The NFL is back! Every year the first weekend of August marks the unofficial kickoff of the new pro football season with the Hall of Fame Game. With this game, the six month long separation between football and fans ends and the new season begins. Also during this time, NFL teams are wrapping up their training camps, preparing to move into preseason workouts.For the second year in a row the St. Louis Rams concluded training camp with “Fan Fest.” This year’s event allowed fans the opportunity to tour the locker rooms, attempt a field goal, test their passing accuracy, or just hang out on the field.
The Rams also allowed a limited number of fans to attend a Q & A session with team executives Kevin Demoff (VP Football Operations and C.O.O), Tony Pastoors (Senior Assistant) and Les Snead (General Manager). Needless to say, you know where I spent my time at this event.
I had the opportunity to ask Demoff what the internal expectations are for the 2013 season.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what the record is. Whether it’s 8-8, 9-7, 10-6, or even 9-6-1; it’s to win the NFC West and host a playoff game,” Pastoors added.
In order to achieve (or even get close) to those goals, the Rams are going to need a big impact from their new talent to complement last season’s strong defensive effort with a down-the-field offense that translates into points. The Rams have to improve in the red zone and on 3rd downs. The team ranked in the bottom half in red zone touchdown percentage at 51.35%, and Rams quarterbacks had a red zone passer rating of only 74.7, which was 27th in the league. Additionally third down conversion percentage was only 32.1% (29th in the league), and 26.37% of the time the Rams had a three-and-out, the 5th worst percent in the league. When asked about how the Rams would improve the offense, GM Les Snead said, “I told these guys (scouting and personnel staff) ‘go find people to score touchdowns.’ The more weapons you can get on offense to make the defense try to figure out where to go, the better.”
Following perhaps the most disappointing season in recent memory, the St. Louis Rams fired both head coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney earlier today.
After finishing last season 7-9, 2011 was seen as a measure of optimism, perhaps a turnaround season that could get the Rams back into the playoffs, or at the least at the brink of respectability. Many pundits predicted the Rams to win a weak NFC West. Unfortunately, this never really panned out. A much tougher schedule combined with a plethora of injuries to key players sank the season almost as soon as it began, and the Rams finished the season 2-14.
As a Rams fan (yes, I’ll admit it, I watch the Rams), I tried to approach each week with a sense of (irrational?) optimism. Even after starting the season off 0-6, they somehow managed to upset the New Orleans Saints 31-21. After that, though, other than a 13-12 win at Cleveland, it was pretty much a grab bag full of desolation and shattered dreams, much like my love life.
Spagnuolo finished his tenure as head coach with a 10-38 record. Having never met the man, word is he’s a generally likable guy, respected by his players. The greatest evidence of this can be found in the effort put forth by the team each week. Even yesterday, when a loss (coupled with a Colts loss) would have provided them greater leverage in the upcoming draft, the Rams went down fighting, losing to the San Francisco 49ers (who clinched the second seed in the NFC) by one touchdown.
In the end, however, the NFL is a results-driven league, and simply put, he didn’t get results. He also ruffled feathers to a minor extent earlier this season when he removed pictures and memorabilia around Rams Park that pertained to the Greatest Show on Turf. Some people called for him to get another chance next season, given the rash of injuries, the lack of a training camp this season, etc. The problem with this, however, is that EVERY team faces injury problems and had to deal with a lack of a training camp.
Had Spags been the manager of the Cardinals and had a .208 winning percentage, that’d amount to a 34-128 record. Now imagine him removing pictures and memorabilia around Busch Stadium that pertained to Ozzie Smith, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and other icons who won World Series.
How long would you see him staying manager? Exactly.
I’m simplifying this, of course, but in layman’s terms, the Rams weren’t winning. As for Devaney, the drafts of the last few years were extraordinarily hit-or-miss. Although the Rams have drafted some good talent in the last few years, such as James Laurinaitis and Sam Bradford [more on him in a minute], many of their players have been too injured to determine their future (Bradley Fletcher, Jason Smith, Rodger Saffold), while some have just been flat out busts (hello, Mardy Gilyard).
So now, where do the Rams go from here?
Obviously, the first step will be to look for a head coach. Rumors flew last week about Jon Gruden, but were quickly squashed. Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy have both expressed a desire to remain in their current position as tv analysts. The Rams plan to speak with former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher this week. Fisher, who coached against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, will most likely be in high demand around the league, as several other teams such as the Dolphins, Chargers, and Bucs will all most likely be pursuing new head coaches.
At this point, perhaps you’re a bit pessimistic about the future of the Rams. On top of that, whispers are going stronger that Stan Kroenke, the Rams’ owner, may decided to re-locate the team in 2014 after the lease at the Edward Jones Dome is up.
So, basically, things look like they suck for the Rams, eh?
Well…they do. But, things may not be as bad as some are making it out to be.
Just…stop laughing and hear me out.
- The Rams still have Sam Bradford. After a solid rookie season, he certainly regressed this year. Adjusting to Josh McDaniels’ offensive system, he never got fully in sync with the offense, and other than the game at Green Bay where he threw for 328 yards, he never really seemed comfortable.
Many people are ready to dismiss him already, citing various problems. He isn’t perfect, certainly. He would, however, benefit from a healthy receiving corps (losing your best receiver, Danny Amendola, at the outset of the season certainly didn’t help) and a consistent offensive line.
Even with this year’s struggles, he still has the potential to improve. Compare the first two years of these quarterbacks. I’m only counting the first two seasons they were full-time starters.
Quarterback A, through 26 games played:
57.6% completion rate, 5,676 passing yards, 24 TD, 21 INT, 6.0 YPA, 10.4 YPC, 218.3 YPG
Quarterback B, through 27 games played:
59.5% completion rate, 5,392 passing yards, 28 TD, 31 INT, 6.1 YPA, 10.3 YPC, 199.7 YPG
Quarterback A’s rating was 74.2 through his first two seasons, and his team went 8-18 in the games he started. Quarterback B’s rating was 73.1 through his first two seasons, and his team went 10-17 in the games he started.
Quarterback A is Sam Bradford. Quarterback B is Drew Brees.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and predict that Bradford will have anywhere near the success Brees has had. I’m simply suggesting that perhaps a bit of patience is needed before people write off Bradford as a bust and get rid of him. Brees benefited by placement into a system with the scheme and personnel that best suited his strengths. It’s not a simple transition, but there’s no reason to assume Bradford’s incapable of overcoming one bad year.
What of his contract, you say? Didn’t he just sign some outlandish contract to play for the Rams? He did, and he received some substantial bonuses this year and last year for it. With those out of the way, however, his base salary and signing bonus for the next four years are pretty manageable; the final season of his contract, he’ll be due $7.405 million, not an unreasonable amount for a starting quarterback. There are incentive bonuses, certainly, but I think if he manages to reach them, we’d all agree they’re worth the money.
- The Rams also hold the number two overall draft pick in April. While the Colts will most likely hold the most leverage (should they decide not to draft Andrew Luck), the Rams could potentially trade the pick to another team in dire need of a franchise quarterback. With Matt Barkley heading back to USC for one more season, the list of top quarterbacks in the draft are scant, but Heisman winner Robert Griffin III is likely to command some attention. The Rams could possibly leverage the draft into several top-round draft picks, which they could use to re-build their offensive line or draft a playmaker, perhaps a wide receiver (Justin Blackmon and Alshon Jeffery are likely to be the two names floated at the top). Should Brandon Lloyd follow through with his idea to follow offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wherever he goes (McD has one year left on his contract, but with the ousting of Spags combined with the woefully inefficient offense, it’s no guarantee he’ll stick around), the Rams will be in need of someone for Bradford to throw the ball to, even when Amendola returns.
- The Rams will also have a large amount of salary cap space to try to lure impact free agents to St. Louis. Should they be unable to procure their future via the draft, they might be able to do it through free agency. There are, admittedly, several areas that the Rams need help in: offensive line, running back (to back up Steven Jackson), wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle, outside linebacker, cornerback…it’s a pretty extensive list.
- Steven Jackson might be my favorite St. Louis athlete now that Albert Pujols has defected to the Angels. An absolute pro, Jackson has toiled year in and year out for a team that’s given him few dividends in return. Against the Steelers this year, Jackson became just the seventh running back in history to have seven consecutive seasons with 1,000 yards rushing. Steven also surpassed Eric Dickerson for the most yards rushing in Rams history. Jackson missed one game due to injury and had just six rushes combined in two other games, but he still finished with 1,145 yards on 260 carries and five touchdowns. Although he is approaching the age at which running backs begin to wear down, Jackson is still going strong. He’s declared his desire to play his entire career in St. Louis; unlike other athletes who’ve said the same thing (ahem), he seems legitimately interested in following through.
- The Rams struggled with the run defense this year, allowing 151.7 yards per game (31st in the league), but this was inflated by three absolutely terrible games in which they allowed 236, 294, and 268 yards. Removing those from the mix, and the Rams allowed a much more respectable 125.3 yards per game. The Rams also actually ranked statistically in the top ten in passing defense, allowing 206.7 yards per game through the air. St. Louis has the potential to have one of the best pass rushes in the game, with Chris Long (13 sacks) and Robert Quinn (five sacks) looking to anchor the pass rush in the immediate future. 34-year old James Hall, who led the team with ten sacks last year, contributed six sacks this year.
- The Rams also have a monster middle linebacker in James Laurinaitis. I’m still not sure how he managed to slip to the second round. In three years, Laurinaitis has become the captain of the Rams defense (even if he isn’t officially). He’s not flashy or overly fast, but he’s a solid tackle, and he knows how to play. He, Long, and Quinn, could lead this defense for a long time.
Wow…1600 words already. This is far from an authoritative entry on what all went wrong this year. Any thoughts you might have are welcome at the bottom.
Ok, I know. They still finished 2-14. Chances are they’re at least two full years away from competing, if they can have some monster drafts and free agency acquisitions. It’ll be an interesting off-season, though. And who knows? Stranger things have happened than a one-year turnaround.
Well, I’d say there was a veritable amount of action occurring in St. Louis sports this weekend. The Blues shook up the core of their roster, the Rams released one of their top players, and a Cardinal legend (near legend?) bid his farewell to baseball. Some thoughts on each.
Rams Release Atogwe
The guy’s done nothing but perform at a high level for an underachieving Rams team, but it seems like they just don’t want to pay him anything. In a payroll-saving maneuver, the Rams have once again released Oshem…Oshimmeg…OJ Atogwe. Perhaps one of the most underrated strong safeties in the game, Atogwe’s more than lived up to his third-round draft pick. Last season, the Rams signed him to a five-year deal, but apparently they decided he isn’t worth the $8 million roster bonus he was due. This marks the second time the Rams have done this to him to save money, and yet he insists he wants to remain a Ram. I sincerely hope that the Rams can re-sign him. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be for a while with the impending labor issues facing the NFL.
Blues Make Trades, Score Touchdown (and a safety)
In an effort to make a playoff push and re-tool the core of their roster, the Blues traded three players this weekend, including their captain and an alternate.
They traded captain Eric Brewer to Tampa Bay for a prospect and a draft pick. I didn’t hear too many cries of anguish over this one. Whether justified or not, Brewer drew the ire of a lot of Blues fans over the course of the last few years. Certainly he wasn’t mentioned among the top defenders in the league, but he always put forth his top effort, which is perhaps why Blues players consistently and unanimously decided to make him captain. He undoubtedly never gained popularity due in no small part to the fact that he was the main prize the Blues got in their trade of former captain Chris Pronger.
The second trade, however, shook the Blues community even more. After Friday night’s win over Buffalo, it was announced that the Blues had traded Jay McClement and Erik Johnson, the first overall draft pick of 2006. McClement was a solid third- or fourth-line center who contributed solidly on the penalty kill. It’s the trade of Johnson that caught most people off-guard. Johnson was expected to take over the throne of top defenseman for the Blues from Pronger and Hall of Famer Al MacInnis, but after two and a half seasons (not including the lost one due to a vengeful golf cart), he never fully lived up to that billing.
In exchange, however, the Blues got two promising young players, both of whom contributed immediately. In exchange for Jay and Erik, the Blues got defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and power forward Chris Stewart. Shattenkirk’s a rookie but is putting up solid offensive numbers, posting 27 points thus far in 47 games. Stewart, however, is the focal point of the trade, as the Blues have been desperate for top-notch scorers. Last year, in just his second season, Stewart posted 28 goals and 64 points in 77 games. This year, he was slow to return from a broken hand, posting just five points in his last 13 games with the Avalanche. Before that, however, he had 11 goals and 25 points in 23 games. He proceeded to score two goals in his Blues debut last night, with Shattenkirk assisting on one, as the Blues managed to score a season-high nine goals against the Los Angeles Ducks of Anaheim. Or whatever they’re called.
This could potentially set the Blues up with a potent offense, if they can consistently stay healthy. David Backes is considered a top power forward in the game today, and Stewart gives them a potent tandem. If the Blues can gain full health for a stretch, this could turn into some exciting hockey as the season unwinds. As long as the Blues goalies don’t give up three goals in five shots on a regular basis.
Jimmy Ballgame Calls it a Career
Finally, in a move that I pretty much expected from the moment they announced the signing, Jim Edmonds announced his retirement after it was determined he’d put himself at great risk if he tried to play baseball on his injured foot. Although it’s possible Edmonds may have made the team if he were healthy, his limits and the Cardinals’ desire to develop outfield talent would have likely made him a fringe player. And it’s highly doubtable Edmonds would have accepted a demotion to AAA.
I’m happy the Cardinals decided to sign him, even if it was just to retire as a Cardinal. His career was derailed in the end by injuries, but such is to be expected from a player who had such a reckless style of play. To make a highlight reel of Edmonds’ career in the field and at the plate would fill a DVD. Edmonds won eight gold gloves, six of them with the Cardinals, and for the first six years he was here, he was a solid, stable offensive force. In the eight years he was here, he hit .285 with 241 HR and 731 RBI.
For most Cardinals fans, perhaps the culmination of Edmonds’ career was the 2004 NLCS, when his two-way skills truly shone through. Game 7 was, of course, the catch on Ausmus, when he prevented two runs from scoring. But Game 6 was, for me, his finest moment as a Cardinal. The raw emotion when he hit the walk-off home run into the October night…that’s what baseball’s all about.
Edmonds may not have a strong Hall of Fame case, and he may never get his number retired as a Cardinal, but he will go down as one of the best to play in a Cardinals uniform. It was a pleasure to see you play, Jimmy, and you will be missed. I hope that down the road, everyone may truly appreciate just how much fun you made the game.
Missouri Tigers – Gabbert Declares
In a move that shouldn’t really have surprised any Mizzou fans,quarterback Blaine Gabbert declared himself eligible for the 2011 draft.
Gabbert’s junior season was better in some categories than 2009, but worse in others. He improved his completion percentage by 4.5 points, from 58.9 to 63.4% and he also ran for more yards and touchdowns. On the other hand, he threw for less yards, had a lower yard-per-completion average, threw for fewer touchdowns, and threw nine picks, including two pivotal interceptions in the Insight Bowl that essentially cost the Tigers the game.
In his defense, one of the picks wasn’t his fault. At the end of the first half, he threw an endzone pass that Jerrell Jackson and possibly one of the Iowa defenders tipped into the air that was then caught in the endzone for a touchback. The second pick, however, was all him. Marching down the field with a 24-20 lead, Gabbert lofted a pass to Wes Kemp with a corner right in front of him. The pass was promptly returned for a touchdown that provided the margin of victory.
Other than those passes, however, Gabbert had a career night that most likely tipped the scales in his decision to go pro. He went 41 for 57 for 434 yards and a TD against one of the top-ranked secondaries in the nation. Had he not had such a terrific game, he’d probably have stayed at Mizzou another year. As it is, he’s projected to be a first-round pick, so it makes sense for him to go.
So what does this mean for Mizzou? Well, the press will remove them from consideration as a pre-season top 10, most likely. The front-runner to replace Gabbert is probably James Franklin, the only other quarterback to see action this year. In limited action, Franklin completed 11 of 14 passes for 106 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. He also ran 23 times for 116 yards and two scores, evoking memories of Brad Smith. Beyond him are Jimmy Costello (currently a junior) and Ashton Glaser and Tyler Gabbert [Blaine's little broseph], both currently freshmen. On top of that, Mizzou will be getting a highly regarded recruit in Corbin Berkstresser. Missouri might struggle to replace Gabbert, but it won’t be impossible. They return most of their running back stable, and their receiving corps has a decent amount of experience.
St. Louis Rams
Apparently leading a super-conservative offense will get you interviews as a head coach. Looks like Cleveland might be willing to fulfill Rams fans’ dreams by taking offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur off our hands.
The move actually makes sense for a few reasons. Mike Holmgren is running thngs over in Cleveland and he heavily favors the West Coast offense, which is what Shurmur runs. On top of that, Pat’s uncle, Fritz, worked for Holmgren on his defensive staff as coordinator.
The question is, who would replace him if he did leave? Spagnuolo likes to run a conservative team, which flies in the face of logic given he has a superstar in the making at quarterback. One possibility could be the current quarterbacks coach, Dick Curl, who has one of the most ridiculous names in coaching history. But he’s been responsible for the growth of Bradford so far, so the Rams wouldn’t lose a huge amount of continuity.
That’s about all I got for now. Until next time.
Well, if last night didn’t lead to an increase in blood pressure medicine being prescribed, nothing will. But, hindsight’s 20/20, and overall 2010 can’t be considered anything less than a massive success for the Rams. I’m gonna look back at last night’s game, the season overall, and look ahead at 2011 and beyond.
The Rams choked. Plain and simple. Poor execution, poor coaching, poor play-calling. The fact that the refs appeared to be paid off by the Seahawks didn’t help, either.
The biggest culprit last night was the offensive play-calling. Abandoning the run was an unwise decision. Steven Jackson had just eleven carries, but managed 45 yards on those carries. The Seahawks were one of the worst run defenses in the league.
Yet for some reason, Pat Shurmur decided it was a better idea to throw receiver screens. Jackson’s starting to decline, but he’s still one of the top seven or eight backs in the league. Give him 30-35 carries and see how he does.
Jackson’s been an unfortunate victim of circumstances in his career. He’s played for some horrendous teams and only made the playoffs once. He’s sacrificed his body through the years, carrying the load, and although he’s gotten individual accolades, he hasn’t had the chance to play for a championship. And so now, when they have a chance to make the playoffs, Shurmur decided to take the ball out of his hands.
Shurmur really hasn’t done a terrible job this season. A lot of people rip on him for some of his decisions, which have been questionable. But with the dearth of talent at wide receiver, he’s had to cobble together gameplans, and some of them have worked beautifully. Last night, however, was a lesson in frustration.
Pat wasn’t the only person to shoulder blame, however. The Rams’ receivers apparently watched the Colts and Packers play and decided to emulate their receivers, as they dropped several catchable passes from Sam Bradford, who finished just 19 of 36 for 155 yards and a pick. Danario Alexander in particular had a bad game, dropping two perfectly catchable passes and finishing with just three receptions for a total of 14 yards.
Defensively, well, it’s tough to maintain an edge when you’re on the field so much after the offense goes three-and-out so often. That’s the problem they faced last year and last night. Aside from a few plays, the Rams didn’t give up huge chunks of yardage in big plays. Giving up 16 points is usually decent enough to win. The defense stayed tough in the red-zone, giving up just the initial touchdown.
One key difference between the Seahawks’ defense and the Rams’ was the coverage on screens. The Rams tend to play soft coverage, giving up small yards =to prevent giving up big plays. This let the Seahawks get 6-7 yards a play on their screens, whereas the Rams got 2-3.
Questionable penalties and unchallenged plays also contributed to the Rams’ downfall. In particular, the opening scoring drive saw a marginal holding call against Ron Bartell that led to a fresh set of downs for the Seahawks which led to the game’s only touchdown. By contrast, the Seahawks got away with quite a bit the first few series.
I’m getting a little loquacious about last night’s game. Needless to say, the game was easily winnable; poor execution and poor game planning was the difference.
2010 In Review
Coming off a 1-15 season, the Rams had low expectations for this season, even after drafting a quarterback first overall.
Fortunately for the Rams, they picked the right guy to lead them. Bradford had a record-setting rookie season, establishing new marks for completions, attempts, and attempts without an interception. His numbers ended up being relatively modest for a quarterback [354/590, 60% completion rate, 18 TD, 15 INT, 76.5 rating], but given the fact that he’s a rookie and was working with a modest receiving corps, those numbers are a solid foundation and were far superlative to last year’s production by Rams quarterbacks. Bradford is a fast learner and his durability questions have been answered. There are a lot of comparisons out there contrasting Bradford’s rookie season with those of the contemporary superstars, so I’m not gonna go into one. There aren’t any guarantees he’s going to have a Hall of Fame-worthy career, but odds are he will be an elite quarterback within a few years, luck permitting.
Jackson had another 1,000 yard rushing season, finishing with 1,241 yards on 330 carries and six touchdowns. However, his 3.8 yards-per-carry average was the lowest of his career by 3/10 of a yard. Years of shouldering the offensive burden are beginning to take their toll. Still, he managed to make the Pro Bowl, the Rams’ lone representative. He managed to overtake Eric Dickerson as the Rams’ career rushing leader with 7,948 yards. He also added 348 receiving yards, pushing his career total to 2,670 yards. Ken Darby, the primary backup, averaged only 3.1 yards a carry, showing the Rams’ need for a capable backup.
I’ll say this, the Rams receivers have the potential to be a solid group. Losing Donnie Avery in the preseason was a big blow; say what you want about him, but he’s the team’s best deep threat. Mark Clayton came over in a trade and took over as the top receiver, getting 23 receptions for 306 yards and two touchdowns, but then he was lost for the season in the game against Detroit. Alexander has shown flashes of potential, but needs to work on his consistency. He did manage 20 receptions for 306 yards and a TD in eight games; durability will remain an issue. Danny Amendola [85 receptions, 689 yards, 3 TD] and Brandon Gibson [53 receptions, 620 yards, 2 TD] were the Rams’ top two receivers. Amendola is a solid slot/possession receiver, but he lacks the size and speed to be a true number one. Gibson has made improvements to his catching and consistency, but he too lacks the top-end talent of a star.
Tight end production was improved from last year, as well. Daniel Fells [41 receptions, 395 yards, 2 TD] and Billy Bajema [14 receptions, 145 yards, 2 TD] provided solid targets for Bradford. The tight end on the roster with the most potential is Mike Hoomanawanui, who had 13 receptions for 146 yards and three TD, but a rash of injuries prevented him from playing a full season. Ditto Fendi Onobun, who only had two receptions for 14 yards.
The offensive line got a little more consistency this year than last year. Roger Saffold, the second-round pick from Indiana, took over as starter at left tackle and played very well. Jason Smith switched to right tackle and fought through injuries to have a solid sophomore season. It looks like the ends of the offensive line will be in place for years. Jacob Bell, Adam Goldberg, and Jason Brown formed the interior line, and although they did a pretty solid job of protecting Bradford, their run-blocking was inconsistent. Still, they held up pretty well over the course of a full season, avoiding serious injury. The continuity no doubt helped their chemistry.
Defensively, the Rams improved in most statistical categories, thanks in no small part to the improved offense. With more time on the sidelines to rest and plan, the defense stayed stronger longer in the game and kept the team in most games. The front four was able to consistently pressure the quarterback. The team totaled 43 sacks, with James Hall [10.5] and Chris Long [8.5] leading the team. James Laurinaitis has emerged as a vocal and demonstrative leader. Getting him in the second round last year was an absolute steal.
O.J. Atogwe again led the secondary at strong safety, recording three interceptions and 9 passes defended. Playing a full season, Bradley Fletcher led the team with four interceptions and eleven passes defended. He has emerged as one of the top cornerbacks for the Rams. Overall, the Rams managed 14 interceptions and 12 fumbles recovered for a total of 26 turnovers.
On special teams, Josh Brown set a career high with 33 field goals in 39 attempts. He was particularly strong from long range, going 7 for 9 from 40-49 yards and 3 for 4 from beyond 50 yards. Donnie Jones, a Pro Bowl alternate, averaged 45.5 yards per punt and a 40.0 yard net. He has consistently been one of the Rams’ top performers and the fact that he has yet to make a Pro Bowl is a shame.
2011 and Beyond
Fortunately, 2010 provided a solid foundation upon which to build for the future. The Rams made great strides and should have the best quarterback in the West again. A nine or ten win season is not out of the question if the Rams continue to improve. It won’t be easy, however, as next year the Rams visit the Giants, Steelers, and Packers, and host the Ravens, Eagles, and Saints. But the Rams could easily go 5-1 or 6-0 against the division and play the Redskins, Bengals, Cowboys, and Browns.
The number one priority in my opinion [although I don't think I'm alone] that the Rams need to address is wide receiver. Hypothetically, Avery, Clayton, Alexander, Gibson, and Amendola would make a solid group of receivers; however, with the exception of Amendola, reliability and durability are major concerns. Bradford is a major talent and he needs a solid number one receiver to throw to. Imagine if the Rams were able to procure a superstud like A.J. Green or Alshon Jeffery. Mardy Gilyard will get another chance next season, but his stunning lack of progress this season might put him on a very short leash.
There are several other areas that need to be addressed, as well. The Rams need to start developing a running back to replace Jackson, as he will most likely wear down within a year or two. They also need a change-of-pace back to spell Jackson, perhaps a speedy back who can run around the tackles instead of going between them. A solid run-blocking guard could help solidify the inside of the offensive line, although this could be addressed through free agency or later in the draft.
Defensively, Chris Long has established himself as a solid defensive end, and James Hall had a career year, but he is nearing the end of his career. The Rams could use another solid pass rusher. Linebacker and cornerback are two other areas of concern for the Rams. Laurinaitis is a strong mike LB, but the team could use a solid strong and weak LB. Other than Bradley Fletcher, the cornerbacks aren’t exactly a forte for the team, either. Ron Bartell is capable of making tremendous plays, but he’s also prone to giving up big plays.
As far as coaching, Steve Spagnuolo has emerged as a solid leader who knows how to treat the team. His turnaround of the team has been remarkable. On the other hand, he needs to remember that he is a defensive-minded coach and must remain hands-off when it comes to offensive playcalling. He must either turn complete control over to Pat Shurmur and let him loose the dogs or find another offensive coordinator who can take full advantage of this team’s talent. The Rams could easily have had ten wins this season; going into your shell when you have the lead just isn’t the answer. The Rams must have an aggressive, go-for-the-kill mentality.
On defense, the Rams have made strides under Ken Flajole; now, they need to continue improving. They reduced the amount of points scored per game; now, they have to work on the yardage given up. The Rams got a lot of sacks and a decent amount of negative-yardage plays, but they also gave up some big plays and high-average gains. Cut down the yardage-per-game by 50, 60 yards, and the Rams will give themselves a much better chance to reach double digits in wins.
Many of the tools are in place. The Rams are just another solid draft away from being true competitors in the NFC. A lot of the bandwagon fans that abandoned the team in their lean years are starting to return. 2010 was a pivotal year in the return to respectability. 2011 could be the year they make the full leap.