Okay. I can think of better starts to the St. Louis Rams' new owner, new quarterback renaissance than this. The Rams haven't been blown out, and they've never looked heart-stoppingly bad, but over two games they've looked tentative and out of sync on offense, and the defense hasn't quite been able to make up for it.
It's not a big sample, but — much to my chagrin, coming to the sport as a born baseball fan — the NFL doesn't deal in large samples; the Rams have missed out on two winnable games, and they'll get no more than 14 more cracks at them. Here's what these first two can tell us, positively as well as negatively, about those last 14.
5. Sam Bradford is ambivalent about the off-brand receivers.
Mark Clayton is not a great wide receiver. In some circles, he's only - grudgingly - a good receiver. He's had a career-long struggle with catch rate, although you wouldn't have known that from his second touchdown catch of the night in Oakland. But even after making just two catches last Sunday — both for touchdowns, mind you — he's caught nearly as many passes as Danny Amendola and Laurent Robinson combined.
In the absence of more dynamic presences at wide receiver Bradford has looked to the slower-moving targets constantly. Steven Jackson, Mike Karney, Daniel Fells and Billy Bajema (as well as Michael Hoomanawanui, who caught one pass before getting hurt) have combined for 20 receptions at an average 7.5 yards a reception. Which is useful, but kind of boring. Which reminds me:
4. The Rams are using Sam Bradford, but kind of boringly.
I guess in the end the Rams aren't good enough to hide Bradford like the Jets did Mark Sanchez, but if there were ever any doubts about it they dispelled them by looking to him for 55 pass attempts in week one, which would be a healthy pitch count for fellow youngster Jaime Garcia. In week two he was used a little more sparingly, as they set up Steven Jackson, and a little less boringly, but the fact remains: The Rams are using Bradford like a team without Steven Jackson might use Keith Null.
All the alliterative words for boring passing come into play — he dinks, he dunks. It's been reasonably effective so far, but even with the Rams' less-than-ideal personnel it seems like an odd way to build an offense that features a seemingly prepared rookie quarterback and, unlike our hypothetical Null set, actually does have Steven Jackson.
Consider, for a moment, that the Rams have one of the very best running backs in the NFL — still in his prime — to take the heat off their prized quarterback. Why is Bradford stuck fighting trench warfare when the Rams are built around a tank?
3. The Rams could use a second running back they actually want to use.
With Jackson dealing with injuries on a seemingly regular basis and Bradford not yet given the keys to the erstwhile Greatest Show, the Rams find themselves without any option except dinking and dunking when Jackson's not ready to go and Bradford's not ready to go deep. Jackson's made 41 carries through 16 games; his apparent backup, Kenneth Darby, has three, for two yards.
Laurence Maroney wasn't an option, apparently, but if Darby's not an option either the Rams find themselves basically required to overuse at least one of their offensive cornerstones, and there's not much to look forward to in free agency. The UFL opens this week, and the Rams' situation is desperate enough to justify following it; I hear Maurice Clarett is looking to move on from the Omaha Nighthawks*!
*This is a real team.
2. That close loss was closer a week ago.
It should not come as a great surprise that a team who knowingly downgraded from Kurt Warner to Derek Anderson, who I'm told actually completed two passes to Mark Clayton yesterday afternoon, is having some growing pains. I'm just saying: it felt a little better to lose 17-13 to the Arizona Cardinals last week than it did this week.
1. But better a frustrating 0-2 than a bad 0-2
Last year's Rams were frustrating because there is no universe in which they could have successfully escaped sucking. They had moved beyond the suck event horizon. They scored 175 points, which was the very worst in the NFL; they allowed 436, which was only second-worst in the NFL. It is amazing, having been outscored by 261 points, that they won any games at all; it is amazing that they weren't relegated to the UFL, or the XFL. Steven Jackson rushed for 1,416 yards, caught 51 passes for an additional 322 and managed four touchdowns.
These Rams are frustrating because they could have gone 2-0, but didn't. They've been outscored by six points; the 2009 St. Louis Rams were outscored by six points on one, two, three — okay, they failed to be outscored by at least six points five times.
I wish the Rams had been able to put together the opportunities they had to come out of this relatively easy stretch of schedule with at least one win, and put this season on sounder footing. But I'm glad that, having gone 0-2, they've gone 0-2 in the most frustrating way imaginable.