31 Days, 31 Teams: St. Louis Rams
By Jeff Falconio
I think it is more than ironic that while putting this preview together I got a severe case of writer's block. It's hard to believe the St. Louis Rams started this decade as the NFL's most powerful team. The Rams won the Super Bowl in January, 2000 put together another Super Bowl run two years later to go with playoff appearances in 2000, 2003 and 2004. The Greatest Show on Turf has since been stripped away to a mere sideshow, replaced by a team that has only 5 games the last two seasons. As you can see, there's not much to write about this team.
In an attempt to rebuild on offense, the Rams jettisoned veterans Torry Holt and Orlando Pace in favor of younger player. Pace will be replaced by the number two overall draft pick Jason Smith while second year receiver Donnie Avery takes over for Holt. The Rams were decimated by injuries in '07 and '08 including losing running back Steven Jackson for four games last year and quarterback Marc Bulger, who missed five games the last two years. The Rams hope Smith can be what Pace was to the Rams offensive line during their Super Bowl years because without Jackson and Bulger the offense is non-existent.
St. Louis picked up another blue chip draft pick in the second round with linebacker James Laurinitis. The Ohio State product joins Adam Carriker and Chris Long as part of a young defense that never jelled last year and finished second to last in scoring defense. Long is especially a player to watch as he flashed potential last year but faded in the second half of the season.
Burning question: Can Jackson regain his form? In 2006 Jackson gained more than 2,300 total yards and was on his way to being one of the NFL's top backs but those pesky injuries took a toll on the next two seasons. At 26 years old Jackson is in the prime of his career but he needs to stay on the field. Along with Smith the Rams picked up center Jason Brown to help rebuild the offensive line.
The Rams will be better than last year if: Bulger stays healthy and develops a rhythm with Avery and youngsters Keenan Burton, Derek Stanley and Laurent Robinson. Jackson gains a total of 1,600 yards while playing all 16 games. The defense shows improvement as Long and Laurinitis play to their potential. The Rams pick up early wins as six of their first eight games are against non-playoff teams while the NFC West remains disgustingly weak.
The Rams will be worse than last year if: Bulger and Jackson get hurt again. The young defense, which did not get upgraded through free agency, gets ripped by the likes of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner. The other three NFC West teams all improve from '08 and the Rams give up a loss to Detroit on November 1.