Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
All of the excuses are gone. It's time to demand something better.
The Jacksonville Jaguars went a different direction. Owner Shad Khan and new general manager Dave Caldwell hired former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley instead of St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and a handful of other candidates. That's a pretty important development for the Rams for two reasons.
First, we all hope Seattle's defense struggles with continuity issues. I doubt it, and I really don't get into the whole schadenfreude thing.
More importantly, it means that the Rams will finally have some offensive continuity, the same system with the same quarterback and the same offensive coordinator for two years in a row. That hasn't happened since Scott Linehan and Marc Bulger teamed up to lead the Rams to mid-decade glory!
The Rams offense scored 18.7 points per game last season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. That was a big jump from 12 points per game the year before, but it's a long way from being the complete unit that can contribute its fair share to a win.
Progress is satisfying, but it's only part of the bigger picture. The Rams have been so bad for so long fans have taken progress as a result in and of itself.
No more. The gang's all here, and we expect more progress in 2013, progress in the form of team competing to the very last inch for a division title and a playoff spot. Progress alone is no longer enough to satisfy.
This year also means big expectations, and the accompanying accountability for quarterback Sam Bradford.
Bernie Miklasz had a good take on the Bradford situation Thursday at STLToday.com.
Now that the Rams have re-established Bradford's mechanics and fundamentals, the emphasis should be on becoming more creative and aggressive in the passing game. That would include more extensive use of the hurry-up offense, letting Bradford run the game, and putting his underrated and underutilized mobility to use in a reasonable way.
Not long after Fisher was hired, he made a comment that 2012 was a fresh start for his quarterback, which Miklasz is referring to here. This is the actual quote from Fisher:
"Well, it was his ability - what he was able to do in college, but also his rookie year. We discounted last year. I didn't pay much attention to that. There were a lot of difficult things to overcome and a lot of issues, and it made no sense dwelling on it. I think what Sam was able to do here his rookie year in that type of offense is an indication of the potential that he has."
Bradford's season ahead goes hand in hand with the Rams finding their offensive identity, something they seemingly lacked in 2012. That's more than just the particulars of a brand or a scheme. From the outside, i.e. those of us not wearing a headset on game days, it was hard to figure out at times what exactly Schottenheimer wanted to do. There were big stretches of the game where the running game disappeared, and the consistency from Bradford and his receivers never showed up on a weekly basis.
But 2012 was something of a formative year for the group, particularly the offense.
In the interview I did this week with John Madden for SB Nation, the legendary coach and broadcaster talked about the rise of the option/spread/pistol offenses in the NFL, noting that those things were here to stay. He also noted just how much the league has changed for quarterbacks, with those new systems allowing rookies to thrive by playing the same kind of game they've played since high school.
As for the more traditional quarterbacks, Madden noted to the learning curve:
Remember years ago you couldn't play in the NFL and win until you'd been in the league at least five years. That's because pro football was different football. Everything was drop-back pass, three-step, five-step, seven-step, seven-step with a hitch. That took a long time to learn and then ball handling, play-action pass; that's what a pro football quarterback was.
Without a doubt, that's something to account for with Bradford's struggles. He came from a spread offense in college, albeit not one that made him into a runner, but like Miklasz notes in his piece, one that forced him to move some and be creative.
And here we are at year four, with the same offensive coordinator, an improved offensive line (one that allowed 34 sacks, the fewest since 1999) and the best group of receivers he's had to date. There is still room for improvement in those later two categories, but with the upcoming draft and a smart approach to free agency, we should expect the team to fix that.
It also means no more excuses for the quarterback. This is the year when we finally find out whether or not the Rams have a franchise guy in Bradford. Personally, I think he'll get there this season. We should all certainly expect him too.
If not, the Rams have a decision to make. Bradford's monster contract - which is not his fault at all - is a burden in the post-2011 CBA world of the NFL. Flat salary caps give teams less flexibility in free agency, less room to buy their way into an answer and making the draft even more important, from round one to pick #242. If he can't play at that level, the Rams have to start thinking about other answers in 2014.
2013 is a pivotal year for the Rams, the most important season of the last decade. Count on progress, set expectations and demand accountability.