We’ll be reviewing the Rams today as we continue our 32 NFL Team Preview segment. In the last 9 seasons the Rams have a record of 44-100, and haven’t made the playoffs since 2004. Last year St. Louis brought in highly coveted coach, Jeff Fisher. He did a very good job in year one, taking a 2-win team in a tough division, and turning them into 7-8-1 team. Fisher, whose lifetime record is 150-128-1, is a coach who will demand from his team a step forward in 2013. I think they’ll be a formidable opponent in the very difficult NFC West.
Offense: The 23rd ranked Offense, 18th in passing and 19th in rushing, should be a lot better than they were last season. Quarterback Sam Bradford has all the tools to become a Top 10 Quarterback in the NFL, and needs to show progression this season. Bradford hasn’t had as many weapons as most Quarterbacks, but got some much needed help in the draft this year. Wide Receiver, Tavon Austin, was one of the brightest gems available in the 2013 Draft. Austin is comparable to Percy Harvin, but I happen to think he’s more polished than Harvin was coming out of Florida. Tavon is a threat with the ball in his hands. He caught over 100 passes in each of his last 2 seasons at West Virginia, and in his career had 288 catches, 3,413 yards, and 29 touchdowns. 2nd-year Receiver, Chris Givens, will compliment Austin. He led the team in receiving yards in his rookie campaign with 698 on 42 catches. Austin Pettis and Brian Quick will need to take their game to another level to help out Bradford. Pettis is a Receiver I felt was under-rated in the 2011 draft, yet hasn’t proven to be a reliable asset to the offense with just 57 receptions the last 2 seasons. Quick is coming into his second year from Appalachian State and needs to prove he can be a go-to-guy on 3rd down and other 4 receiver sets. Stedman Bailey, teammate of Tavon Austin at West Virginia, is a rookie who combined for 210 catches, 3,218 yards, and 41 touchdowns in 3 college seasons. Bailey could prove to be an x-factor for this offense. When looking at Tight Ends, Lance Kendricks might be one of the best 2nd string Tight Ends in the NFL. He’s a receiving threat that had a solid year last season, with 42 catches and 4 touchdowns. Newly acquired Jared Cook, whose 4-year career totals 131 catches, 1,717 yards, and 8 touchdowns, will be the starter. Cook hadn’t been in the best Offensive situation in Tennessee the past few seasons, but is a very talented and athletic player. For the first time since 2004, St. Louis will be without Steven Jackson at Running Back. Taking his place will be Daryl Richardson who had an impressive rookie season last year. Richardson had 24 receptions to go along with his 4.8-yard average on the ground. Isaiah Pead and Terrance Ganaway are the two who I feel will be fighting for the backup role. Zac Stacey was drafted in the 5th round, and many think that he’ll be the surprise of the Running Back group, but I think it’ll be Ganaway. The Offensive Line for the Rams are very talented, but their key players have injury concerns. Scott Wells, Center, provides a night and day difference when in the game for the team. In the last 6 games, St. Louis only gave up 1.5 sacks and went 4-2 with Wells in. Just as important as Wells is newly signed Jake Long. Long left Miami after being their 1st overall pick in the 2008 draft. Jake has since had ankle, shoulder, back, and bicep injuries that have slowed him down. Miami felt he was too big of a risk to bring back and if he can stay healthy, he’ll be a huge addition for the Rams at Left Tackle. Rodger Saffold is another player who has been fighting injuries. In 2011 he suffered a pectoral injury while lifting weights and, in 2012, suffered a neck injury on the field. Saffold was very effective when he played last season as he only allowed 2.5 sacks in 10 games. Rodger has mainly played Left Tackle, but will be switching to the Right Tackle spot for 2013. Shelley Smith and Harvey Dahl fill in at both starting Guard spots. I think that rookie Barrett Jones from Alabama will end up stealing one of the Guard positions in either training camp, or by season’s end. If this talented line can stay healthy and give Bradford time in the pocket, they’ll be very successful this season.
Defense: The Rams were the 14th overall Defense in 2012 and ranked 15th versus both the pass and run. They also notably tied for 1st in the NFL in sacks, with 52. Rookie Robert Quinn and Chris Long wreaked havoc all last season for the Defensive Line. Quinn had 10.5 sacks in his first NFL season and Long registered 11.5. William Hayes is an honorable mention here, as he’ll be spelling the two superstar D-Ends. He quietly had 7 sacks last season. The 2 big bodies at Defensive Tackle make life a lot easier on those Defensive Ends. Michael Brockers and Kendall Langford are one of the best Defensive Tackle duos in a 4-3 Defense. Langford rejuvenated his career some last season and is looking to return to the 2010 form he had with Miami. Brockers had a productive rookie season in 2012, as he combined for 31 tackles with 4 sacks. These Tackles occupying at least 3, if not 4, Offensive Lineman give just as much opportunity to the Linebackers as they give to the Defensive Ends. Linebacker James Laurinaitis has 142 tackles in each of the past 2 seasons and has put up over 100 tackles in every season of his 4-year career. Laurinaitis is the Captain of this Defense and will be joined by a rookie from Georgia who was a Captain himself, Alec Ogletree. Ogletree combined for 111 tackles (11.5 tackles for loss), 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, and an interception in his final season with the Bulldogs. The final piece to the Linebacker set is Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who had a career year in his 5th NFL season in 2012. Dunbar put up 115 total tackles with 2 interceptions, 4.5 sacks, and a team leading 13 tackles for loss. The front 7 for this team are very scary. The Secondary on the other hand isn’t extraordinary, but they aren’t pushovers either. Cortland Finnegan physically made his presence known in his first season with the Rams, accruing 101 tackles and 3 interceptions. Janoris Jenkins is a fine compliment to Finnegan, and in his 1st NFL season had team-highs with 4 interceptions and 14 pass deflections. Rodney McLeod and rookie T.J. McDonald will be fighting in camp for the starting Free Safety position, and I expect McDonald to win it. McDonald would probably be better slotted at Strong Safety than Free, but I expect Darian Stewart and un-drafted rookie Ray-Ray Armstrong to be fighting for that position during Training Camp. Armstrong was projected to be a middle-round pick in the draft, but fell due to character issues. He was suspended for receiving improper benefits in college. The weakest link of this Defense is the Safety position, as they really don’t have true pass playing ball-hawks. I still see this Defense finishing inside or around the Top 10 range.
End Result: I believe St. Louis will surprise many people this season, on their way to going 10-6, in an extremely tough division.