Last week the Rams got toasted by the Indianapolis Colts, with Andrew Luck leading the way with talks of Hall of Fame potential. Fitting no? It seems the Rams have made many a superstar over the last 5 years, compiling just 15 total wins during that span.
Not to take anything away from Andrew Luck, but I think all that talk is a bit premature, but that's a conversation for another day.
The Rams moved the ball quite well against the Colts in the first quarter, keeping the ball for 13:12 minutes, tallying six first downs and gaining 92 yards (32 rushing, 60 passing). Not too shabby against the Colts 1's but still, walking away with 0 points is Ramesque 2011... and don't forget the Colts were a 1-15 team last season.
Hopefully the Rams will show something better against the Chiefs Saturday and not have a vanilla playbook... (by the way, for those who don't mind spending $14.99, you can watch all the Rams pre-season games online with NFL Preseason Live with this link. They knocked $5 off since there's only 3 games left!)
Before the season, many predicted a six win season for the Rams. But after last week's game against the Colts, should people be less optimistic about those expectations? After all, the Rams are the youngest team in the league, under new management and coaching, new schemes, etc etc... that's certainly a lot to overcome.
So what needs to happen for the Rams to have 6 wins or more and be competitive? After the jump, Let's have a look at the things that need to happen for the Rams to have a respectable season.
1. Rookies Need to Contribute
Being the youngest team in the league, the Rams rookies need to mature quickly. By week 4-5 they need to be regular contributors, and be able to handle tough situations. Quick, Pead, Jenkins and Brockers particularly.
a) WR Brian Quick - It's no secret how weak the Rams are in the WR position. Even with Danny Amendola back, the Rams still need another YOUNG guy who can step up and make plays for the long haul.. and consistently. Quick needs to be that guy. Drafted in the second round, many considered this pick a "reach" which adds even more importance to the equation. The Rams can't risk a bust on a reach.
b) RB Isaiah Pead - Pead has the tools and speed to become a great compliment to an aging Steven Jackson. But hold your horses, what happens if Jackson get's injured? Pead would be the guy who would have to step up and make those hard runs. Pead's initial performance against the Colts showed his potential, but he was also so nervous you couldn't shove a needle up his @$$ with a jackhammer. He needs to grow up quickly and immediately become an offensive presence defenses need to account for, to open passing lanes, and also free up Jackson and eliminate the box from getting loaded up in every running situation.
c) CB Jenoris Jenkins - While quiet in the first pre-season game (is that such a bad thing?), in practice Jenkins has been lights out. But on the field is not the concern, it's OFF the field. We need JJ to be quiet off the field and become that sticky coverage corner the Rams have sorely lacked in the past 5 years or more. Any off field problems would really hurt... not just a little. A problem here would be a 911 emergency, and of course... would lead to talk of another BUST and put the Rams in yet another hole.
d) DT Michael Brockers - The Rams have lacked a DT run stuffer, and Brockers arrived with that billing. Can he live up to his potential and mature quickly? I sure hope so. While the Rams seem to have decent backups, we still need him to step up to his billing because the Rams do NOT need a first round draft BUST. That and with the Rams weak at the outside LB position, a strong presence in the middle would certainly take a little pressure off.
2. Offensive Line Needs to be Fixed.. and Fixed NOW
This could very well be the most important factor to the Rams 2012 season. If we see the 2011 version here, we're in trouble. BIG trouble. Not having a solid line not only screws your running game, but also screws the long ball, AND your QB health. A bad O-Line can literally cut your playbook in half. So who needs to step up?
a) T Jason Smith - I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but it appears Jason Smith is still struggling. This is a HUGE blow to the Rams.. according to the PD on 8/15, the Rams have placed Smith on the bench in favor of Barry Richardson. Not good news... not at ALL. It's pretty sad when a guy like Richardson can outplay a #2 overall draft pick.. OH and the former Rams FO skipped over Michael Oher and Eugene Monroe to draft Smith. Barring some miracle, I wouldn't count on Smith stepping up to the plate. This really sucks.
b) C Scott Wells - Now here's the real question mark. When I heard of this signing in March, I was elated with excitement. So far we've seen nothing from him due to a, ahem, "injury issue". Maybe I am gunshy from past Free Agent signings of aged veterans, but "free agent" and "injury" in the same sentence makes me cringe. Scott Wells NEEDS to be here and be as advertised. I can't reiterate how important this will be.
c) T Roger Saffold - This guy has given us a roller coaster of emotions. Last season, he looked like a star at times, and at other times, like he belonged in the World League. It seems the Rams have had just awful dumb luck drafting O-Lineman.. and since it's looking BAD for Jason Smith, we simply can't have Saffold falter. He needs to step up and produce to his billing.
3. QB Bradford Needs to Break Out
OK we all know Sam's potential. But this is year 3. Time for the training wheels to come off, and for the excuses to end. Sure, we don't have a line, sure this is his third system in as many years, sure, our O-Line has sucked, sure his ankle has been an issue... but still, he needs to step up and make plays. He's capable, and should do so. Sam is a number 1 overall pick and should have the talent to bring a team UP.. be a leader. It has to be so.
4. RB Steven Jackson Needs to Continue Dominance and Remain Injury Free
SJAX is not getting any younger. He's approaching 30 and has been bitten by the injury bug as of late missing games the last couple seasons. Can Steven continue the dominance or has he lost any steps? With the Rams drafting the multi-faceted Pead, hopefully this will take a little bit of the load off of Steven, and force teams to NOT load the box up with 8-10 men (yes we saw that a lot last year) and reduce the pounding. If SJAX does get hurt however, Pead is NOT ready to take on the load... not even close. Can anyone really replace SJAX? Any injury to SJAX would put the Rams in a tremendous hole.
5. Rookie K Greg Zuerlein Needs to Impress
I was going to list him in with the rookies, but felt I needed a whole separate point for him. With the Rams red zone struggles, and with their inexperience, you can bet that there will be some close games. Greg is going to need to kick like a pro and be consistent from long range. If the Rams are going to have a respectful season, they will need to win many close games. (Note: I did hear he's kicking 60 yarders in practice, with 10 yards to spare.. AND he's kicked a 74 yarder... wowza)
6. Coach Fisher needs Great Game Planning
This is critical as well. The Rams will be facing teams with tons more experience and talent. The Rams need to have a good game strategy and play to their strengths, even if it's out of their comfort zone. This will require some gutsy and risky play calls to catch some teams off guard. Is Fisher capable of this given his "conservative" approach? We'll soon see.
7. (Last But Not Least) "An Extra Pinch of Sugar" .. ie; The Ball Needs to Bounce the Rams Way
I can't tell you how many years I've watched Rams football only to see the ball bounce for the other team. Stupid TD's, uncalled penalties etc etc. In order to have a respectable season, we need to see more of these things bounce our way.
In conclusion, I think it's entirely possible to have a respectable season, that is 6-10 or 8-8?? But as you can see, the stars almost have to align. But I ask you this... did the stars not align in 1999? Anything is possible in the NFL.