In one month's time, we've gone from discussing the St. Louis Rams' playoff prospects to how they might handle the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
The chances suddenly appear very real. The Rams are 0-4 heading into their bye week. Their top receiver and top three cornerbacks are out for the season. Their remaining receivers lead the NFL in dropped passes. Their offensive line and defensive front seven aren't meeting expectations. Their quarterback is on pace to absorb 72 sacks, three shy of the NFL record.
Amid those troubling indicators, the Rams visit Green Bay and Dallas before returning home for a game against New Orleans. They then play two more games on the road before a four-game stretch of NFC West matchups. They have a road game against Pittsburgh later in the year.
Six division games in the final nine weeks still might save the Rams, but if the Arizona Cardinals could go 1-5 against the NFC West in 2010, which they did, the Rams in their current state could finish in that range.
To the point: The Rams already have 2010 No. 1 overall choice Sam Bradford on their roster. They're not in the market for a quarterback. They would have some thinking to do if sitting atop the 2012 draft with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck available.
Let's get this conversation going.
Matt from Tucson, Ariz., asks whether the Seattle Seahawks would move to acquire the first pick from St. Louis.
Mike Sando: Yes, the Seahawks would certainly consider that type of move for a quarterback, in my view. I just do not see the Rams helping a division rival land a franchise quarterback. Instead, if the Rams traded the pick, I would look for them to deal it to an AFC team located far, far away. Miami?
Tim from Olympia, Wash., asks whether the Rams would consider trading Bradford if they entered the 2012 draft in position to draft Andrew Luck.
Mike Sando: Interesting concept. I question whether that would work very well from a salary-cap standpoint. I do not think the Rams' current leadership would consider making that move. If new leadership were in place, anything could be possible. But an organization cannot casually consider trading its franchise quarterback without risking its relationship with that player. The team would have to know for certain it could get a deal done.
William from Bloomington, Ind., isn't ready to give up on the Rams just yet given their second-half schedule, but he wonders what the team could expect the top pick to fetch. He notes that the Atlanta Falcons gave up quite a bit in moving up to the sixth pick in 2011.
Mike Sando: The Falcons paid such a high price because they were moving up from so far down in the draft order (27th overall). Any team moving up for Luck would likely be doing so from nearer the top of the order. Still, the price would have to be high. Multiple teams could be bidding, as well.
San Diego, having whiffed on Ryan Leaf in 1998, traded the first pick of the 2001 draft to Atlanta for the fifth pick, the 67th pick, a second-rounder the next year and receiver Tim Dwight. The Falcons then took Michael Vick. Rams general manager Billy Devaney had already left the Chargers when that deal went down.
The Cleveland Browns picked first overall in 2000, one season after making quarterback Tim Couch the top pick. That was an odd situation, however, because the 2000 draft featured no quarterbacks taken before Chad Pennington at No. 18. The Browns took defensive end Courtney Brown first overall.
The Indianapolis Colts picked fourth overall in 1999, a year after they took Peyton Manning first overall. Quarterbacks went 1-2-3 before the Colts made Edgerrin James the fourth player taken in that 2000 class.
Rob from Augusta, Ga., asks whether Josh McDaniels' hiring in St. Louis has done more harm than good because the personnel was acquired for another system. He thought a conservative, West Coast system helped the Rams compete in 2010, and he fears the team will need years to build its roster for McDaniels' more aggressive approach. He also thinks it's clear the Rams needed to pursue a top-flight receiver more aggressively.
Mike Sando: The Rams did not want to change coordinators. Pat Shurmur's departure forced the Rams to make a choice. They could promote continuity by hiring someone familiar with the system Shurmur was running. Or, they could search for the best candidate they could find, regardless of system. They chose the latter approach with an eye toward the longer term because they thought McDaniels was an excellent candidate.
This was before the lockout, at a time when teams did not know how the offseason would unfold. The Rams' thinking seemed sound at the time. In retrospect, I don't think the offense would be dramatically better had the team gone with someone else at coordinator. Injuries have played a significant role in the Rams' struggles.
Your thinking at wide receiver makes sense. The Rams were among the few who thought they were OK at the position in terms of top-end talent. McDaniels had gotten good production from Brandon Lloyd in Denver, counter to outside expectations, so there was some thought he might coax similar production from players already on the Rams' roster. While Danny Amendola was the one receiver he could least afford to lose, it's fair to say the Rams failed to sufficiently protect themselves at a position decimated by injuries in 2010.
Mackay from Pleasant Grove, Utah, thought the Arizona Cardinals failed to use play-action passes against the New York Giants even though Beanie Wells was on his way to a 27-carry, 138-yard performance. He would expect play-action passes to help Kevin Kolb, but wonders whether lack of success has steered the Cardinals away from using that tactic.
Mike Sando: It's a little early in the season to draw conclusions from the Cardinals' use of play-action passes. This is an area to monitor as the season progresses.
Kolb completed 4 of 7 passes for 78 yards and one interception against the Giants on play-action passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has completed 12 of 22 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown, one interception and two sacks on play-action plays this season. Twenty-four quarterbacks have more play-action attempts than Kolb this season. Fourteen quarterbacks have at least 30 attempts.
Kolb ranks 24th in Total QBR (52.9) and NFL passer rating (87.5) on play-action passes this season. His yards per attempt on these throws, 10.5, ranks fifth in the league behind Matt Stafford, Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo and Chad Henne. But four of those players (all but Henne) are completing at least 75 percent of these passes. Kolb is at 54.5 percent, which ranks 26th among the 32 quarterbacks with more than 10 such attempts.
Colin from Santa Rosa, Calif., agrees that San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman has stood out this season, but he says this doesn't reflect poorly on teammate Patrick Willis. "It doesn't seem like Willis has stepped back at all," he writes. "Takeo Spikes isn't there eating up blocks, so Willis is having to take on more of that duty, and offenses are targeting Willis with more resources anyway, freeing up Bowman."
Mike Sando: One question would be to what degree the 49ers' new defense in combination with Bowman's abilities has affected what the team asks from its inside linebackers. I appreciate your points and will explore this subject in greater detail as the season progresses.
Terrell from San Francisco likes what he sees from the 49ers' front seven, but he thinks the team needs a playmaking safety to pair with Willis, giving San Francisco something along the lines of what Baltimore has enjoyed with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed working together.
Mike Sando: The 49ers had a chance to add a playmaking safety in the 2010 draft, but they traded up for right tackle Anthony Davis instead of drafting free safety Earl Thomas. The 49ers then used their second-round choice for safety Taylor Mays. I see absolutely no way to justify those decisions based on what we've seen from those players so far.
The 49ers' efforts to upgrade their offensive line by drafting Davis and guard Mike Iupati made sense in theory, but Davis hasn't become nearly the player Thomas has become, and Mays lasted only one season with the team. Worse, the 49ers will have to play against Thomas twice a season for years to come.