Thursday, January 6, 2011

Some quick thoughts about Ram-fan anger at Pat Shurmur

I've been doing some much focused reading on-line during the past 48 hours. The focus has been this: Just what precisely are Ram-fans saying about Pat Shurmur? I would generalize our conversations by saying the following:

  • Pat Shurmur doesn't know how to call a game
  • He's way to conservative.
  • We ran too much
  • We didn't run enough
  • Way too much dink-n-dunk passing
  • He has a tendency to call bad plays in key situations
  • We could have scored more points.
  • We need to unleash Sam and throw it deep.

9 out of 10 blogs and posts say these things over and over:

Before I analyze this, I want you to know my organizational politics. I hated Pat Shurmur last year. I was the leader of the Comanche scalping party during the off-season of 2010. I was going to personally scalp Shurmur and hang his hair on wigwam post. Needless to say, we did not get it done. I would still like to see a change here, and I am still calling for his scalp.

With that said, there seems to be a misplaced focus of anger among most Ram-fans. Specifically, they seem to think the problem is that Shurmur is not running the West Coast Offense (WCO) properly. In the year 2009, that was absolutely true. In the year 2010... well... let's just say that Shurmur is running a version of the WCO that is reasonably close to the one Walsh himself ran in SF back in 1981. Walsh ran slightly deeper routes than Shurmur did in 2010, but not that much deeper. Add 3 to 6 yards of depth to each pattern and there you have it: Walsh's offense in 1981.

For the record, we should do a quick review of 2009. In 2009 the Rams were a run-first and run-second team. We threw only as a matter of last resort. If you compare Marc Bulger's numbers last season with Sam Bradford's numbers this season, the difference is like night and day. For instance, Marc Bulger threw for a total 1469 yards and 5 touchdowns, finishing 29th in the league. Sam threw for 3,512 and 18 touchdowns, finishing 12th in the league. That isn't entire Marc's fault, as I have said many times.

In 2010, the Rams' ran a pass-first offense. Just about all the patterns were horizontal. Very few were vertical. The throws were short, not long. We played a dink-n-dunk, nickel & dime, ball-control short passing game. Small-ball was the name of the game in 2010. By the end of the season, Ram fans were fed up with it.

You and I may well be fed up with it, but one thing we can't say (with truth) is that Shurmur is running the WCO incorrectly. No, he is indeed running the scheme. The WCO is a horizontal, ball-control passing offense. The name of the game is dink-n-dunk, nickle & dime, small-ball. It can be run better, but he is certainly running a version of the system. This is what you get when you run the WCO. When you order a taco, you get a taco. You shouldn't expect a T-Bone.

Young folks today are under the misapprehension that the big-play circus Andy Reid is running with the Eagles is the ultimate example of the West Coast Offense. Perish the thought! Reid may be using WCO terminology in his playbook, but the big-play circus he is running has little or nothing to do with the offense Bill Walsh invented for the Bengals and perfected with the 49ers. The Eagles do not run the WCO. The Rams do.

As you well know, our results in 2010 were far better than in 2009. We scored 289 points vis-a-vis 175 points. We won 7 games, not 1. This is why I shut up for most of the season and stopped swinging on Shurmur's nuts like Tarzan. I started again when Shurmur made key strategic blunders in crucial moments down the stretch. I am not talking about Bradford errors. I'm speaking of putting the offense to sleep with a conservative running game in key moments when we could have slain our enemy by putting points on the board. This happened several times down the stretch.

Two points have to be made clearly:

1. We can fire Shurmur, or let him move to Cleveland (whichever comes first), but unless we take advantage of this critical moment to dump the WCO, we are going to continue to dink-n-dunk. This is what you get with the WCO. When you order a taco, you get a taco. Don't expect a Porterhouse T-Bone.

2. Sam was clearly more effective in the shotgun with receivers spread wide. He was even more effective in a quick-time offense with 3 receivers, a tight end, and a running back next to him. This is what we call the NFL-Spread. It is a version of the College Spread, modified for better protection and support of a better running game in the NFL environment. Most of us were calling for this scheme by the end of the season. I want to remind you that before the 2010 season began, I was advocating a move to this system. Anyone who has watched Oklahoma football over the past 5 or 6 years knows why Sam is more effective in this scheme. Its home for him.

This is why I continue to say that we need to reach out to Mike Leach, one of the few legit Spread-Geniuses currently unemployed on the open market. He's ready to interview tomorrow. Let's get him in and hire him.

Just to give Shurmur and even break, I should say the following things:

  • It’s tough to call for vertical shots down field when you have two poor guards and no vertical-threat receivers. You have neither the pass protection nor the hands down field necessary to make the play work.
  • If Shurmur had called for more vertical shots, our sack & hit totals would have been higher. Sam might not have finished the season healthy, and we are all very happy that Sam finished the season healthy. Keeping Sam healthy through all 16 games this season was substantial achievement.
  • Shurmur called two key vertical shots downfield during the game in Seattle, and Denario Alexander dropped both passes. This happened many other times during 2010 with many other receivers. Basically, none of our guys proved they could go downfield and catch the deep ball in 2010. Alexander is actually the best of our deep receivers right now.
  • There are allegations that our offensive conservatism comes from the top. Some think HC Steve Spagnuolo set a “go slow, go safe” policy at the start of the season. Ostensibly, his policy never changed. While this is plausible, I do not know if it is true or not. I never heard any official source proclaim that Spagnuolo wanted a 'go safe go slow' policy at any point during the 2010 season. If you know of such a report, drop me a line with a URL.
  • The ball-control nature of the WCO did help our defense quite substantially. The WCO usually produces good time of possession numbers. 12 play drives give your own defense time to reorganize and adjust as well as rest. WCO offenses usually help out their defenses. If we had taken hard vertical shots all the time, we might have scored a bit more, but we would have put our defense on the field quite a bit faster.

Ultimately, I am really pulling for the hiring of Mike Leach in 2011. Those who fear that it will set Sam Back should remember that the Leach’s spread isn’t all that different from the Bob Stoops spread Sam ran in Oklahoma. It will be more like a return home than a new scheme.