COMMENTARY | The St. Louis Rams entered the 2011 season as favorites to win the NFC West. Led by second-year quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson, the Rams were primed to finally take the next step after going 13-51 in the previous four seasons.
Unfortunately, a series of injuries in the team's Week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles exposed the Rams' major weakness: they didn't have enough depth to make up for the five starters who were injured in that game. The Rams later finished last in the NFC West with a 2-14 record.
Two years later, the Rams are once again a team on the rise. The offense finally has some weapons to help Bradford, and the defense is laden with playmakers. They are the youngest team in the NFL, and their future has never been brighter.
Still, the memory of the 2011 season lingers in the back of my mind. Both that club and this year's team face similar expectations. Much like their 2011 counterparts, the current Rams have playoff aspirations and one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL. There is more speed and depth on this team, but I question whether it's enough to make a difference in the incredibly deep NFC. For better or worse, we're about to find out.
Like the 2011 Rams, this year's team has already been impacted by several injuries. The Rams lost starting right tackle Rodger Saffold to a left knee injury in last Sunday's 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He's listed as "week-to-week" and will probably miss the Rams' September 22 game at the Dallas Cowboys.
Additionally, the already struggling secondary lost safety Matt Daniels for the season when he suffered a fractured ankle against the Falcons. Considering that defensive backs Quinton Pointer and Darian Stewart are also dealing with injuries, the Rams are extremely thin in the defensive backfield. It's a given that the Cowboys will test this weakness on Sunday.
However, there are a few factors that should help the Rams avoid the same fate that befell them in 2011. First, this team has a better coaching staff. Head coach Jeff Fisher is one of the best coaches in the NFL. He's more than capable of holding this team together better than former head coach Steve Spagnuolo did.
Furthermore, there is more talent on this roster. The 2011 Rams weren't capable of digging their way out of a hole. This year's team has already shown that it can fight its way back into a game. We saw what the current Rams can do offensively in their Week 1 comeback 27-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, and it happened again in the Falcons game when the Rams fought back from a 21-point deficit.
Bradford also has receivers who can separate from opposing cornerbacks for the first time in his career. Wide receiver Chris Givens and tight end Jared Cook have emerged as home-run threats. Electrifying first-round draft pick Tavon Austin is already being used both out of the backfield and in the slot. This is the most talented Rams' passing offense in nearly 10 years.
Defensively, the Rams have playmakers everywhere. The defensive line continues to be the Rams' strength, but the linebackers have also significantly improved with the incredibly athletic Alec Ogletree teaming up with James Laurinaitis. The secondary has its problems, but Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins are both more than capable cornerbacks. Jenkins, in particular, is the kind of ball-hawk that the Rams have needed for a long time.
All of the these factors tell me that the Rams won't suffer the same fate as the 2011 team, but do they have enough depth behind these playmakers to compete for a playoff berth? Can the team rely on journeymen like Shelley Smith and Joe Barksdale when injuries occur on the offensive line? Is the Rams' committee of running backs capable of producing a solid rushing attack? Hopefully, the answer to all of these questions is yes. The Rams' playoff drought has gone on long enough.
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