It seemed the St. Louis Rams finally had things moving in the right direction. Steve Spagnuolo had taken this team from one win in 2009 to seven wins in 2010. The Rams nearly made the playoffs in 2010 with that 7-9 record in the NFC West. Going into the 2011 season, many experts thought this team had a chance to finally finish with a winning record. Needless to say, things didn’t go as planned.
The Rams went 2-14 as seemingly everything that could go wrong did just that. Spagnuolo was fired, and Jeff Fisher was hired in the offseason. Fisher will be the third man to try to rebuild this St. Louis franchise. Scott Linehan left with an 11-25 record, and Spagnuolo finished with a 10-38 record. The Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2003 when Mike Martz was on the sidelines.
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Fisher is a highly-respected coach throughout the NFL. He has a 147-126 career record in the league. Fisher took the Tennessee Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV, where they were stopped a yard short by the team he will now coach. Fisher is known as an excellent strategist who teaches his teams to play an extremely physical brand of football. St. Louis can only hope that he is the man who can get this franchise turned around once and for all.
As analysts at this year’s NFL Draft pointed out, this is a team with lots of flaws. There aren’t one or two spots where they need upgrades. Quite honestly, this team just needs a major facelift. Let’s take a look at what the new coaching staff has to work with in St. Louis.
St. Louis finished second-to-last in all of football in total offense last season. They finished dead last in points per game with a measly average of 12.1 points per contest. Needless to say, it is difficult to win games when your offense doesn’t even score 200 points all season.
Sam Bradford was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010, but he took a major step backward last year. The big debate here is whether his regression was due to problems of his own or just a lack of talent around him.
Bradford managed only six touchdown passes all year. He threw for nearly 1,400 yards less in 2011 than he did in 2010. Experts are now questioning whether Bradford is a franchise quarterback.
I expect the future to show that all Bradford needed was a little bit of talent around him. He has all the tools necessary to be a very good NFL quarterback.
The offensive line is a major area of concern. Jason Smith is a good right tackle, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Rodger Saffold was great in his rookie season, and he was awful last year. Scott Wells was a nice addition at the center spot, but this unit has a long ways to go.
Running behind the offensive line will be Stephen Jackson. Jackson is a nice blend of power and foot speed in the backfield. He has over 9,000 rushing yards in his career, and Coach Fisher likes to run the ball often. It should be a nice year for the ground game if the offensive line can simply open up some holes for the running game.
St. Louis had the worst group of receivers in the NFL last season. Danny Amendola was the best of the bunch, but he missed most of the season with an injury. He will be ready to go this year, so that gives Bradford a reliable target in the slot. The team hopes rookie Chris Givens can stretch defenses with his blazing speed. Steve Smith could be a good pickup if he can produce the way he did for the Giants in 2009.
St. Louis is going to have lots of new starters on this defense, but that might not be a bad thing. The only two remaining starters from the front seven are middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and defensive end Chris Long. These two are stars and should be anchors for the team to build around in the future. Gregg Williams was going to be the defensive coordinator for the Rams, but his role in the Saints bounty controversy has him suspended indefinitely.
Michael Brockers was the team’s first-round pick this year, and he’ll likely get a chance to start on the defensive line. Robert Quinn was a first-round pick last season, and he’ll get a chance to start as well. The line has a ton of potential, but there aren’t many proven stars.
Other than Laurinaitis, the linebacker spots appear up for grabs. The recently signed Jo-Lonn Dunbar has the inside track at one of the outside linebacker spots, and his speed should help this unit. St. Louis took a chance by signing several rookie free agent linebackers to provide this group with some depth.
The secondary should be the strength of the defense. Cortland Finnegan was one of Fisher’s favorite players in Tennessee because of his aggressiveness, and he should add a lot to this group. Janoris Jenkins could end up as one of the best picks of the 2012 NFL Draft, but only if he can stay out of trouble. Look for much more physicality from the Rams secondary in the season ahead.
2012 St. Louis Rams Schedule Analysis
The Rams have a last-place schedule, so it isn’t grueling. However, it doesn’t look as easy as one might expect.
A trip to Detroit to kick off the season is certainly not an easy way to start. The home game against Washington in Week 2 will be an interesting matchup between Bradford and RG3. The Rams host Seattle and Arizona in winnable games on Sept. 30 and Oct. 4, respectively.
In a four-game stretch during the middle of the season, the team must play the Packers, Patriots, 49ers, and Jets. The season does conclude with a couple winnable games against Tampa Bay and Seattle, but you have to wonder if the Rams will have much to play for at that point.
2012 St. Louis Rams Futures Odds
Bovada lists the Rams at +900 to win the NFC West this season. BetOnline lists the Rams at +4,000 to win the NFC Conference and +8,000 to win the Super Bowl. BetOnline also lists the Rams 2012 season win total at six.
5Dimes shows the Rams as a big 10-point road underdog in the season opener at Detroit.
2012 St. Louis Rams Predictions
Fisher was a very good hire for the Rams, but he has his work cut out for him in St. Louis. The Rams have relied heavily on Steven Jackson in the past, but he may be getting past his prime. Bradford is a good quarterback, but the line must protect him. The defense may have the most potential to improve this year, but it’s unclear who will be leading the defense this year.
The NFC West is one of the easiest divisions in football, but I still find it hard to pick the Rams to win more than five or six games. With the oddsmakers setting the season “over/under” mark at six wins, I have to lean toward the under.
Look for the Rams to improve in 2012, but it will take some time to turn this team into a winner.
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