Looking at the record, watching the games, it was fairly obvious that the 2010 St. Louis Rams were a better team than the 2009 iteration.
To start the 2010 review process, I thought we'd take a quick look at the 2010 Rams versus the 2009 Rams using Football Outsiders' DVOA stats. (DVOA breaks down every single NFL play and compares a team's performance to a league baseline based on situation in order to determine value over average. More here).
Let's start with the offense, rank in parentheses. I'll get to the defense and special teams later today.
Follow along after the jump.
Overall: -15.2 percent (30th)
Passing: -6.5 percent (27th)
Running: -13.2 percent (31st)
Overall: -26.4 percent (32nd)
Passing: -33.5 percent (32nd)
Running: -4.7 percent (25th)
For as frustrating as the passing game was at times, that's a big jump in performance between the two seasons. The most obvious reason would be QB Sam Bradford, who had a much better season than the three QBs that each got a turn for the Rams last year. Also, credit the offensive line. Though there's plenty of room for improvement in pass protection, they did a much better job than in years past.
How much credit goes to the hated short-field passing game is subject to some intense debate. That approach to the passing game was the result of two factors. The first and most obvious was a group of relatively inexperienced wide receivers and none really capable of stretching the field consistently after the loss of Mark Clayton.
Second, and perhaps most controversial, was a conscious effort to ease Sam Bradford into his new job. That meant keeping passes short and making quick throws to up his success rate and account for some inexperience on the line in front of him. As far as Bradford goes, that approach was a success. His 354 passes completed was a new record by a rookie, and his 3,512 passing yards has been surpassed only by Jim Kelly and Peyton Manning. Bradford's a lock for rookie of the year, but as amazing as his season was, fans will wonder if it might have been better, at least in terms of the win-loss record, had the Rams opened it up just a little more.
It's hard to separate the drop in the effectiveness of the running game with the controversial decision not to use Steven Jackson for more than 11 carries against Seattle last week. But the lack of rushing attempts wasn't really the issue for the Rams over the course of the season. Jackson's role in the offense changed this year, as the star running back was really used more to set up the passing game. The uber-conservative approach also used the running game to try and hold leads, usually narrow ones, behind an offensive line that did not perform well in run blocking, especially in the middle which was the Rams' preferred running lane.
Improving the passing game by adding another wide receiver and developing the young players already on the roster will help the running game by giving defenses something to focus on besides Steven Jackson. That's not to say that the Rams shouldn't be looking around for a serious mauler at right guard (perhaps even internally at John Greco), but an expanded passing game will benefit the run too.
Given the win-loss record and an increase of a full touchdown in the Rams average points per game, you can't ignore the year-to-year improvement. The debate between now and the start of next season will be whether or not the conservative approach was necessary because of talent or simply a preference. I suspect with more experience and an expanded arsenal of playmakers we'll see the Rams offense start looking a little different in 2011.