COMMENTARY | Believe it or not, there was a time when the St. Louis Rams were one of the best teams in the NFL. In 1999, a roster built around hall of fame running back Marshall Faulk and quarterback Kurt Warner took the league by storm and beat Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXIV.
Now the Rams are one the league's doormats, and it's up to general manager Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher to turn things around. Here's a look at the team's chances for success in 2012:
The Rams offense changed from the moment that the Rams hired Fisher. We all knew that the team would feature a run-based attack meant to control the football and keep quarterback Sam Bradford on his feet. Then the Rams brought in Brian Schottenheimer as the team's new offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer had his critics in New York, but he's also the man who did a great job developing Philip Rivers in San Diego. Now he'll be tasked with doing the same thing with Bradford. If the Rams' offensive line can protect him, then I think Bradford will turn a corner in 2012.
Bradford will have more help than many people realize this season. Steven Jackson came into camp 10 pounds lighter than he did last season, and it showed during his limited appearances in the preseason. If he can stay healthy, Jackson should have a career year.
The Rams also drafted speedy running back Isaiah Pead to backup Jackson. He struggled at times during training camp, but Pead did improve throughout all four preseason games. Look for him to prove useful as a change-of-pace back and as a receiver out of the backfield.
Furthermore, the Rams have more versatility and speed in their receiving corps than last season. Second-round draft pick Brian Quick has the size and quickness to make an immediate impact, and fellow rookie Chris Givens has the speed to help the team stretch the field. Oh and let's not forget the return of Danny Amendola to the lineup. He's always had great chemistry with Bradford, and his presence on the field will make a huge difference throughout the season.
The offense does have its question marks. Will the patchwork offensive line provide enough pass protection for Bradford? Will youngsters Lance Kendricks, Quick, and Givens make an impact on the club? If the answer is yes, then the Rams are going to surprise some people this season.
Stopping the run
The Achilles heel of the Rams defense has been its inability to stop the run. The team thought that it had answered the problem when they drafted defensive tackle Michael Brockers in the first round of the 2012 NFL and signed Kendall Langford to a long-term deal. However, Brockers is out for the first month of the season with a high ankle sprain. Meanwhile, two other defensive linemen, Matt Conrath and Darell Scott, are also out of action for Week 1. The lack of depth in the trenches is going to hurt the Rams. The sooner Brockers can get back in the lineup, the better off the defense will be.
Meanwhile, the Rams' linebackers weren't upgraded enough in the offseason to be a significant factor in stopping the run. Don't be surprised if the Rams struggle against the rush throughout the first half of the season.
While I expect the Rams defense to struggle against the run, I believe the team will also make a lot of plays this season. The defensive line will provide constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks with Chris Long and Robert Quinn attacking from opposite ends of the line. Quinn, in particular, had a strong training camp and appears primed for a breakout season.
The Rams' secondary boasts two solid playmakers at cornerback, rookie Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan, and safety Quintin Mikell. That doesn't even include nickelback Trumaine Johnson, who should also develop into a starter within the next couple of years. This secondary is going to make its mistakes, but it's also going to make a lot of plays on the ball. It's also a much more athletic defensive backfield than it was a year ago. This unit is going to create more than its fair share of turnovers.
Finally, look for James Laurinaitis to turn in his best season in the NFL in 2012. He's in the hands of some of the best defensive coaches in the league, and with his intelligence and playmaking ability, anything less than a Pro Bowl year would be surprising.
Despite finishing 2-14 in 2011, the Rams will face one of the most difficult schedules in the league. Three out of their first four games are against playoff contenders, including two extremely difficult road battles in Detroit and Chicago. The Rams will be much better this season, but their record might not show it. Expect the Rams to win five or six games in 2012. That's not a bad start for the Fisher era when you consider where this franchise has been in the last five years.
Source: St. Louis Rams Week 1 Injury Report
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