In week 13 of this NFL season, we all witnessed one of the worst NFL franchises - over the past ten years - begin to turn the page on an awful decade of football. Most pundits were predicting that Jeff Fisher would help turn this franchise around; the only question was - how long would it take? What we learned this Sunday may point towards the answer to that question.
Following the Jets game, several things were obvious. This Rams team is young, and is still in need of talent on both sides of the ball. I start with this point because I don't want to gloss over the fact that this team has struggled at times this year, and I don't want to make it seem like the team has arrived just yet. The Rams are not a finished product, and in the New York game that was painfully evident.
The Rams are prepping for the future. They are developing young talent, and are committed to getting better. In week 13, we got to see a lot of these elements in action. So let's take a look at some of the transparent elements of the Rams week 13 win against the 49ers.
- Chris Givens is an ascending talent at wide receiver. It wasn't just our imagination with Danny Amendola, Sam Bradford is incredibly accurate, and can consistently get the ball to his talented receivers. With both players healthy, this offense has a lot to look forward to. The question will have to be answered in the off-season - is Chris Givens the new Rams #1 receiver? If he's not, he can be a very good #2. In week 13, Chris Givens proved he can be a starting receiver in the NFL on a good football team.
- Unfortunately, the same staff who've developed and progressed Chris Givens into a starting NFL receiver in just 13 weeks has also been developing Brian Quick. I'm afraid this speaks more poorly of Quick than the staff. Although Quick truly flashes talent, it's concerning that the game seems too big for him. Watching his routes yesterday, it's obvious that he was not giving full-effort at times, and this is probably the most concerning thing about him. He seems lost during the games. I hope he can develop into a Roddy White or Vincent Jackson-type player, but for every White and Jackson there is a Limas Sweed and Maurice Stovall too.
- Trumaine Johnson, Janoris Jenkins, and Cortland Finnegan will terrorize the NFC West for years to come. The Rams hit on both picks at cornerback this year. "Tru" is still behind Jenkins in his development, but the staff knew what they had on draft day with Johnson. He is physical with above average instincts, and he's been able to learn from his mistakes quickly. The 49ers tried picking on him yesterday, and completed a dinky 5 receptions for 27 yards in his direction.
- The Rams have a solid rotation on the defensive line. Robert Quinn was obviously not 100% this week. Quinn played in less than half of the defensive snaps - and when special teams really needed a blocked punt or kick - he was on the sidelines. Details were a little sketchy all week on his health, and hopefully he will bounce back for the close of the season. What the Rams d-line was able to do in his absence was very encouraging. Williams Hayes, Eugene Sims, Chris Long, Micheal Brockers, Jermele Cudjo, and Kendall Langford are a devastating rotation in the trenches. This group held Frank Gore to 2.5 yards a carry, and he has one of the best offensive lines in football. I would argue that all of the aforementioned players are likely part of this team's long term vision for success.
- Sam Bradford is a good football player. I hate that we have to discuss the long term viability of Sam Bradford every week, but I thought this game did a nice job of summarizing why all judgements on him should be delayed until the future. Sam made plays for the Rams with his arm and legs Sunday. He led his team down the field in the clutch twice, and converted a game-saving 2-pt conversion. His receivers did him zero favors in this game, and were rarely able to generate separation against man-coverage. He had good protection, and didn't make a single poor decision with the ball. It's still too early to tell if he can be that cold-blooded QB who can take a team deep into the playoffs, but the Rams must upgrade his surrounding pieces in order for us to know for sure.
A trademark of young, ascending teams is their development as the season goes on. I predicted the Rams would get better as the season progressed, and this team appears poised to deliver better football in week 17 than in week 1. If that is the case, then this franchises fans can rest easy knowing that Jeff Fisher has truly began to turn the page on a horrid decade of football in St. Louis. Here's hoping.