It’s been two months since the NFL draft. One month since the old men in khakis pearl clutched over Odell Beckham’s decision to skip OTAs. And we’ve still got about a month to go before the first few teams start training camp. Welcome to the void.
As with all empty spaces, there’s a compulsion to fill it. Nature abhors a vacuum, and Roger Goodell’s professional football content corporation despises when you are not paying attention to its many fine offerings. Fortunately, the NFL has a fidget spinner you can borrow over the long holiday weekend — a new season of All or Nothing.
This is the second season for the NFL Films and Amazon co-production. Last year’s show followed the Arizona Cardinals through their playoff run over the course of the 2015 season. It was a compelling show and a hopeful intersection of both Peak TV and sports on the internet.
However, this season features the Los Angeles Rams. Their 4-12 record aside, the team had plenty of storylines to provide an underlying drama — a move from St. Louis to Los Angeles, a quarterback competition, and the firing of the team’s head coach, career .500-ist Jeff Fisher.
More plots than a group of screenwriters could cram into a clichéd sports movie. And, true to form for a Fisher-led football team, it still comes up short; eight episodes of mostly forgettable television.
The cross-country move is handled via montage. Viewers who may not be familiar with the Rams’ saga — why would anyone really care that much? — are reminded early in the first episode about the move from the Midwest to a hotel in Manhattan Beach to a temporary practice facility in Oxnard, and then back to a three-year temporary practice facility in Thousand Oaks. Oh, and games on Sunday at the Coliseum downtown.
It sounds like a lot. It is a lot, and Fisher was famous for going back to the team’s move as an excuse throughout the season as the losses piled up.
To paraphrase: “We’ve been through a lot,” Fisher would remind the press after each game. Usually, “we don’t make excuses” was thrown in there, too.
The Rams struggled to win last season for a lot of reasons. The move was just one small part of that mix, but not enough to paper over four prior years of poor roster building — thanks to a long list of squandered possibilities from trading the second pick in the 2012 NFL draft to Washington for a bundle of draft picks.
This show picks up in the fifth year since Fisher and general manager Les Snead have run the team. It’s a squad without much talent to speak of on offense. The defense, which features a budding superstar in defensive tackle Aaron Donald, is the better unit, but it too was in a down year in 2016. That was in part due to the team’s failure to lock down cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who would’ve provided the show its most compelling player by far.
How the Rams devolved into a four-win team is mostly left up to the viewer to decide. The cameras failed to catch whatever conversation on the subject that might have happened between players and the team’s leadership.
It’s a lost opportunity to make a show about a 4-12 team far more interesting, a chance to give fans of any franchise some insight into why teams fail on the field. Giving the team a say in the final cut probably has a lot to do with that.
We don’t get the chance to know most of the players either. There’s one scene late in the series where running back Todd Gurley, who the team was banking on a being a big star in its new market, takes over the locker room after a loss and tears into his teammates.
Why didn’t we get more Gurley? Few players struggled with the team’s losing ways more than he did. He even gave us some insight into a locker room where it sounded like tensions were running high with his “middle school offense” comment last season. That comment came around the same time as the atmosphere around the team was described to one national insider as being like a “junior high” for all its dysfunction.
Viewers got no taste of that in these eight episodes. And the show really suffers because of it.
There’s probably more footage of the coaches doing their job than the players. It’s unintentionally revealing. The coaching staff’s leadership cadre looks and feels out of place with modern players. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has one tone: pissed off. Offensive coordinator Rob Boras yells a lot too, but it doesn’t help his unit score more points.
Players are smarter than the coaches give them credit for and have been more empowered as individuals to respond well to being screamed at by old guys.
Fisher is sympathetic to his players. It’s not hard to see why he’s got a good reputation among his former players. His “us against them” approach has its limits as a motivational approach. At some point you have to establish some accountability for what happens on the field, not just make excuses.
You probably saw the two clips of Fisher telling his coaching staff and his players that he was fired before the show even aired. That was the biggest story about the Rams last year, and if you had already watched those two clips, you’ve seen the narrative high point of the show.
I’m a little biased. Watching Fisher get fired last season was kind of my moon landing as a longtime Rams fan. I wanted to see more of it from All or Nothing, and really, there was nothing else interesting about the Rams last year. But it gets short shrift here as a story arc. I realize that NFL Films didn’t have cameras following Eric Dickerson around last fall; maybe they should have.
This is reality show No. 3 for the Rams since relocating. Three shows (including one focused on the personal lives of a handful of players) about a four-win team. All that screen time is consistent with the vision articulated by the team’s COO Kevin Demoff last year who sees their business as a content production company built around a football team.
Content companies don’t last very long when they don’t offer compelling content. You can’t just package anything related to the Rams for a platform and assume it’s palatable to audiences. Having a national television contract and a new base in one of the world’s most lucrative television markets makes it easy to forget that.
I’m not so sure the Rams understand that building a winning team makes for better, um, content. But the point of series’ final episode was that they’re at least trying.
There’s a warning in that for the entire NFL, which saw its once unstoppable ratings slide last season. The league is at least making an effort to address that, even if they are still intent on serving up subpar offerings like Thursday Night Football while consumers have limitless other entertainment options to choose from.
The second season of All or Nothing has a lot in common with those Thursday night games. It’s palatable entertainment if you just want something football-related to watch. Otherwise, you’re better off just waiting until September for actual games to start.