For the second straight season, St Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has torn the ACL in his left knee, leaving the team’s fan base dejected and feeling like they are about to embark on a lost season. Well Chicken Little, the sky is not falling on the Rams season, but instead they are poised to play competitive, winning football, regardless of the change under center.
Historically, Jeff Fisher’s teams run the football, play good defense, and use the pass when needed. There is no better evidence of this than the last two playoff teams he coached.
In 2007, Fisher’s Tennessee Titans went 10-6 and made the playoffs using this exact formula. The Titans sported the eighth best defense and fifth best rushing attack in the league that season with quarterback Vince Young throwing for 2546 yards, nine touchdowns and an eye popping 17 interceptions. That 2007 team won in spite of the poor play of Vince Young.
In 2008, the Titans improved to 13-3 behind a new quarterback and an even better defense. Thirteen-year veteran journeyman Kerry Collins took control of the offense. Collins responded by putting up statistics that were very close to what Vince Young did the year before, with one exception, Kerry Collins threw 10 fewer interceptions. They did exactly what Jeff Fisher wants Rams quarterback Shaun Hill to do: manage the game, do not turn the ball over, and then allow the strength of the team to take care of the rest.
Winning at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball is the very foundation of a football team coached by Jeff Fisher. Regardless of what you have been lead to believe; a team can win in the NFL by following this formula if they have the right pieces to execute it. The Rams moved forward with this philosophy in mind when they took offensive lineman Greg Robinson and defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the first round of the NFL Draft this past April.
Successfully running the football in the NFL is a cumulative effect that takes a toll on an opposing defense. The same can be said about strong defensive football teams. A team that can impose its will on an opponent becomes stronger and more difficult to play against as the game wears on.
The single biggest addition to the Rams this year could very well be the helter skelter tactics of defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams. If there were ever a man tailor-made to unleash the beast that is Sack City on the rest of the league, it is Williams. Primarily known for leading one of the most physical defenses in the league, Williams is also a teacher, and his class is filled with young, hungry students ready to wreak havoc in his name.
Playing good defense, running the ball, and having a quarterback manage the game for you is how teams have been winning games in the NFL for decades. Twelve touchdowns and 11 interceptions never looked as good as when Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2000. Dilfer, regarded as the worst quarterback to ever win a championship, knew what his team needed him to do in order to win, as does the Rams’ Shaun Hill.
When Bradford went down in Week 7 during the 2013 season, the Rams’ offense abandoned the spread offense experiment and started running the football more, and in the process were able to win games with Kellen Clemens at the helm. Shaun Hill is a better quarterback than Clemens, and he has more weapons available than Clemens did last season. If the level of play Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, and Stedman Bailey have shown through the preseason continues into the regular season, Hill has a chance to post the best statistics of his career, numbers that would be better than the 2007 season of Vince Young, 2008 Kerry Collins, and certainly the 2000 season of Trent Dilfer.
Fifteen years ago, the Rams faced a similar quandary. Starting quarterback Trent Green was lost for the season when San Diego Chargers safety Rodney Harrison crashed into him, tearing the ACL in his left knee. Most people are aware that this injury also occurred in the preseason, but did you know that it also happened in the third game of the preseason, just like Sam Bradford’s injury?
Kurt Warner, a name most people associated with Seattle Seahawks running back at the time (although he spelled his name with a “C”), led the Rams on the most compelling Cinderella season the NFL has ever known. I am not suggesting that Shaun Hill is the next Kurt Warner, but the circumstances leading into the 1999 season compare very favorably to what the Rams are facing in 2014. Nobody believed in that team when Green went down, yet look how it turned out.