When I watched the St. Louis Rams get blown out 42-6 by the Indianapolis Colts in week 7 last season, it was impossible to imagine two teams with a bigger gulf in talent in ability. The Colts lost just two games last season (and that had as much to do with a controversial decision to rest their starters with a playoff bye locked up) while the Rams had just one win. Night and day, right?
Well, yes, if you compare the 2009 iterations of both teams, but this year's Rams team bares a striking resemblance to another Colts team, one with a freshly minted rookie QB in 1998. This post at Weller and Bryan's Sports Blog, an absolute must read, takes a look at the 2010 Rams and 1998 Colts, seasons when each team took a major step in a rebuilding process by drafting a highly rated quarterback with the first overall pick in the draft. Our own Mooseknuckles41 ran a Manning/Bradford rookie-to-rookie comparison finding favorable things back in June.
I'm not going to go through the post line by line because I think you really should go read it. What I do want to do is share some additional thoughts.
The big question comes down the quarterbacks themselves. Comparing the two at this point is pretty much impossible. Peyton Manning is perhaps the best QB ever to play the game. Bradford has a high ceiling, but I refuse to layout those kind of expectations without having seen him play a full season in the league.
That's not to say I don't have big expectations for King Sam. Much of what he can do as a rookie will be determined by the team around him. However, he should be able to make things happen with even a minimum of expectations from the receivers, running backs, etc.
That this comparison involves both Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk makes it hard for even the most skeptical of fans not to wonder about some larger cosmic connection. Far out. We know that Jackson, if he stays healthy, will put up the running yards and invigorate that aspect of the Rams offense. The key with Jackson is how much they use him in the passing game, by which I mean to say they'd better use him lots if they want to compete. Jackson led the team with 51 receptions last year. It was the second highest total of his career, but a long way from what he's capable of. In 2006, Jackson caught the ball 90 times for 806 yards. The post at Weller and Bryan believes that Jackson can have at least 70 receptions, and I'm going to say that he has to have at least that many for the Rams to be competitive this year. That will be a huge help for Bradford's development to have an easy target in his running backs for short, quick passes that allow Jackson to add the yards with his legs. Screen passes, flares to the outside and dump-offs...those pages ought to be the most read sections of the playbook.
Once again it's hard to separate a name like Marvin Harrison's from the analogous '98/'10 seasons. Had Harrison played in all 16 games that season he would likely have had close to 1,000 yards. Do the Rams have a 1,000-yard receiver on their team for 2010? That's by far the biggest unknown heading into September. Donnie Avery, Laurent Robinson and the others have been making some nice catches in practice so far, but that's a long way from doing it when the shooting starts. Hopefully, a dual threat in Steven Jackson will make life easier for the receivers and Sam Bradford.
You can excuse outside observers for not knowing much about the Rams tight ends; there's not much to know. Here's Weller's take:
However, there is absolutely no chance of Fells or any of the other five (Darcy Johnson, Eric Butler, Billy Bajema, Fendi Onobun, and Michael Hoomanawanui) being anywhere near as productive as Dilger and Pollard. But just for good measure let’s look at their stats:
Player Rec Yds Y/R TD Lng R/G Y/G Ken Dilger 31 303 9.8 1 27 1.9 18.9 Marcus Pollard 24 309 12.9 4 44 1.5 19.3 Totals: 55 612 11.1 5 44 3.4
Don't count the Rams TEs out just yet. Last year, McMichael had 34 catches for 348 yards and 1 TD. Fells had 21 catches for 273 yards and 3 TDs. That's not too far off the mark, and I really think Fells will play better this season. How will it balance out this year? I think Fells will have about 65-70 percent of the catches for the Rams TEs as the senior member of the group. Bajema will have the odd catch and it's starting to look like Hoomanawanui has the hands to make an impact. Onobun's status as a project with relatively little experience makes predictions for him a more ethereal matter. Still, I really think this will be a strong unit for the Rams this year.
Protecting Bradford, the Rams have a young offensive line with a mix of experience levels, with the more experienced players anchoring the middle and two young tackles on the outside. Without a doubt Peyton Manning's rookie year was made easier and more productive by the fact that he was only sacked 22 times. Dare we think the Rams might allow fewer than 40 sacks for the first time since 1999? (Yes, you read that correctly). Considering their history, 25 sacks allowed might be as good as 6 wins for the Rams. The odds are long for that happening, and they'll need rookie Rodger Saffold playing like a veteran (he is looking good in practice) and Jason Smith realizing his potential. That's a tall order no matter how much a believer you are in those guys.
Finally, you have to like the defensive comparison. But again, it all hinges on whether or not the Rams can get a decent pass rush. If they do that, then things could really be looking up for the defense and the entire team.
I hope that the Rams will finish with more than the 3 wins the Colts had in Manning's rookie year. They have a more reasonable schedule, and if the bounces go our way for a change topping three wins is likely.
How do the 1998 Colts and 2010 Rams compare in your eyes?