam Bradford. I'm going to wonder that again right now. I'm wondering if Sam Bradford is going to end up in the David Carr class of QB, a classic case of arrested development. I hope not. But, I can't say I'm at all confident he won't.
-- The running game was no help, either. Steven Jackson played through a mild injury, but that's not enough for complete exoneration. Less than 60 yards on the ground total for the Rams yesterday. Six zero. The Bears' defensive line is really good, but that effort is just not good enough. Period.
-- The offensive line still sucks something fierce. I'm not exactly surprised by that, of course, but it's still painfully obvious in watching. And just painful to watch, too, come to think of it. Bradford doesn't have the time he needs to make better choices, and the lanes for the Rams' backs to run through just weren't there yesterday. I know Jeff Fisher never, ever uses high round picks on offensive linemen, believing it's an area of the team that can be coached up, but I'm not so sure. The Rams need talent protecting their enormous quarterback investment. I don't care where they get it from; they just need to get it. Soon. Again, I know the Bears have a really good defensive front. But six sacks? Really?
-- On the other hand, the defense was really pretty good. They were just on the field way, way too long. (See above for details.) The Bears did score 23 points, but one of their touchdowns was of the defensive variety, which the Rams' D didn't have a great chance to stop. The fact is, the Rams were able to hold Jay Cutler to a QB rating of just 58.9. That should have been good enough to win.
-- Cortland Finnegan is a bad, bad man. That is all.
-- Chris Long = also a bad man.
-- I thought Janoris Jenkins played very well, too. The guy is obviously just an absolute bundle of talent, but he's proven himself a bit mistake prone to this point in his NFL career as well. (Come to think of it, he was a little, um, mistake prone in college, too, wasn't he?) Yesterday, though, there were fewer of those maddening plays where the rookie was clearly caught out of position, taking an unnecessary risk and getting burned. You have to love the guy's competitiveness and guts, but for an NFL corner, discretion is quite often the better part of valor. Learning when to go for the big play and when to be content with just making the proper play is tough, but it's an integral part of the developmental process. I think Jenkins might just have started to figure that out.
In the end, the defense played well enough to win most days. The offense, though, just doesn't have the firepower to match up to the defensive effort. And against a talented defensive squad like da Bears, every failing of this offense was on full display. The first two weeks of the season were the come on, making us all think the Rams were close to turning the corner, if they hadn't already. Yesterday, though, we got a very good lesson in all the reasons that may not be true just yet.