31 Days, 31 Teams: St. Louis Rams
Now that August is here football season is right around the corner so every day this month we'll preview each team in the NFL (check here in case you missed the Packers preview.)
There's a school of thought that says in the NFL once you hit bottom there's nowhere to go but up. It seems like the St. Louis Rams are trying to disprove that. The Rams followed up a disastrous 3-13 season in 2007 with a 2-14 campaign in 2008. Couldn't get any worse, right? Indeed it did in 2009 as the Rams finished a league-worst 1-15.
Three straight years of futility has given the Rams plenty of opportunity to draft franchise players and no player will be more important than quarterback Sam Bradford, the overall number one pick in 2010. Bradford brings plenty of upside but can he resurrect an offense that averaged only 11 points per game last season? As usual running back Steven Jackson will be the centerpiece of the offense. Jackson put up big numbers in 2009, rushing for 1,416 yards and leading the team in receptions. Gaining yards wasn't the problem. Finding the end zone was. Jackson scored only four touchdowns as teams focused on him and rightfully so. The Rams ended last season 29th in passing though a big part of the problem was injuries to young wide receivers Keenan Burton and Laurent Robinson. Another youngster, Donnie Avery, hauled in 47 receptions but with injuries to the other receivers and the lack of production at quarterback Avery's season never quite materialized. With Bradford at the helm and a full complement of receivers the Rams are hoping to get more out of their passing game this season.
It was a hard luck year for the Rams defensively. While young players like end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis showed potential the Rams were buried by too much firepower in 2009. The Rams faced some of the best offenses in the NFL last year and it is reflected in the stats. From giving up 367 passing yards to Matt Schaub to getting gutted by Maurice Jones-Drew for 133 rushing yards the Rams defense could not make stops with any regularity. It certainly didn't help that the Rams sacked opposing quarterbacks 25 times and forced a mere eight interceptions in 2009. The Rams bring back safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and defensive tackle Clifton Ryan but were unable to land any big free agents and focused more on offense in the draft.
There is hope for the Rams. The early part of the schedule features Oakland, Washington, Detroit and Tampa Bay, all winnable games for the young Rams. If Bradford can follow along the same path as other rookie quarterbacks of recent years and if the receiving corps stays healthy the Rams should see a bump in offense. As long as Jackson stays healthy Bradford will have a go-to guy. But St. Louis will need to find playmakers on defense if they are to show real improvement. It isn't likely that the Rams will finish 2010 winless so this should be the year they finally go up.