Monday, January 10, 2011

In 2010, Bradford was the difference

Let's hand out some "Bernie Bits" awards to the 2010 Rams:

MVP, offense: Sam Bradford. Nothing against Steven Jackson, but it's obvious that no player elevated the franchise more in 2010 than Bradford.

MVP, defense: Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. Not many MLBs in this league can stop the run and cover downfield the way Laurinaitis does for the Rams. And he's the brains of the defense.

Rookie of the year: Bradford — but a special mention to left offensive tackle Rodger Saffold.
Most disappointing rookie: wide receiver Mardy Gilyard.

Best coach: head coach Steve Spagnuolo. His leadership was, for the most part, outstanding. The Rams handled adversity pretty well and Spags was a positive factor in this. The coach made the right call to go with Bradford as the immediate starter and in playing a role in fast-forwarding Bradford's development. Spags really shined in getting his defensive system installed and teaching the players to thrive in it.

The Rams went from 31st in the league in points allowed in 2009 to 12th in points allowed this season. They went from 29th in allowing third-down conversions to No. 2 in stopping third downs. They were 31st in passer rating against last season and No. 9 this season. The Rams went from 28th in sacks per passing attempt to No. 8 in sacks per passing attempt. And they were dramatically improved in the red zone. The rushing touchdowns against them dropped from 24 to seven.

Worst coaching: The Rams' running game underachieved. The design wasn't creative. It was predictable. The Rams made it easy for the defense to stop. This is a shared responsibility. The head coach, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, offensive line coach Steve Loney.

Best leader: Tough call, but we'll go with Jackson on offense and safety Oshiomogho Atogwe on defense.

Best free agent pickup: defensive  tackle Fred Robbins.

Most improved player: defensive end Chris Long. He had a combined 36 quarterback knockdowns and hurries to go along with his 8.5 sacks.

Most underrated player: defensive end James Hall.

Most overrated player: Take your pick of any interior offensive lineman — center Jason Brown or guards Jacob Bell or Adam Goldberg.

Ram-tough award: Danny Amendola, the WR and return man. How many times did he get flattened this season, only to bounce right up?

The Rams' firing of longtime equipment man Todd Hewitt is disgraceful. He did an outstanding job. He was a loyal, devoted employee for decades. Todd and his father, the late Don Hewitt, were as much the Rams' franchise fabric and history as any player or coach or executive. I like Spagnuolo a lot, but I have to say this: I worry about him. I don't want to see him become a paranoid, control-freak head coach who only wants to be surrounded by "his" guys, guys that he brought in.

Spags can disregard this unsolicited advice if he chooses, but I'd really like to see him succeed and win a lot of football games here. But one thing I've learned from watching the good and the bad at Rams Park for the last 16 years is this: It's never healthy for coaches to worry about things that have nothing to do with winning or losing games. It's never healthy for coaches to be insecure about having "their" guys in place all over the building. Hewitt was loyal to the Rams because he deeply loves the franchise — which means he was loyal to Spagnuolo and to all of the men who have passed through as the head coach.

I would also submit that there are far greater concerns at Rams Park. Matters that, in fact, directly impact winning or losing. OK, fire the equipment man and terminate the Hewitt family's historical connection to the Rams. Spags has the right to do that, sure. But is he going to hold "his" guys to the same standards? What about the assistant coaches and their role in the poorly conceived running game? Or the play-calling? Or the puzzling use of personnel? What about the weak game management that led to Jackson getting only 11 carries against a soft run defense in Seattle? Was that it? Did Jackson only get the ball 11 times because Hewitt gave him ill-fitting cleats that made it impossible to avoid tackles? I don't think so.

Rams fans can vote for Bradford as league rookie of the year online at Good to see that St. Louisan Dan Connolly will return to his starting guard job for the New England Patriots for their playoff opener next weekend; Connolly suffered a mild concussion late in the regular season. He's played well and gained acclaim on NBC's Sunday night football with the now famous 71-yard kickoff return that launched the Patriots' comeback win over Green Bay in Week 15.

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