During the last three seasons, the Buffalo Bills have posted a regular season record of 22-26 and appeared in the playoffs once (1999, when their season ended in a wildcard game at Tennessee). In that same period, the St. Louis Rams have posted a regular season record of 36-12 and made the playoffs each year, twice going to the Super Bowl and once winning it (also 1999). So how weird is it that three games into this season, the Bills have a better record (1-2) than the Rams (0-3)? The Bills have looked very tough in their three games thus far, and if not for the horrible special teams play in the opener against the Jets they’d be 2-1. Their offense has played with some fire (although the running game is still too inconsistent and Drew Bledsoe is taking way too many hits, both faults clearly indicative of the offensive line’s youth and inexperience), and the defense — while giving up a lot of yards — has been a lot tougher than I expected. The Bills are a pleasant surprise, but I still think they’re rebuilding and a 6-10 finish is likely. But look out next year, especially if Tom Donahoe (the Bills’ GM) has another offseason like the last one, in which he drastically upgraded the team’s talent.
So what about the Rams? I didn’t pick them to go to the Super Bowl this year — so far I’m sticking with Philly as my pick for NFC Champion — but I certainly didn’t expect 0-3. I think we’re seeing a combination of bad luck and bad coaching. During last night’s game, in which the Rams lost to the Bucs, two observations were made by Al Michaels and John Madden that illustrate the Rams’ problems. First is something Madden said: Rams quarterback Kurt Warner is a rhythm quarterback. When he gets in a rhythm, he will cut your defense apart, make your defensive backs look foolish, and humiliate you as he passes for 300 yards and four touchdowns. But when he’s not in a rhythm, he looks shockingly ordinary — forcing passes into triple coverage, throwing too early on timing patterns, missing open receivers. Thus one key to beating the Rams is to upset Warner’s rhythm, which is exactly what the Patriots did to perfection in last year’s Super Bowl. Warner never got on track in that game, except for the drive late in the fourth quarter when he tied the game (only to lose when the Pats got back into field-goal range). Some of this is bad luck: the Rams are having big problems at right tackle on their offensive line, so Warner is seeing a lot more pressure than he is accustomed to. But a lot of it is simply bad coaching, which also goes back to that Super Bowl: if the opposing defense is having so much success at disrupting Kurt Warner’s rhythm, then why on earth does Mike Martz insist on staying with the pass when he could simply switch to a running game that would tilt things back in his team’s favor? Why would Martz not have taken one look at the defensive-back heavy scheme that New England showed him in the Super Bowl and then, licking his chops, directed Warner to hand off the Marshall Faulk on each and every down? Who knows….but that’s what the Rams have done. And then, last night when Mike Martz finally shows a sign that he’s realized the error of his ways and uses Faulk like he’s supposed to, Faulk gets hurt. That’s just horrible luck.
The other key observation last night was the telling statistic that the Rams currently own the longest losing streak in football when they’re trailing at the outset of the fourth quarter (it was either 16 or 19 games; I don’t recall which). That indicates a team that simply does not respond well to adversity, which is also indicative of coaching. Chris Berman of ESPN has often said: “Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills.” Well, it seems like the St. Louis Rams don’t circle the wagons at all. The Rams look like a team that is floundering without direction, and then when they do start to show some direction the injury bug nips them.
(And for the Love of GOD, will someone please beat the Patriots? Aieee!!!)